Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Avengers (2012): Reviewing the Journey

Normally, I prefer movies that focus on character development and plot rather than special effects and over-the-top action sequences. Luckily, The Avengers (2012) gives us both.

I'll admit, I was a bit weary when I heard that all of the Marvel superhero films were building toward an Avengers film. With so many characters, how could the film possible do them all justice while maintaining a tightly-written and engaging plot? Would the movie be too "crowded" with characters? After all, superhero films that have tried to have too many subplots and villains have always registered on the weaker side. Would The Avengers meet the same fate?

I'm happy to say that it did not. Not only was the film fast and fun to watch, but it remained true to its core characters and their individual storylines while opening up a brand new one. I think the movie works so well due to a few key components: an intriguing story, captivating heroes and villains, and conflict. If you haven't seen the movie, there are spoilers ahead, so read on at your own risk.

First, the story was well-told. It tied in the characters from the Iron Man films, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and Captain America. However, if you haven't seen any or all of these films, the information you need to know is provided to you seamlessly through the film as the story progresses. The plot deals with a primal need: survival. In this case, survival from an impending alien invasion led by Loki, brother of Thor. The heroes slowly come together and meet each other, each drawn into the struggle for a specific purpose. Things fall apart quickly, though, and they must learn to set aside their differences and work as a team.

Even though they form as a team, by themselves they are dynamic and multi-layered. Of course, there is Dr. Bruce Banner, the scientist with anger issues. We can sense his frustration as he struggles with his identity and how others see him. Black Widow wants to escape her blood-filled past, hoping to find redemption. Tony Stark thinks that he can handle things alone as Iron Man, a fact that irks Captain America. Thor desperately wants to reach out to his brother Loki, trying to find the good in him and call him back home. We feel sympathy for him, as we do for Loki, knowing that if Thor cares this much about him, there might be a reason for us to care for him, too. In Loki, we see a struggling villain, one who desires power and adoration.

Overall, conflict drives the film. Not just the conflict between the good guys and bad guys, but also among the good guys. Midway through the film, the heroes began fighting among themselves. Tony Stark calls Steve Rogers nothing but a glorified science experiment, prompting Steve to challenge Tony to "put on the suit!" At their first meeting, Iron Man and Thor fight, and both Thor and Black Widow have run-ins with The Hulk. No one can seem to get along, and yet they must if they're to be able to save the world. We know they'll come together and assemble, and so the conflict is what keeps us watching. We know they'll save the day; we want to see what happens to them as they try to save themselves.

As I watched this film, I wondered who it follows most. Whose Hero's Journey story does it tell? After all, in each character's previous movie, their own Hero's Journey story was told. But I think that in this film, each character can be seen as having their own Hero's Journey unfold. Whereas their previous films told the beginning journeys of their lives as heroes, this film tells their journeys as they become a team.

The Avengers is a great movie to look at from a writer's perspective. It has a well-structured story, one that is easy to follow and yet full of characters who are individually dynamic. But best of all, it has plenty of conflict, both from within and from without. And it's the conflict among the characters that makes this story a fun experience.

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