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.






One response to “Avengers Assemble! A Summer Blockbuster Comparison”

  1. Rick Beckman Avatar

    I for­got to men­tion it above, but the sim­i­lar­i­ties remind me of the sim­i­lar­i­ties between Star Trek: Neme­sis and its supe­ri­or sequel/franchise reboot Star Trek.

    In both cas­es, the orig­i­nal was fun to look at and was cer­tain­ly enter­tain­ing, but then the next movie comes along, remix­es some of the aspects of the pre­vi­ous movie, throws in an amaz­ing sto­ry line, and ulti­mate­ly rais­es the bar on what movies can accomplish.

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Rick Beckman