Avengers Assemble! A Summer Blockbuster Comparison

I had the good fortune of watching The Avengers earlier today during its first showing here in town. There isn’t a lot i could add to the global discussion of this movie — all the blogs are abuzz with it (and rightly so!) — so rather than write a full review, i will compare the movie to Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Last year, the world watched Chicago get tore all to hell in the third entry of the Transformers saga epic visual effects orgasm. The bar for over-the-top sci-fi movies was raised high.

Enter The Avengers. There were numerous times while watching that movie — and even during its trailers — when i felt as though we were seeing elements of Dark of the Moon (DotM) all over again. But where DotM failed, The Avengers excelled.

Warning: There be spoilers ahead.

The Avengers assembled!

Let’s consider the cast. DotM, like the two films which preceded it, featured a cast full of a variety of Transformers, both good and bad, and few of them any more exceptional than another. Yet after three movies & repeated viewings, i have to ask: How is it that Michael Bay could find no time to develop any of the myriad of Transformers into likable characters with rich personality & back story? At times i thought that character development was sacrificed in favor of having more Transformers on screen at one time.

But then, The Avengers. I’ll concede that several of these characters had the advantage of having their own solo films in order to establish their character, but even in The Avengers, the characters were able to be presented in a way that made them seem like real people, real characters with real personality — each with their own motivations, their own conflicts, their own raison d’être. Even newcomers like Hawkeye received ample screen time to establish their characters. As it turns out, you can have larger than life characters without getting bogged down in the larger-than-lifeness of it all (or without resorting to racial stereotypes).

Kneel before Loki

The DotM theme of human subjugation was also bettered by The Avengers. In DotM, the Decepticons (bad robots from the planet Cybertron) sought to enslave the human race in order to force the rebuilding of their home world. Though a few humans voluntarily joined the Decepticons’ cause — for protection, for profit — the rest were viewed by the Decepticons as mere insects, an annoying but necessary part of the system which would allow them to rebuild their home. The Decepticons, poorly written as they were, seemed to fail to realize that it was one human boy — a godawful, horribly annoying one at that — who kept screwing up their plans.

The Avengers, on the other hand, featured a much, well, human view of humanity. The antagonistic, Loki, used mind-control to acquire a few necessary minions to carry out his plans. And though there are those who are willing to, for fear of death, bow to the mad god Loki, their surrender is not simply glossed over. A motivation beyond shallow greed & self-preservation is presented, a motivation which presents some very interesting philosophical jumping off points for those so inclined. Is freedom bad for humanity? Are we happier when we are subjugated, when our decisions are made by a higher authority?

Cybertron Entering Earth’s Orbit

Finally, in DotM, the film has as its MacGuffin a bunch of Cybertronian pillars which, when activated in unison, create a space bridge back to Cybertron. The Decepticons succeed in setting these up, causing Cybertron to begin being pulled into Earth’s orbit. Here is where i must question the sanity of the already clearly insane Decepticons. Cybertron (at least in the movie continuity) is huge, much larger than Earth, and the Decepticons are pulling it into Earth orbit, very close to the Earth. If you thought the gravitational effect of the moon upon Earth was notable (and the moon is very, very far away and much, much smaller than the earth), well, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The introduction of Cybertron would wreak havoc, possibly within the entirety of the inner solar system.

Fortunately, there is a online solar system simulator, within which i was able to set up a small-scale representation of what we saw in the movie: the sun, Earth, its moon, and Cybertron (between Earth and its moon). In my first set up, i placed Cybertron between the earth and the moon, traveling in the same direction of the moon; this resulted in the earth & the moon colliding, with Cybertron orbiting the sun in an off-center ellipse. In my second attempt, i placed Cybertron on the opposite side of Earth, traveling again in the same direction as the moon; this resulted in the moon colliding with Cybertron, Earth being thrown from the solar system, and Cybertron again orbiting the sun alone.

Long story short, the Decepticons plans would result in their own destruction (they were on Earth, not Cybertron) or at least the loss of all of the raw materials which they had planned to use to rebuild their home world.

The Avengers had a very similar MacGuffin: a cube known as the tesseract, a self-sustaining source of energy which is used by Loki to create a worm hole to the realm of the Chitauri, an alien race with whom Loki has aligned. Rather than bring a planet through the wormhole, though, a much more realistic use is employed: the deployment of an army of Chitauri soldiers & leviathans.

There are probably more similarities between The Avengers and DotM, which i’d love to hear about so feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on either of these movies below.

I really enjoyed The Avengers. Joss Whedon did an amazing job pulling it all together, and i look forward to the future of the Marvel film universe.

Quick complaint: I really would have liked to have seen the return of both Natalie Portman’s character Jane Foster as well as Don Cheadle’s War Machine, both of whom were established in the Avengers universe via Thor & Iron Man 2, respectively. In the future, if Marvel Studios ever gets the rights to the X-Men, it would be great to see the Scarlet Witch & the Vision make it into an Avengers movie.

And i live in the futile hope that someday there will be a Marvel movie so big, featuring a threat so great (Galactus? Apocalypse? Who is your favorite Marvel super-threatening super villain?) that we see the need for a movie which recognizes the existence of multiple teams — the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, perhaps some of the other “X” teams. Oh sure, casting would be a nightmare, but this sort of thing is common in the comic books. Also, Wolverine & Spider-Man have both been Avengers, so their presence in the same universe ought to be a given.

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