Iron Man’s Villain Problem

Like so many others, I am beyond excited for Avengers: Endgame. However, I am not a traditional superhero fan. I became interested in the genre only recently and I haven’t seen all the movies in the MCU. As a result, I don’t know everything I there is to know about the Avengers. I plan to remedy that before the release of Avengers: Endgame. Between now and then, I am going to watch and review every movie in the MCU. If anyone wants to gush about the Avengers, I am available in the comments! So here goes, the first movie of MCU Phase 1 – Iron Man

Iron Man (2008) is largely a very fun movie. It is exciting to see a man build a suit out of the limited materials he has at hand in a cave to make an escape from his kidnappers. The action sequences with Iron Man are genuinely enjoyable. I did find the character of Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) insufferable, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t overlook (with the occasional eye roll, of course). Overall Iron Man is a great movie to start us off. It is well-written story with good action sequences and a decent plot – a weapons’ manufacturer trying to undo his legacy of war and destruction by becoming a superhero. The problem with Iron Man, is that this genius hero doesn’t have a comparable villain to go up against.

So that makes the principal antagonist of the film, Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger (played by Jeff Bridges), a poor villain? First, at the very outset, Stark is portrayed to be superior than Stane. In the second scene of the film, we see that at 21, Stark becomes the CEO of Stark Industries brushing Stane aside. Right away, Stark is better than his antagonist. Second, the villain isn’t able to develop his own powers. Stane steals scraps of Iron Man’s initial suit to make his own. He can’t even develop the Miniaturised Arc Reactor by himself; he steals it from the protagonist. This further perpetuates the idea that the Stane is no match for Iron Man. This is before the any direct fighting between Iron Man and Iron Monger. When the action begins, it fails to create the tension required to engage the viewer in the film. As the viewer, I already know that Iron Man can defeat Iron Monger because the film has told me so.

In addition to being perceived as less formidable, Iron Man has almost no comparable opponent for more than half the movie. At the beginning of the movie, Stark’s main opponent is his kidnapper, Raza. The playing field here is levelled because although Stark is very capable, he is trying to create something amazing in a cave in rural Afghanistan with whatever materials are available to him there. He is also in captivity making him vulnerable to his opponent. This makes the film interesting and makes Iron Man’s escape all the more impressive.

But Raza isn’t the principle antagonist of the film. He is being used by Stane in the latter’s quest for dominance. But rather than building up the character of the villain along with the hero so that the viewer doesn’t take Iron Man for granted and becomes invested in the conflict in the movie, the director Jon Fraveau only allows the viewer to see the already formidable Tony Stark transform into an almost indomitable Iron Man. At the point the viewer’s perceptions about the hero have already been developed, and the film doesn’t make an effort to subvert them. This reduces the impact of the antagonist.

About one hour into the movie, long after Iron Man’s character has been established, the movie finally reveals that the antagonist will use the scraps from Iron Man’s suit as the basis for his/her armour. The armour of the antagonist is not discussed again until 2/3rds of the movie is over. Furthermore, Stane isn’t revealed to be the bad guy until more than halfway through the movie. Even then, he is shown to be opposing Tony Stark in business, not as a supervillain. It is only in the last 25 minutes of the film (including 10 minutes of credits) that the main conflict of the movie emerges, and the antagonist challenges the protagonist. Couple that with his perception as an inferior fighter and you have the villain problem in the film.

Despite a major problem, Iron Man is a fun watch because his powers are super cool. They are tested in multiple situations throughout the film (his big escape from captivity, his encounter with militants in Gulmira, getting chased by the US government, and his final battle with Iron Monger). As a viewer this made me want to root for Iron Man. That being said, I hope Iron Man 2 offers our hero more of a challenge.

