Dramaturgery: The Avengers

Posted: May 5, 2012 in Braak, comic books, reviews, Threat Quality
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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.

Nutty, right?

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.

  1. braak says:

    Of course, this doesn’t solve all of the OTHER problems that I have with it, in general as an artifact of modern American culture, which is to say: not enough women, pretty monochromatic, very heteronormative; but I didn’t really expect anything at all different on those scores.

  2. Jesse says:

    See, there you go. Masterfully done, sir.

  3. Jesse says:

    Also, that last bit helps with a tangent debate that almost bubbled up in your last post, in that you DO NOT have to sacrifice meaningful stories about relatable human beings in order to service a story-heavy action movie. There’s this pervasive misconception that a character-driven story must be something like Breathless or My Dinner With Andre where nobody does anything but talk and order food or almost make out. It’s like every debate I ever had with film majors in college almost 15 years ago, still unresolved (“George Lucas!” “Hal Hartley!” “You suck!”).

    You can supercharge a movie with empathy and meaning and character arc with a single facial expression, or a single line of dialogue. JCVD, that artsy Jean Claude Van Damme movie, completely hinges on a 30-second scene between him and his daughter at the very end — without it the whole thing is kind of empty entertainment, but with it it’s really haunting. And here, yes, Captain America is a hero because he’s a good man, thank you. What did it cost? Two or three extra lines of dialogue and then subtracting a whole expensive aliens explode scene? In exchange for a much more satisfying story.

  4. erinsnyder says:

    Sorry, I prefer good-old alien scum to an army of misunderstood space refugees with a tragic past. Even in the best of hands, that would have felt preachy.

    I also disagree with you about Coulson dying (which is surprising, because usually you want characters to die, and I want them to live). Forget the heroes: the audience needed to feel a little loss. Otherwise, The Avengers would have been a $220 million comedy. Someone we care about had to die, and the only other options were Black Widow and Hawkeye. I think Whedon made the right choice here.

  5. braak says:

    What? A $220 million comedy? What are you even talking about? Let me ask you, did you not like Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? That was a comedy? Justice League Unlimited, that was a comedy because no one we cared about died?

    Was the big problem with Raiders of the Lost Ark that it was a COMEDY, because Spielberg didn’t have the guts to kill off Salla and give Indiana Jones a good reason to fight the Nazis?

    Man, of course Coulson was going to die, because of course Whedon was going to use an abrupt casualty as a signifier for emotional depth, and who is he going to kill? No one else because they aren’t characters, they’re managed properties. No amount of success, either now or later, is ever going to be enough for Marvel to let him kill off Hawkeye. All Coulson’s death, and the dunderheaded announcement that the Avengers can only be a team if someone they all kind of cared about died, does is serve as a reminder that all of the main characters are fundamentally immortal.

    I am actually in favor of killing characters off, I don’t think it’s good to be afraid to kill a character, but I don’t care about Coulson’s death, either personally or from a structural level (at some level I care, because I liked Coulson’s character and will miss seeing him show up in stuff, but what, am I going to cry about it or something?). It was pointless chain-jerking; it’s like if you replaced his death with a “Sad” button, and just had someone hit it a couple times during the fight scene to drive up the audience’s amygdala or something.

    As for the thing with the aliens, man, you can prefer whatever you want. And hey, congratulations! That’s the movie that you got! America punched/nuked the alien horde, hooray! I think it’s a bit of a moral step back from Thor, where genocide is considered implicitly bad, even if you’re genociding a planet of Frost Giants, but at least there was no moral exploration to get in the way of all that punching.

    Battleship opens on the 18th, by the way.

  6. braak says:

    Also, wait, wasn’t the one Chitauri that could speak actually called “the Other”?

    White Power, Steroids, 1950s Morality, and the Military-Industrial Complex fight the Other’s mindless invading horde.

    Jesus, this really is just the most American movie possible

  7. erinsnyder says:

    Thanks, Braak. I needed a good laugh.

    Let me know if there’s anything in that rant you’d like me address. In it’s entirety, it’s just crazy-speak.

