Dramaturgery: The Avengers
In my last post, I suggested that I had a number of questions and problems with The Avengers, despite generally having a pretty good time while watching it. I don’t know if other people, ordinary humans with their inferior movie-watching abilities, are capable of both simultaneously enjoying something and engaging with it critically, but I am.
ANYWAY, when I declared that it was possible to make basically the same movie but also fix all of the problems that I had, Moff (author of Moff’s Law) admitted that he almost believed me.
Almost. Believed. ALMOST.
Behold, as I, BRAAK!, use the razor sharp scalpels of my kung fu intellect to perform STORY SURGERY on The Avengers, thus proving that there was nothing inevitable about its shortcomings!*
So, first things first, let’s just do a rough plot outline of what we’ve got. (Go ahead and skip this if you remember the plot of the movie pretty well.)
1. Loki makes a deal with the Chitauri, who want to invade Earth for some reason.
2. Loki steals the Cosmic Cube (called “the tesseract”, which actually is a word for any four-dimensional cube, whether or not it has access to the Power Cosmic), and also brainwashes Hawkeye and Dr. Selvig and takes them away.
3. Nick Fury collects Captain America, Iron Man, and Bruce Banner to start hunting for the cube.
4. Loki “creates a distraction” by fucking with some Germans, while Hawkeye steals a bunch of iridium for portal-making purposes.
5. Loki – Captain America fight. This ends with Loki being taken into custody by Iron Man and Captain America.
6. Thor shows up and wants Loki. Thor and Iron Man fight. Thor and Captain America kind of briefly almost fight. Thor is convinced to go with them back to the Helicarrier with Loki.
Importantly: no one ever mentions the fact that while everyone was fighting, Loki just waited around for them to come back and get him.
Let’s see, now. Were about midway in; I’m not too worried about the exact order of these next steps. It’s something like this:
7. Nick Fury takes Loki into custody; Loki realizes that Banner is on board the helicarrier.
8. Black Widow tricks Loki into revealing that his plan is to “unleash the Hulk”…somehow.
9. There is an argument amongst the Avengers. Nothing comes of it.
10. Hawkeye attacks the helicarrier (by shooting it, I think? With some missiles?). Several things occur:
One of the engines is broken. Iron Man and Captain America go to fix it.
Banner hulks out and chases the Black Widow around. Thor rescues her, and fights the Hulk (Thor has now fought seventy-five percent of the other Avengers).
Hawkeye and some guys try to take the command center of the helicarrier and they shoot arrows at it. Hawkeye shoots a plug arrow into an outlet that does…something…and makes it so the helicarrier will crash (??? I’m actually not to clear on this one).
Hulk gets shot by a jet and attacks the jet, thus falling off the helicarrier.
Loki tricks Thor into going into the glass cage. He is about to drop it, when Coulson tries to stop him, but then he kills Coulson and drops the cage anyway, believing that it might kill Thor. (It doesn’t.)
Loki leaves on the plane with Hawkeye.
No, wait! Black Widow gets in a fight with Hawkeye, hits him in the head, which undoes his brainwashing. I’m not sure how Loki gets off the helicarrier, but he does.
11. Nick Fury gives a speech to Captain America and Iron Man, callously exploiting Coulson’s death in order to…convince them to…fight the aliens. (I’m not a hundred percent clear what the emotional beat was here.)
12. Iron Man figures out where Loki is going to open the portal. He goes and has an argument with Loki, and gets his new Iron Man suit.
13. The portal opens, there’s a big fight. It goes on for a long time, and I don’t think we really need to break down plot points exactly. Thor and Hulk both show up (despite not having heard Nick Fury’s speech about that guy they didn’t really know very well; I guess they are also just opposed to Earth being over-run by space bugs). The Avengers fight the space bugs.
14. The World Council decides to shoot a nuclear bomb at Manhattan, just as Selvig gets his head back and realizes how to close the portal.
15. Hulk smashes Loki. Iron Man sends the nuke to the alien’s homeworld, annihilating an entire species (Thor doesn’t mention that he has a problem with this). The portal is closed, just as Iron Man falls back through the portal.
16. They go have shawarma, which is just a fancy way of saying “gyros.”
So, I told you what my problems were before, and there are a couple of restrictions that I think I want to impose. 1) I want to avoid increasing the running time, so wherever possible I am going to either swap out or change existing scenes. 2) I want to avoid cost over-runs, so I’m going to try to avoid adding scenes that require too much in the way of additional special effects, or changing non-effects scenes to effects-heavy scenes.