Advertisements

Ant-Man: Dumb and Dumber

In 2016, when Captain America: Civil War had hit the theatres I had gone to see it with a friend of mine. At the time, I wasn’t a fan of superhero movies. I remember finding the movie outlandish and silly (NOT my sentiments today, I can assure you). The only parts of the film I had enjoyed were the action sequences featuring Ant-Man. He was funny and didn’t take himself too seriously (unlike the rest of the cast). I remember telling my friend that I wanted to watch the Ant-Man film, because that was probably the only superhero movie I would enjoy. You can imagine my excitement, then, when it was my turn to watch Ant-Man in the MCU movie list. After a relatively heavy film like Avengers: Age of Ultron, I thought this movie would provide the perfect respite. Oh, how wrong I was!

Ant-Man starts with great promise. Unlike other superhero movies, where the principal character is either a genius and/or the toughest fighter and/or a billionaire, the protagonist here is a thief. He is broke and can’t even hold a job at Baskin Robbins. He becomes a superhero only because a scientist needs an expendable foot soldier. Beyond this, however, the movie is just dumb. There is no compelling reason for any of the characters’ actions. For instance, why does Lang think that a suit that powerful can be stolen from a house safe? Why does Hank Pym say that Scott Lang is his only hope? Lang may be a good thief, but how difficult would it be for Pym to find another thief? Why does Darren Cross/Yellowjacket have to steal Pym’s suit if he has a functional suit of his own? One could argue that he thought it was not fully developed, but the fear of his experiments failing didn’t stop Cross from experimenting indiscriminately on animals. When the fate of the world was at stake why did Pym, Hope and Ant-Man decide to break into a lab with a bunch of silly, small-time crooks? Why was a world-class science facility so easy to break into in the first place? Hope hung out with her dad for most of the movie. How did she believe that Cross wouldn’t find that out? Why did Cross play along with Hope even though he knew? Had these questions been thought through, we would have probably gotten a smarter movie. Instead, we get a parody-esque portrayal of this great character. It is meant to be funny, but the movie didn’t so much as make me smile. I was just appalled at the stupidity of everything to find the gags funny.

In addition to a scattered plot, the movie also suffers from the lack of a formidable villain. I have written about this before, but a superhero movie needs a good villain. Every hero needs a challenge to prove himself/herself, and the greater the challenge, the more impressive the hero. In much of this movie, Ant-Man is unchallenged, at least when it comes to his powers. He gets a moment to shine when he defeats the Avengers’ Falcon. But I wish the movie had set up the antagonist so that we knew the challenge Ant-Man was dealing with. Furthermore, the viewer has no understanding of the antagonist’s motivations or powers. This reduces the action to mindless fighting. The film never poses a larger right versus wrong question, much less try to answer that question through action. And finally, if I may add, I just couldn’t get on board with trained ants as Ant-Man’s minions. It was more disgusting than anything else, unfortunately.

The trope of saving the world from advanced weaponry falling into the wrong hands has been done countless times in the past. Even though Ant-Man fails, we know Marvel can do it again, much better. You know how I know that? Its basically Marvel’s MO.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Lessons in Empathy

It’s the Age of Ultron. The second instalment in the Avengers series currently the least popular. And I don’t think it’s because it’s a bad film. But compared to the other two movies, the film has some weak links. Here is what worked and what didn’t for this movie.

First, what a start! No set up, but diving straight into action. The Avengers are looking for Loki’s sceptre from the previous film and encounter plans to create an army of enhanced beings. This is a relatively small threat compared to the Avengers’ (specifically Iron Man’s) solution to this problem. Use AI to stop any threats to the earth. This is not a new plot. Captain America: The Winter Soldier has explored the idea of boosting security measures to the extent of starting a pre-emptive war before. That movie did it through conventional weapons, this one through AI. I give full credit to this film for treating the subject very differently. That is what made the film enjoyable and helped take the series forward. After seeing this movie – which shows the addition of two new characters (Vision and Wanda) and the return of War Machine and Falcon – I particularly appreciate the vision the makers had for this series. The group is in constant need of new challenges in order to remain interesting. And those new challenges need to be faced differently. Hence, new characters with different skills. This is very cool, and I can’t wait to see what they can achieve together.