  8. Kelez says:

    My friend pointed out how he thought it was funny that Loki was preaching to the German crowd in English, telling them to kneel et c.

  9. braak says:

    Erin: no, I’m good, thanks.

  10. braak says:

    Kelez: Heh. Yeah, that is kind of funny.

  11. Jesse says:

    I don’t know, Erin — Neill Blomkamp didn’t make it preachy and he’s hardly the best of hands.

  12. erinsnyder says:

    Jesse – District 9 was a metaphor for apartheid; Avengers was a summer action movie. I’ve got no issue with issue-driven science-fiction, but save it for when you can do it justice.

    The entirety of the Avengers – even the proposed version above – isn’t built around an issue; trying to end on one would have felt like the audience was being preached to.

  13. Moff says:

    OK, this was good. I’m not 100 percent on board with the actual choices, but I am convinced that the story shortcomings were not inevitable (at least insofar as the screenplay itself, ceteris paribus, is concerned).

    I thought Coulson’s death worked pretty well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t even Whedon’s decision. But the scene where Hill is like, “Those cards were in Coulson’s locker!” was really unnecessary and dumb, and basically the whole “Will we be a team, or will we let our feelings keep us apart???” bit should go, too. Also, as an io9 commenter pointed out yesterday, it would have been way better if Nick Fury’s final line had been, “Then they’ll assemble” or something like that, when Hill asked about the Avengers coming together again. Because “Because we’ll need them to” was pretty frickin’ weak.

    Also: agreed on Loki knowing more than one spell. Overall, this movie and Thor did a pretty good job of giving us a rough sense of the Asgardians’ capabilities and balancing their super-powers with a sense that they weren’t omnipotent. But, much as with Doctor Doom in the Fantastic Four movies, they really did a shit job of portraying Loki as a master schemer. The worst is when he’s in the cage and trying to break Black Widow’s spirit, and after he lists the awful things she’s done, he says that Hawkeye filled him in on her past. Just a letdown; it’s way scarier if we don’t know how the hell he knows about her past, just that he does. And giving him a healthy dose of crafty near-omniscience could probably have cleared up other plot issues.

  14. Moff says:

    @erin: Nah, I disagree. I think the problem is that there are moments — central moments! — where The Avengers would like to be an issue-driven story, or at least to have a resonant theme, but they don’t cohere. And that’s why the whole fight over SHIELD making Tesseract-weapons comes off as lame.

  15. braak says:

    Yeah, my essential problem with the Coulson issue isn’t the death itself, but how baldly manipulative it is — like, it’s not even pretending to be seated directly in the story, but is really just a message from the director that says, “Hey, guys! I wanted some pathos in this!”

    I think it’s interesting, because you brought up Robert McKee before, and I think this is kind of his fault, with his insistence that every story has to have an emotional center — whether or not he really meant it that way, it’s somehow been translated in the movies into, “everything in the plot must be based on FEELINGS” in a way that it seems to me often undermines otherwise pretty good characters.

  16. Jesse says:

    Wait, why is District 9 a metaphor but Avengers gets to be a movie?

  17. erinsnyder says:

    @Moff: I disagree that the Shield-weapons thing was central to the movie – it seemed to me like it mainly existed to drive a wedge between the heroes and Fury. However, I agree that scene was a bit weak. A statement about weapons of mass destruction in the middle of a summer action flick where half your characters are WMD’s struck me as disingenuous and a tad preachy. It didn’t bother me too much, however, because I didn’t find it central to the movie. But it does get to the heart of my issue with Braak’s proposed ending.

    @Jesse: Why do you think a metaphor’s a bad thing? The point is that District 9 was built around a central metaphor, and Avengers wasn’t (it was mainly built around its characters, their comic origins, and its effects – i.e.: it was a summer action movie). In my opinion, they both accomplish what they set out to do.

  18. Jesse says:

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all — I was just confused that you set the two movies up in a binary opposition: one is a movie and the other is a metaphor. They’re both movies. One of them has a specific metaphor at the center of its storyline; that doesn’t mean the other movie can’t try to ring on a similar theme without totally revolving around the same metaphor.

