When Iron Man was released in 2008, few could have imagined the heights the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would reach. The Avengers cemented Marvel’s legacy by putting characters together that had previously been less known, and having it all come together in a spectacular way.
We had a chance to meet Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) throughout the MCU’s Phase One. Seeing these characters from vastly different backgrounds and contexts was Marvel’s first chance to prove they could handle the massive storytelling that would become a hallmark of the MCU in years to come.
Loki (Tom Hiddleston) got his first chance to shine as the MCU’s favourite anti-hero. He’s perfectly hateable hypnotizing Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and generally causing a massive amount of chaos. Loki has arguably been one of the current MCU characters who has been able to grow and change the most. His impact in the coming Multiverse saga is likely going to be massive.
Mark Ruffalo made his debut as the Hulk in this MCU entry. Taking over the role from Edward Norton, Ruffalo brought his own signature to the role we have come to associate with him entirely. He fits the role of a misfit doctor, trying to do as much good as possible and control his own emotional turmoil. After two solo films, it has to be said Marvel figured out how to nail the special effects that made the Hulk look incredible.
Samuel L Jackson has been the heart and soul of the Avengers since before they were a team and he has since been established as the mastermind behind the whole project. This gruff, take no nonsense, inspiring leader is exactly the character Jackson is made for playing. His work as Nick Fury since has been spectacular and it looks like Marvel is going to giving his character more screen time in upcoming projects. It’s truly what he deserves.
Unfortunately, The Avengers continues to show the loose relationship Marvel has developed with consequences. In this case, this is manifested in the character of Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Spoiler alerts for an over 10 year old movie, but Coulson’s death was my personal beef with this movie for years. After playing his demise as the event that ultimately brings the Avengers together, he’s ultimately resurrected and given his own TV show. It sort of takes the power out of the moment, and it’s long past time Marvel should have addressed this.
Similarly, the fake-out with the death of Tony Stark is also played for cheap drama. We had seen his character in mortal danger through two of his own standalone entries, and seeing his character in the same position in The Avengers was a bit over the top and on the nose. There are only so many times we can watch characters be faced with death before we check out emotionally and cease to care if they do in fact live or die.
The Avengers also unfortunately is a perfect example of Marvel’s early treatment of female characters. Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) is woefully underused throughout the entire story. Although we’re meant to believe she’s one of SHIELD’s most talented agents, we see so little of her in action that would support this. Black Widow, as absolutely fierce as she is throughout the movie, is still completely designed around the male gaze. With never a hair out of place, unnecessarily revealing outfits, and sexually suggestive remarks, it’s definitely disappointing to revisit a character with so much potential reduced to the experience of the men around her.
Finally, are we also not going to talk about how SHIELD and the governments of the world were just casually going to nuke Manhattan? Although it does make sense following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it was an alarming story point that was mostly thrown out for dramatic effect and never really addressed in any meaningful way.
For all of its flaws, The Avengers remains a perfectly enjoyable team up movie that set up this team of misfits that we still love today. It was Marvel’s first foray into bringing franchise characters together, and if it hadn’t worked as well as it did, the MCU would be nowhere near what it is today.
The Avengers is currently available to stream on Disney+.