The principal problem with the movie is that it fails to generate empathy with the viewer about the character of its principal conflict. Stark tries to create a programme that would ensure world peace, and instead creates one that believes peace can only be achieved through a complete destruction of life on earth. Unlike in Winter Soldier where the Captain and his friends were trying to clean up SHIELD’s mess, Age of Ultron has the Avengers creating the mess they must deal with. And while knowing that the Avengers are still humans (and a demi-God) who make can make mistakes makes the film realistic, it calls into question whether these are the ‘earth’s mightiest heroes.’ That does not bode well for the Avengers. The secondary problem in this film is that while Natasha Romanoff gets a chance to shine, Black Widow’s character is underwritten. Compared to her peers, her contribution is tiny in action sequences. Her weapon of choice is a pair of Glock-26s for most of the film (save for the last sequence). They are no match against Ultron’s powers. The Avengers had done a brilliant job of making sure that all characters play an equal role in vanquishing the enemy. This film fails Black Widow in that sense.

Where the film does shine is in the area of character development. It’s easy for a film like the Avengers, particularly with a lot more superheroes this time around to be a purely action film. Director Joss Whedon doesn’t give in to that temptation. Instead he spends time exploring who the characters are in order to provide a reasoning for the decisions they take. And this is done primarily through one beautifully written, directed and edited scene. It is the scene where the Avengers, after being forced to flee following a freak accident, take shelter in Clint Barton’s house. I had read somewhere that director Joss Whedon insisted upon keeping this nearly 15-minute long scene in the movie because he believed it gave the characters some much needed depth. I couldn’t agree more. The scene is all about characters conversing with each other to understand what they feel and what they must do going forward.

This scene helps the viewer understand what each character feels about his/her power. Banner and Romanoff are burdened by their abilities. The other Avengers view their powers as means to help them fight evil. But for these two characters, their powers are a curse. While they can fight tough when needed, they would rather not be a part of the war at all. Stark and Cap can’t imagine living without their suits (for all of Iron Man’s rhetoric that he wants to end the fight). They both think that their power gives them responsibility to protect those around them. Consequently, they do everything in their capacity to do so. And sometimes (as in the case of Stark), that can create monsters like Ultron. In between all these characters with loaded pasts, the film reminds us why the team needs a Hawkeye. Hawkeye is the only character whose mind Wanda can’t mess with. It shows that while all other Avengers’ decisions were based on deep personal musings, which threaten to derail their missions, here is a character who is a doer. He doesn’t have grand visions about the world or himself. He only sees and executes his missions. And the film gives him plenty of chances to shine while doing so. (Like when he tells Wanda during the final action scene, “The city is flying, we are fighting an army of robots and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense. But I am going back out there because it is my job.”)

Before I sign off, I have two random musings. First, I only just realised why action movies are so enjoyable. I guess there is a deep-seated desire within us to watch the world descend into chaos and rebuild itself. Second, when I started the movie, it suddenly hit me what these movies are all about. Characters with insane abilities trying to solve problems. And we are hooked to that because we wish this world was real. Both of these things were probably common sense to a lot of you. But I only just realised it and it blew my mind.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy 1&2: Creating the ultimate fun fantasy

Hello. I know it has been a while. But life (and exams) got in the way. I know Avengers: Endgame is already out. I have already seen it too (thrice). But I believe these are just fun movies to watch and talk about at any time of the year, not just as countdowns to a particular movie. So I am going to continue posting reviews. Without further ado, here goes. Guardians of the Galaxy 1&2… I have reviewed them together because they are similar in style in many ways.

Of all Marvel movies, I have been most sceptical about this one. Before its release, the Guardians were a relatively lesser known group of the Marvel Universe. Not having been a superhero fan until recently, I didn’t know anything about it other than what the thumbnail on Netflix chose to show me. When I first saw Guardians characters in Avengers: Infinity War, I wasn’t thrilled. They were too unfamiliar, and with everything going on in the movie, the writers spent little time introducing each character (Infinity War is the one movie that Marvel didn’t even pretend could work as a stand-alone film.) When Guardians came up on my list, I was prepared to be bored and uncomfortable. And the movie is anything but that.