    I mean, District 9 is also about ambition, family bonds, individual survival, cultural survival, and “ordinary man rising to the occasion” (not to mention sweet gundam battle). And I know a lot of people with whom the movie resonated who would disagree that its segregation metaphors are solely about South Africa. It doesn’t fail as a movie because it’s about several things, so that scene wouldn’t completely disrupt the Avengers — like all stories, it all depends on how well it’s written and executed.

  19. Moff says:

    @erin: Yes, it existed to drive a wedge between the heroes and Fury — and as a practical consequence between the heroes themselves, because Fury was the one trying to bring them together. Since the nominal point of the movie was the heroes managing to come together as a team, it is central. Structurally, it’s the beginning of the end of the second act; the scene where Fury throws the bloody cards on the table is the end of the second act, leading directly into the resolution of the third, where the Avengers realize they have to work together. That’s about as central as it gets. Whether it quite works is debatable, but it was clearly intended to be the hinge of the movie.

    As for preachiness, it was preachy. As have been so many previous superhero movies. It would have been nice if they’d tamped it down or made it more subtle, but it would have been really nice if, as Braak points out, they’d made whatever the sermon was consistent.

  20. Jesse says:

    Also, the core of Braak’s imagined ending there isn’t to preach, “Don’t commit knee-jerk genocide, Audience!” It’s to exemplify a side of Captain America that is clear in every issue of the comics but perhaps could use more emphasis in the movies. If it’s shoehorning anything, I see it shoehorning the “Captain America is a good man” message; but again, it wouldn’t feel tacked on and superfluous “in the best of hands.”

  21. braak says:

    Wait, what am I supposed to be preaching, here? Like, I’m envisioning a scene at the end in which Captain America says something like, “No, don’t you understand? It’s WRONG to fight someone for no reason! We must try to UNDERSTAND the big monsters!”? (And even if this were the case, putting one preachy scene in — “shouldn’t we take ten seconds and try to understand our enemies before we nuke them?” — while taking another preachy scene out — “I can’t believe SHIELD is making weapons, says the guy who VOLUNTEERED FOR A SUPER-SOLDIER PROGRAM” — it’s still not any more or less preachy than before, only the difference is that it’s preachy and makes sense, as opposed to being preachy and also dumb.)

    The “preachy” thing is weird, because in my head this was totally a way of expanding on Loki’s scheme. The point wasn’t, “oh, poor misunderstood aliens”; the point was, “Loki is such a schemer that every single time we think we’re doing the right thing, it turns out to be a trick to get us to do the wrong thing”. That is, up until the very last minute, when Captain America realizes what’s going on, and Iron Man sacrifices himself to throw the nuke through the portal, Loki’s plan is working exactly the way that it’s supposed to. The Avengers’ fight with the aliens isn’t an accident; he has purposefully engineered the fight so they’ll all be in the same place when he tricks the world council into nuking them.

    The point of the scene is simultaneously revealing Captain America to be more strategically-minded than a guy who just tells people to do the thing that they are already good at and were doing anyway, and to reveal that Loki is actually a master sociopathic schemer, instead of just a jerk with a vague plan that the space-bugs are using as a tool.

    I admit that I don’t like the idea of “mindless alien hordes”, because I think that’s a plot for dummies, but the fact of it being more morally and intellectually interesting is actually an ancillary side-effect of expanding on Loki and Captain America’s characters.

    Also, what the fuck, who makes a movie in which all the main characters are weapons of mass destruction and then DOESN’T have anything to say about the use and mis-use of power?

  22. braak says:

    Of course, if the Chitauri were actually refugees, that yields a good set-up for Avengers II, in which the Kree come to Earth to exterminate the last of the Chitauri (figure Asgard is relocating most of them, but there are still survivors on Earth), and the Avengers have to fight them off. This is a good way to give Captain America a nice resonance (the Kree’s preoccupation with genetic purity wouldn’t sit well with him), and a nice way to introduce Ms./Captain Marvel as a female powerhouse.