Here is my solution. It requires a little bit of a stretch of the imagination, I don’t know if it will be possible for you guys to get your heads around it, but consider this possibility: Loki knows more than one magic spell. Or, maybe more accurately, he can do more with his magic than just make a hologram of himself looking kind of stunned while he actually sneaks up behind you.
So, here’s the deal. First of all, let’s scrap that opening prologue with the Chitauri. We’ll save a few minutes there, I want to use them in the helicarrier later. Loki’s plan is, in fact, to get captured by the Avengers and to get on the helicarrier. In fact, everything is basically the same up until we get to the part where the Black Widow questions Loki.
Then things go down slightly differently. Hawkeye attacks the helicarrier, yes. Banner tries to hide somewhere, because he thinks that Loki is going to somehow use him against everyone. A SHIELD agent starts to show him the way out, but grabs him roughly on the arm, is basically just mean to him, even though Banner tells him not to do that.
Thor runs down to the glass cage where Loki is. He says something ridiculous like, “You fools!” The Loki in the cage is a hologram, he disappears.
Black Widow finds Banner and the SHIELD agent, just as the SHIELD agent shoots banner in the face with a gun. He tosses the gun to Black Widow, who immediately means to shoot him, only to be interrupted by Banner hulking out. The SHIELD agent was Loki in disguise. He has briefly made Black Widow look, to the Hulk, like Loki. That’s why Hulk goes after her. (This is a lot of talk for ONE PROBLEM SOLVED: Hulk attacking Widow at that point, but not any other point.)
Hawkeye continues his assault on the helicarrier, as per before, only one of the arrows he shoots into one of the consoles is weird — it’s not the plug arrow, it’s some other arrow that everyone is going to miss in all the confusion.
Iron Man and Captain America fix the engine, that can stay the same, I guess, even though all it really does is point out how stupid it is to have a giant flying aircraft carrier.
Thor and Hulk fight. The jet shoots the Hulk, Hulk jumps out at it and starts Smashing. Thor actually goes after Hulk at this point, and this is where we lose them. They fight on the way down, Hulk manages to knock Thor’s hammer away from him, they crash to earth, &c.
MEANWHILE, things are going on, everything is hectic. Nick Fury and Maria Hill are fighting the brainwashed SHIELD guys, they get separated in the confusion that Hawkeye has created by shooting that plug arrow thing. Hill stumbles on Nick Fury talking on the radio, we catch just the tail end of what he’s saying SOMETHING LIKE:
“–is under a Majestic 12 quarantine. I repeat, Majestic 12. Do not deploy, do not engage. All communications channels are compromised. I repeat, that is a Majestic 12–”
Hill sees Fury and just shoots the hell out of him. She noticed that his eyepatch is on the wrong side, he realizes it and says “oops” — it’s Loki, in disguise! Hi, Loki! After delivering his message, something crazy happens to the communications screens; they all dissolve into weird, Asgardian-rune-looking mess, it’s some kind of magic-space-god encryption. Loki hightails it and Maria Hill tries to get everything back online.
So, that brings us to the end point, right before the climax, and we’re mostly in the same spot. Thor and Hulk are gone, Hawkeye is back to normal (but not helpful normal), Captain American and Iron Man still don’t know where Loki’s going to open the portal. Coulson is still alive in this version, but that’s because I think his death was pointless and stupid; kill him if you want to, it doesn’t matter, he can just die in the fight or something. He could die in largely the same way, only with Loki threatening Maria Hill instead of Thor, whatever.
The point is, the jets on the helicarrier are all wrecked; the US Army bases think they’re under lockdown and won’t deploy, the entire global communications system — everything that SHIELD tapped into — is shut down. And two key players are missing.
Same things happen, Iron Man figures out where the portal is going to open (revealing that he kind of already had an idea about it, he just wasn’t telling Fury or those guys because he was being a dick) only this time, instead of being about “Avenging Agent Coulson”, it’s about Iron Man and Captain America deciding to fight anyway, despite being five guys and one quinjet.
The climactic battle happens pretty similarly, you can keep most of the same events in — Thor and Hulk eventually showing up to help out, fighting those monsters. Except in this version, two differences: 1) The Cube is just going to exhaust the power in the arc reactor and turn itself off in an hour (Cap looks at the invading army: ”An hour is all they’ll need”), and 2) Cap recognizes that the alien tactics are weird (“Why aren’t they trying to hold territory? Why aren’t they making a defensive line? Why did they bring those other ships in the rear, that don’t look weaponized at all?”), and realizes that they aren’t invaders, they’re refugees, whose own world is exploding, and who Loki convinced they’d be able to just invade and supplant Earth.