Guardians of the Galaxy is funny, engaging and imaginative. It has some really trippy visuals. There are two things, however, that make this movie special. First, the concept. The protagonists in the movie all different creatures belonging to different planets. For me, just the thought that there could be a group of people (and a genetically enhanced racoon and a humanoid tree) who are touring through outer space and having crazy adventures blows my mind. It is the ultimate fantasy – a group of outsiders getting front row seat to the secrets of the universe. And props to the makers for taking this concept and using it to tell interesting stories.

The second thing that is special about Guardians is the use of music. The film features an awesome mix of tracks by different artists (all compiled into a cassette appropriately labelled ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 1’ and ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 2). And the tracks are used to carry the narrative forward by managing the viewers’ emotional responses to the scenes on screen. For instance, in Guardians Vol. 2, the opening credits are set to Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra. The opening credits features the Guardians defeating a giant space monster. Since the film is just starting out, however, the makers don’t want the audience to feel any tension from the action. The scene serves to establish the next few scenes in the movie, remind us who the characters are and start a little bit of the action off. But the addition of the song brings levity to the scene. Similarly, the first few action sequences are also set to songs. We still get to enjoy all of the action in a traditional Marvel movie but its funnier and lighter. Once the principal conflict of the film has been established, however, the songs begin to fade away. Action sequences towards the end are almost always about struggling to survive and save the world (in this case, the universe), and the viewer needs to feel the characters’ adrenaline. Chase sequences (that were similar to the ones in the beginning) suddenly appear grittier. Guardians is perhaps the only movie to have used music so strategically. The only other film I can think of that did this is Thor: The Dark World, where music intensifies the emotions in the scene following Frigga’s death.

And there you have it. My complete 180 on Guardians of the Galaxy. And after watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I can’t wait to see these characters return in Infinity War and Endgame.

 

Observing the use of music was a new exercise for me. Going forward, I want to pay closer attention to this aspect of films.

Captain America: The Winter Solider – Exploring the Limits of Neorealism

This Captain America movie? So much better than the one before it. Captain America’s character is written so that it fits in with the Idea of America. But in this film, rather than being self-righteous, America is being self-critical and cautious. This prevents the character from becoming a stereotype, and makes him rounded. As a result, he responds much more organically to the story which is what makes the film memorable. Captain America is working for SHIELD now, an international security organisation. When SHIELD is compromised, its Director, Nick Fury, approaches the Captain to help save the organisation’s secrets and thwart any attempt at mischief. The rest of the movie is about the Captain assembling a team to uncover the traitors within SHIELD.

I guess the only infuriating thing about the film was that Captain America didn’t take the one order Fury gave him, and what circumstances suggested he follow – don’t trust anyone. Instead he proceeds to form a team with Black Widow, Falcon and Agent Maria Hill in order to save the Earth. However, I think it would have been nearly impossible to have a Captain America movie otherwise. After all, the Captain does need an army he can lead. But this film went beyond the image of Captain America and explored the person behind the costume. Captain America was designed to fight the battles of the state without question. Steve Rogers, on the other hand, can ask tough questions (even to those in power). In addition to demonstrating that he’s more than a pawn, Captain America exposes the problem with a purely neorealist understanding of security.

Neorealism, in the most reductive sense, suggests that the natural order of the world is anarchy. And power is the currency of international relations. States, in order to survive, must strive to procure as much power as possible. Power, in the case, is measured by military superiority. So, the most powerful state in the international system is one with the most powerful military capability.

How does this relate to Captain America, you ask? Well, as Secretary of State, Alexander Pierce admits that he and Fury share a realist understanding of the world. That it is necessary to remain ready to fight at all times, even if that means pre-emptively striking potential enemy targets. In this case, the struggle for power is only not between states but against alien threats as well. To that effect, Fury commissioned three helicarriers with hundreds of jets capable of striking hostile forces. A neorealist understanding of international relations would laud such policy. But the Captain recognises this policy for what it is – the powerful holding a gun to everyone’s heads and calling it security.