    It’s kind of a pain, though, because how many of these movies are supposed to be about alien invasions? Is EVERYTHING going to end in an expensive spaceship battle over Manhattan? And it would have been nice if Carol Danvers had been introduced as a notable secondary in this one. Yeesh, Whedon, come on, you KNEW this was going to be a franchise.

    I guess you could do it a little like Starcrossed, and have the Kree just hell of invade and take over everything right away, so the powerhouses are on ice (maybe they somehow transport Hulk to the gladiator planet where he just has to fight all the time, in a nod to Planet Hulk), and it’s the infiltrators that solve this problem. Captain America can be taken prisoner and tell them something about “You brought the Black Widow onto your ship?” Kree: “We’ve taken her prisoner.” Captain America laughs and laughs.

    Anyway, I feel like, now where is there for the plot to go? We’ve got no Ultron or anything. The Leader is still hanging around, but Gamma World feels like it’d be a step backwards after bringing Thanos into it, and Kang seems like you’d have to explain too much to get to the heart of it.

    I’m not sure Thanos is a very good villain for the Avengers anyway. I like him (he’s like Darkseid and Metron in one!), but they can’t use the Silver Surfer, and if Thanos gets the Infinity Gauntlet (which was apparently in the treasure hall in Asgard) they’re going to have to completely depower it.

  23. Moff says:

    Yeah, it’s also curious they didn’t introduce Hank Pym anywhere, because that could lead pretty seamlessly into Ultron as an antagonist. What do you with Thanos that doesn’t (a) make him a totally generic Big Bad Alien, or (b) involve Drax the Destroyer, Moondragon, and Starfox? (And I am operating on the assumption that Avengers 2 is not going to involve Drax the Destroyer, Moondragon, and Starfox, because: Huh?)

    (Although I would love it if Marvel’s blockbusters started generating enough profit and interest to allow the founding of an indie/arty superhero-film production company, and their first outing was a Moondragon movie.)

  24. braak says:

    I would also like it if Marvel’s blockbusters just led into a completely tangential series of blockbusters that were about Silver Surfer and Nova and Ronan the Accuser and those guys.

    Just some straight-up, Jim Starlin Marvel Cosmic Adventures.

  25. erinsnyder says:

    @Braak: “Wait, what am I supposed to be preaching, here?”

    Nothing originally – I initially said your ending would wind up feeling preachy; not that you were personally trying to turn it into a message film (though, I do think your arguments about genocide, white power, and the evils of nuclear warfare got a bit preachy somewhere on the way).

    The reason I said your ending would feel preachy is that it elicits – at least for me – morals along the lines of “we should learn to talk out our issues and find a better way”, which I generally associate with 80’s cartoons and episodes of Star Trek: TNG.

    There’s a time for nonviolence, but I really don’t think it was in that movie.

    “…it’s still not any more or less preachy than before, only the difference is that it’s preachy and makes sense, as opposed to being preachy and also dumb…”

    Setting aside whether one’s more preachy than the other in and of itself, yours was a twist-ending which would alter the entire context of the invasion and the war; making the fallen aliens victims and the Avengers responsible for not finding a peaceful solution earlier. In other words, the cheesiness of the scene that’s in the movie is pretty much relegated to that one scene: yours would have permeated the entire movie.

    “Also, what the fuck, who makes a movie in which all the main characters are weapons of mass destruction and then DOESN’T have anything to say about the use and mis-use of power?”

    Anyone who doesn’t want to retread the same themes that Watchmen covered back in 1986. Superhero stories about heroes misusing power are great, but that’s hardly the extent of the genre.

  26. braak says:

    Oh, wait, hang on, I misunderstood — I thought you were saying that there was something implicitly preachy or condescending about the hypothetical ending I suggested; like it was structurally or semantically — in some way or another — inevitably going to be preachy. You just mean that it would feel preachy to you.

    Let me go back and redo this argument then:

    “Even in the best of hands, that would have felt preachy [to me].”