Captain America and Black Widow fight their way on to the ship, when Cap surrenders (“Take me to your leader?”). He negotiates a cease-fire with the head alien (using the Chitauri-effects minutes I took out of the prologue) but…
Meanwhile, back on the helicarrier, Fury and Hill are slowly getting the global communications network back online. Hill realizes that the line to the World Council is open. (Fury: ”What? Who are they talking to?”) They manage to crack the encryption just as Fake Nick Fury (on one of the screens) informs the World Council that there’s no choice, they’re going to have to invoke Code Perfect. Real Nick Fury tries to break into the comm-line but can’t, they finally manage to shut it down, in the process finding some small device that had been plugged into the computers during the fight.
Too late. An ICBM is launched from an offshore submarine and headed towards Manhattan. Fury has no jets to send after it, and no way to get to the missile in time.
Iron Man takes it into space, &c., throws it into the black hole, just as the portal closes. Maybe the Hulk-smashing-Loki scene happens after the peace, but before the missile. When the Avengers find out about it they point out that Loki will die, too, and he can say something like, “At least I’ll go doing what I love: killing millions of people.”
Epilogue: Thor takes Loki away, explains that with the tesseract, Asgard will be able to find a new world for the Chitauri. We can use those news reports at the end to say something nice about how the human race will now have to adjust to the fact that it’s not alone in the universe, but at least it’s not surrounded by enemies or something.
So, this solves a couple other problems: it turns Loki’s plan into something that’s an actual plan, for instance (using the helicarrier to paralyze the global communications network in order to make his invasion easier) that Thor and Hulk are obstacles to. It gives the aliens a good reason to invade Earth, and let’s the story be about something other than “Urgh, badguys, smash!”, and it’s solved in a way where shooting a giant nuclear missile at the space-bugs is a bad idea however you look at it.
It solves the “Captain America: Master Tactician” problem, by having him not just guide the Avengers, but recognize what’s going on by observing someone else’s strategy (unlike currently, in which he tells Hawkeye to observe patterns and formations, and then doesn’t really have anything to do with this information), and has him save the day in a way that’s true to the character that we already know: Captain America doesn’t win because he’s a great soldier; he wins because he’s a good man.
It also addresses the American Superpower issue, and for that I want to also just turn a couple other conversations over, maybe. Maybe the problem with Stark is that, after he takes SHIELD’s information, he wants to just leave with it, figuring he’ll have a better chance of solving it on his own. Maybe Thor is pissed off that, despite being arguably the most powerful Avenger (and knowledgeable about this situation), Nick Fury still won’t let him just take Loki. Maybe we cut the bit with: “SHIELD is making weapons!” cried Captain America, living weapon, and best friends with WWII’s greatest weapons engineer; instead, we could replace it with a Nick Fury knew about the Chitauri and the dangers posed by the tesseract, and just didn’t want to tell anyone because it was too dangerous. Maybe Banner actually flees on his own, when he finds out that Loki wants to use him as a weapon.
Ditching the Sad Death of Agent Coulson problem actually changes what the movie is fundamentally about, in a way that I think is a stronger reflection of America’s cultural position in the world: this isn’t about everyone having a guy to avenge, or people “becoming a team” by being similarly sad about someone with whom they’ve all had the briefest of acquaintances.
This is about “becoming a team” by recognizing that they have to share power: Captain America, super soldier, saves the day by negotiating; Nick Fury’s insistence on secrecy is a hindrance, and his consolidation of global surveillance nearly undoes the world; Iron Man recognizes that he can’t solve all of his problems on his own; Hulk ends up being a kind of metaphor for sharing between intellect and force. And the whole thing is orchestrated by a sociopath who’s whole problem is that he doesn’t WANT to share.
*Obviously, duh, it was still the most perfect movie ever, and who am I to disparage Inestimable Genius Joss Whedon? No one, I am not saying he did a bad job or, again, that the movie wasn’t very fun. And furthermore, of course writing a script whole cloth is completely different from criticising it after the fact, anyone who was of a sufficient mind could do this, duh. This is more of a proof-of-concept, and the concept that I am proving is that Hollywood writers (the ones who aren’t Joss Whedon, anyway) should just send me all of their scripts before they start shooting.