Amassing weapons indiscriminately, ironically, can have adverse implications for security, as the film goes on to show. HYDRA, previously the deep science division of the Nazis, which later morphed into a worldwide terrorist organisation, had infiltrated SHIELD, and planned to use the weapons to kill millions of people and restore order to what they considered anarchy. Captain America’s solution was not only to foil HYDRA’s plans, but to dismantle the structures (albeit to a small extent) that subscribe to neorealist understandings of power. He calls for the dismantling of SHIELD to increase transparency and reduce temptation to develop advanced weapons programmes.

Captain America’s image promotes a much more positive Idea of America. This America is interested in cooperation and transparency, rather than amassing power. It stands against any party using power to bully the rest of the world, even in face of unimaginable threats. That endears the audience to the character and what he represents. Add to that a well-written story, and you’ve got yourself a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Thor: The Dark World – A film struggling to trim the fat

I really liked Thor: The Dark World, but I wanted to like it some more. Not unlike the last Thor movie, this one also suffers from overindulgence. It also suffers from poor imagination. And these two factors cast a shadow over an otherwise superb movie. Thor: The Dark World is the only film so far that has made me rewind and watch my favourite parts again. Honestly, if they would have trimmed the rest, this could have been one of the best movies in the MCU.

Why makes the great parts of this film so? I’ve said this before and I will say it again, Thor works so well as a family drama. It has all the right ingredients for it – squabbling siblings, parents playing favourites and keeping secrets from their children and a struggle for space within the family. In this case, the stakes are higher because the brothers are fighting for the throne of Asgard. The film takes the time to explore the personalities of Thor and Loki, their relationship as brothers and their relationships with their parents. And this translates into engagement with the audience. For instance, I felt Loki’s rage and grief when his mother died and he appeared a broken man. Similarly, in the scene wherein Loki and Thor fight the Dark Elves in Svartalfhiem, I felt the brothers being united in avenging their mother’s death even though they completely distrusted each other.

I wish they had only stuck to the family drama, though. Like Thor, this film also suffers from overindulgence. Here too, the love story between Jane and Thor feels forced. I forced myself to forget the utterly unconvincing notion that these characters fell in love in the previous movie. I tried to just take as a given that they’re in love. But even so, the love story simply doesn’t work. I think that is because Jane’s character is so underwritten. Yes, she has a lot of screen time, but I still didn’t get a sense of who she was. She is simply there to be rescued by Thor or to give Thor depth. Compare this to Frigga, who gets a lot less screen time, but I know everything I need to know of that character. I make this comparison to demonstrate that there was much potential for Jane’s character that was left unexplored. I also found Dr. Selvig’s research and his device to manipulate gravitational waves to provide a shortcut to a different realm like Svartalfhiem too far-fetched. In fact, Thor’s time on Earth made absolutely no difference to the film. Had the film just been set in the other realms and the changes caused by the alignment of the realms used as catalysts for the final action scene, the plot would have been much tighter.

In addition to overindulgence, the film also suffers from poorly imagined worlds. I understand the challenge of imagining an entirely new universe. And I am not mad that Asgard is so much like Earth. In fact, I even thought to myself that Asgard (for the most part) is so well imagined that I thought maybe it was Earth who borrowed Asgardian dress, customs and language. But this quickly falters when it comes to the army of the Dark Elves. There is no reason for that army to be brandishing gun-like weapons or wearing masks that look like spoofs of characters in superhero movies. For a race that is so unlike that of the human race, their weapons should have been different. Asgardian air force is also very poorly imagined. The rest of Asgardian military is equipped with swords and shields, but they have an air force that’s oddly similar to that on Earth? I wish they had come up with a new and creative look for the armies.

These negatives certainly bring the film down. But the good parts of the film simply shine. A good part of that has to do with the fact that Loki was given a much bigger part in the movie. So, while Thor: The Dark World does not come close to the top MCU movies, please excuse me while I go and re-watch the scenes between Loki and Thor for the fifth time.

Iron Man 3: Meh!