    I don’t care.

  27. erinsnyder says:

    No, no – you’re right. This is just my opinion, and it’s obviously faulty. As an aspiring writer for film and TV, I’m sure you know exactly what you’re doing.

    I mean, the last thing anyone hiring screenwriters or script doctors is going to be looking for is another Avengers.

  28. Moff says:

    Ha, I was totally right about it not being Whedon’s decision. (Although Braak was totally right about Whedon believing it to be necessary for a good story.)

  29. braak says:

    Well, that’s as it may be. I don’t tend to think of “Whedon” as a person who made The Avengers — like, the actual guy, Joseph (Joss) Whedon — so much as I just use the name as apostrophe for the aggregate organization of entities that produced the movie. Sort of how I talk about Shakespeare as an “author”, when really it’s obvious that there’s all kinds of crazy reasons and sources for all the weird shit in “his” plays.

  30. Moff says:

    Whatever, you owe me a million dollars now, I believe was the deal. (EVERYBODY: BRAAK OWES ME A MILLION DOLLARS.)

  31. braak says:


  32. Moff says:


  33. braak says:

    Oh, man, I cannot afford ANYTHING.

  34. Moff says:

    In other, tangentially related news, there is a notion (completely ungrounded, so far as I can tell) that they could bring Coulson back in a matter of speaking as the Vision.

    That would actually be really fucking cool, just because I would like to see the Vision in a movie, especially if they did not alter his appearance one iota.

  35. braak says:

    Especially if it just kept on with Clark Gregg’s unflappable deadpan.

    “Agent Coulson! We all thought you were dead.”

    “Agent Coulson is dead. I’m an artificial intelligence in an android body that resembles his.”


    (Everyone stands around awkwardly.)

  36. Jesse says:

    @Moff — did you read the Wired interview with Whedon? He backs up a lot if what you were saying in the lat post: he implies (hard) that he was a company man doing the best he could with a long list of instructions.

  37. braak says:

    I’d like to think that this means that Whedon will have a little more liberty on the next one, but I have a suspicion (based on Robert Downey, Jr’s complaints about “the suits” getting involved in Iron Man 2) that this isn’t really how it works at Marvel (now Disney). I have a sneaking suspicion that, paradoxically, the more money that Whedon makes for these guys, the more controlling they’re going to be.

    It’s like, do you remember that episode of Pinky and the Brain, where Brain lets Pinky do the plan this time? And by a series of improbable coincidences, Pinky ends up Chairman of the Federal Reserve or something, and suddenly, now that he’s THIS CLOSE to taking over the world, Brain steps in to finish the plan himself, and wrecks the whole thing?

    I feel like that’s basically what all Hollywood studio executives are like.

  38. Someone Who Isn't Moff says:

    How does one nuke destroy an entire species? Was it just a really small planet?

  39. Someone Who Isn't Moff says:

    Oh sorry, that name was taken.

  40. Moff says:

    Yeah, please don’t use that name.

  41. braak says:

    Man, I don’t know. My reading of the whole thing was that the Chitauri were some kind of weird, hive-mind species that had nearly wiped themselves out fucking around with the cosmic cube, and that little planet and associated floating asteroids was all that was left of their civilization, and they invaded earth with basically everything they had left. So, when Tony Stark nuked the planet, and destroyed whatever Supreme Intelligence was on it, it killed all the remaining Chitauri, also.

    Other people keep saying that was a ship that they had, but it doesn’t seem to follow, as far as I can figure. For one thing, it doesn’t fucking LOOK like a ship — it’s round, not oblong, it’s got nothing that looks like engines or nacelles, weapon emplacements, or sensors clusters. Importantly (unlike the mothership in Independence Day) we don’t see it move, and the aliens are invading via long-distance tesseract portal, so it doesn’t seem like they even NEED a ship. Did they fly their mothership out to a random point in space and open the tesseract portal there? Why, if they had a gigantic planet with a billion more guys on it?

    Possibly, the whole thing just wasn’t thought through very well.