Day 7, dud 2. Iron Man 3 was such a disappointment. I wish I wasn’t saying this because I was so excited about it when the film started. But it got me thinking, ‘Why didn’t this movie work? What makes a good Iron Man movie?’ Here’s what I didn’t like about this movie: The film was extremely dull because none of it is believable. This sucked the joy out of the film. It may have even been a halfway decent movie, but after The Avengers, it came up short.

Before we get into the specifics of this movie, let us turn to the first question. What makes a good Iron Man movie? Iron Man is a superhero who is a product of his suit that gives him the information he needs to stay on top of his enemies during battles, ability to survive any and all circumstances (even going to outer space through a wormhole) and the ability to fight even the toughest enemies. The suit is best suited to fight enemies with powers to match: people with enhanced abilities or advanced technology. But the films are also a product of the man behind the suits. Its Tony Stark that leads Iron Man into conflict. So, the movie must also be sufficiently challenging for Stark.

On paper, this movie has all these elements. The film challenges Tony Stark by separating him (albeit briefly) from his suit. It challenges Iron Man by making his suit vulnerable to the powers of the antagonists – extreme heat that can penetrate the suit. The antagonist is formidable because he creates an army of people who can generate extreme heat. What it lacks, which is perhaps the most crucial element in an Iron Man story, is a cohesive, engaging story to tie these elements together. This is because of a dearth of a fresh plot and well written characters, and because of the way in which the conflicts in the film are resolved.

In the end, the film is about saving the US from terrorist attacks and rescuing the President and Stark’s girlfriend, Pepper Potts, from captivity. The stakes are high, but the bar for stakes has raised even higher by the last few films. Think about it. At this point we have seen two intergalactic conflicts and battles over an energy source that can create a wormhole to the other end of space. Compared to that, these stakes look stale. Regardless, this could have been a good film had it not been for poor execution.  Rather using action sequences to let the tension linger and engage audiences, the film tried too hard to tie up all loose ends. For instance, when the President is attacked on Air Force One, the plane has been damaged and people are falling to their deaths. This was a moment of high tension, but the director chose to resolve it quickly by having Iron Man catch all of them mid-air by forming a human pyramid. This had me rolling my eyes as far back as I could. Similarly, the final action sequence Stark summoned an army of robotised suits back him up. This came out of nowhere and made me wonder why he didn’t do so before when he needed a suit desperately.

Additionally, the characters in the film lacked conviction about what they were doing. This is most apparent with Maya Hansen, Stark’s ex-girlfriend. The film starts to establish her as one of the antagonists before abruptly giving her a change of heart. Similarly, the film goes to great lengths to establish a terrorist organisation and its head, ‘the Mandarin,’ but later shows the audience that the organisation is a farce, a coverup for the real antagonist. But what this person’s motivations are, what he plans to do with his power, are all questions that remain underexplored. Because of poorly written characters, the film is held weakly together by the power of Iron Man’s suits.

I wish the third instalment in the series had tried to build on everything the universe had established and tried to take it a step further. Or in the very least been a well-written standalone film. Anyhoo. Tomorrow is another day.

The Avengers: A Lesson in Continuity

Unlike most superhero movies, The Avengers is one of two movies I seen twice before. The previous two viewings had been when I hadn’t watched the preceding Marvel movies. I had watched it as a standalone film and I had liked it. After re-watching the movie now, however, I understood the movie much better. What’s the verdict on this movie now, you ask? Up until the very end the film is fun and believable. The climax showing Iron Man carrying a missile with a nuclear warhead into outer space through a wormhole and making it back alive? Not so much. Regardless, what I really admired about the movie was its ability to take a story that weaves through different films and tie it all together without alienating any audiences. Basically, if you like me watched the movie as a standalone film with no prior knowledge of the universe, you would still be able to understand and enjoy it.

The director, Joss Whedon, did a great job recapping the five previous movies into one film. The way he does that is by not rushing to make the viewer comfortable right away, but by taking his time to firmly establish the plot of this movie before filling us in on details. For more than an hour into the movie, the film provides references to recap the stories of each of the superheroes through dialogue and flashbacks. Furthermore, the interactions between the characters also help the viewer understand their essential nature and therefore engage with the film. Thus, rather than a mishmash of different people with cool powers, the film becomes cohesive – one of a team banding their forces together to serve as the protagonists against a group of powerful antagonists.