  42. Erin says:

    In order to prevent such errors in the future, I’ve prepared this helpful guide to assist you in identifying whether a bunch of aliens dying simultaneously was the result of a hive-mind or some other unknown cause (say, automatic self-destruct devices, feedback from the mothership, or any host of other possibilities):

    1. Were there more than one species that died at the same time? Say, a bunch of alien soldiers and a handful of gigantic flying eel monsters? If so, it’s probably not a hive-mind.

    2. Did the aliens have access to each others’ thoughts? Say, if a red-headed super-spy jumps onto a speeder and kicks one off, does the driver who’s not looking know this has occurred? If not, it’s almost certainly not a hive-mind.

    3. WAS THERE ANY INDICATION WHATSOEVER THAT IT WAS A HIVE-MIND? If not, you probably shouldn’t assume the aliens operated with a hive-mind.

    You’re welcome.

  43. braak says:

    Dude, that’s foolishness. You’re positing that there’s only one kind of hive-mind, as opposed to a complex set of variable communal intellects that fall under the broad rubric of hive-mind. Maybe, as a way of maintaining control over the species, the Supreme Intelligence comandeered all of the activity of the cerebellums of its myriad soldier-instars, but permitted them independent cognitive function. After all, if you’re going to have all of a certain part of the thinking handled by a single supercomputer, you’re much more likely to have the regular, reflexive systems managed centrally, since the cognitive functions would all be situationally-specific anyway. That’s the LAST thing you’d want managed from a single Supreme Intelligence.

    But moreover, what if there’s just an update system? There’s no reason to assume that all the consciousnesses are in constant contact with the central, managing intellect. In fact, again, a packet schedule that flows through a system of filters to the Supreme Intelligence is much more efficient, and might not include backwash filters designed to prevent the soldier-instars from shutting down if they stopped receiving orders.

    I am not sure that your explanation has thoroughly considered the vast variety of communal intellects that we might refer to as hive-minds.

  44. braak says:

    Because, you know, some pretty strong evidence that there is SOME KIND of hive-mind is the fact that when the planet blew up, all of the soldier-bees fucking shut down.

    Automatic self-destruct systems, are you KIDDING? Listen, there are two basic reasons that you are going to use an automatic self-destruct system: 1) you don’t want your technology falling into enemy hands. 2) you want to kill the enemy that has killed you. In both cases, having your soldiers actually literally explode would be about a million times preferable to having them just fall on the ground, since a functional soldier who might fight to the death would be more likely to achieve (1) or (2) than a soldier that just collapses. (I guess maybe just to keep information out of enemy hands, but, again, why didn’t he just explode?)

    And feedback from the Mothership? What? Seriously? Like the individual soldiers are so in touch with the Mothership that its destruction causes their brains to shut off? Not, incidentally, for them to start say, sparking, like their power cells were overloaded (though it’s important to remember that The Avengers does not, as a film, understand how power cells work, FAIR ENOUGH), but literally just having seizures as though their brains were shutting down?

    I am pretty sure that we can call a species that’s individual consciousnesses are so inextricably intertwined with a central unit that if that unit is destroyed they all are going to die, I think we can call that some kind of hive-mind.

  45. erinsnyder says:

    “Maybe, as a way of maintaining control over the species, the Supreme Intelligence comandeered all of the activity of the cerebellums of its myriad soldier-instars, but permitted them independent cognitive function.”

    Maybe. But that wouldn’t be a hive-mind:


    The into to the “List of non-hive group minds” is particularly appropriate:


    And no, I did not edit the entry.

  46. braak says:

    Oh, for fuck’s sake.

    GROUP-mind then, and consider language and culture vastly improved for the semantic distinction.

  47. erinsnyder says:

    Group-mind is actually just another term for hive-mind. I think the word you’re looking for is “implant” or maybe “psychic.”

    I’m still not sure what you actually meant by “genocide”, though, since there’s no indication the Chitauri were all killed (actually, “The Other” appears to be a Chitauri, and he’s clearly still alive).

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