Let us first look at how the film fills the viewer in on the backstory. The Avengers’ challenge is that the story of the film deals with the Tesseract, an energy source that has been important in previous movies. A large chunk of the audience is also familiar with the stories of four out of the six Avengers in the movie as well as their relations with other characters in the film. But placed together, the events and timelines can be confusing. Before the film takes off, it needs to jog everyone’s memory. Since the Avengers don’t know each other, the film uses introductions and initial interactions as a way to sneak in the story line thus far. For instance, we learn about the conditions that transform Bruce Banner into the Hulk – high-pressure environments and pressurised containers like aircrafts and submarines are triggers that can unleash the Hulk – when Banner is trying to explain to SHIELD why he shouldn’t be on the team. We also learn that the Hulk cannot be controlled or killed. This information is important for the viewer to understand what a character (in this case the Hulk) can do. Similarly, we learn about the Tesseract (which was introduced in Thor and was explored further in Captain America) when Natasha Romanoff tries to explain it to Banner. The uninitiated audience gets a sense of what this object is, why so many parties are interested in it and why they need a team with a specific skillset to get it back since it’s been stolen. In doing so, the audience gets a sense of what the catalyst in this intergalactic conflict is. Using characters to introduce themselves, their stories and their interests gives the audience context about the story that is unfolding.

What I admired about the movie (and about Marvel as a whole) is that it didn’t stop at recapping the stories of characters and giving us a glimpse of their powers. It tells us about the nature of these characters. Marvel takes character profiles very seriously. A character’s actions are motivated by his/her personality. So, an action-packed superhero movie is not just a bunch of characters performing antics. The films tell a cohesive story whose dynamics are shared by the personalities of the characters, not just by their powers. And as the films progress, their personalities also evolve. This means Tony Stark is still an arrogant prick, especially when he condescendingly tells Thor that he has a ‘mean swing’. But the death of a beloved SHIELD agent compels him to put his ego aside and work with the other Avengers. Similarly, Thor isn’t just an alien who can swing a powerful hammer. In the previous film we saw him transform from a brute to a king. Here the trajectory continues with him wanting to use his strength to ensure good governance on Earth. But he actually takes it a step further, by realising that he needs allies in his quest and working together as an equal with other heroes on his mission. The Thor from the previous film wold have led his friends into battle or taken on the enemy alone. Working with others is new for the character.

Regularly recapping the story and focusing on the nature and personalities of the characters lend continuity to The Avengers. Without them, the film could have quickly descended into mindless action that would leave the viewers dissatisfied and confused (like Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald did. But that rant can wait).

Before I end, I express a few thoughts on Captain America’s espousal of the Idea of America. Given as this movie is about an intergalactic war that is not being fought by the American state, the writers try to steer the Captain away from engaging in any explicit propaganda about the US. Much of his old-fashioned behaviour is explained away by reminding the audience that he was asleep for 70 years and hasn’t been in keeping with the times (like when he dismisses Thor as being a God – even though he’s a Norse God – by saying that “there is only one God, and I am pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”) Even so, he is America. This means that when Thor and Iron Man are fighting, he is the voice of reason that tells them to cut it out. And when the Avengers assemble for their final fight of the movie, it is he who calls the shots. But I guess that is just who the character is, and writing him any differently would do him disservice.

Lastly, a couple random thoughts. First, how great is Loki? He’s good looking, sassy, formidable, and in Iron Man’s words, a “full-tilt diva”. He commands the screen and owns the narrative like no one else. Second, how great was the action scene in Germany set to wester classical music? Who knew fighting and Franz Schubert went so well together? And lastly, I’m so glad the film introduced Black Widow and Hawkeye and I cannot wait for these characters to get their own individual films.

There you have it, the end of Phase I. Now on to Phase II.