GEEK SQUAD: Vetting The Avengers

EDITOR’S NOTE: One-man-walking-Star-Trek-convention and incoming Phawker intern Richard Suplee is, by his own admission, a total comic book nerd. In the quadrants of the galaxy where the jocks still rule the roost, such a confession would get your ass kicked into next week. As further proof that Phawker is not high school, instead of kicking his ass into next week, we are going to harness his deep geek knowledge and use it to vet this summer’s onslaught of big budget superhero popcorn movies. We begin with this incredibly-detailed and rigorous cross-examination of The Avengers. So put on your Spock ears and let’s do this thing.

BY RICHARD SUPLEE There are already plenty of reviews on how awesome or how awful The Avengers is. As an avid comic book reader, I figured another review of the movie will be pointless. Instead, I will be giving a detail reading on how effectively I think each member of the Avengers team was utilized by the filmmakers. As a quick overview, let me say director Joss Whedon did an excellent job. Every character is a crowning moment of awesomeness and their respective superfine will not be disappointed. Also, there are some minor spoilers below.

Firstly, The Hulk and Dr. Bruce Banner were presented almost perfectly. In the Marvel Comics universe, The Hulk is the “strongest one there is.” That is not just a fancy catch phrase but truth in advertising. Very few other beings are equal to him and besides from certain unnamed cosmic entities none can truly say they are stronger.Thankfully, Joss Whedon did not nerf The Hulk’s strength at all. The Hulk goes toe to toe with Thor, destroys a giant serpent-like spaceship in all of two seconds, and defeated Loki in roughly the same amount of time (by comparison, Thor took a good 5 minutes to defeat Loki). Bruce Banner was equally impressive. The dude is one of the top 10 smartest people on Marvel Earth (yes there is a list). The techno-babble between Banner and Stark is priceless and is one of many moments that show just how smart Banner is. While I loved seeing Banner transform at will, he is not in complete control of The Hulk, there is a nice middle ground that seems to represent the usual relationship between the two in the comics. The movie also goes to great lengths to show that The Hulk does not have an easily exploited weakness. I have personally had many heated debates over how defeating The Hulk is not as easy as just shooting Banner in the face and the movie proves me right. The Avengers also gives some personality to The Hulk beyond his rep as a misunderstood/mindless killing machine. In one scene, as he falls out of space and plummets a couple miles to Earth, he purposely aims his descent so that he lands in an abandoned warehouse so as not to hurt anyone.

The character that I was most worried about was Thor. This fear was sparked by trailer where Tony Stark refers to Thor as a demigod. I am sure that even non-comic nerds know that Thor is a full-fledged god. [Of course! Who doesn’t know that?!? — The Ed.] However, the movie seems to suggest that Stark was just trying to wrap his head around what to call the super-advanced alien race that humans used to worship as gods. Thor’s power level in the comics has always been one of the strongest. Thor is basically just below The Hulk in power. Of course, Thor is also an Asgardian Warrior with a few thousand years of training under his belt and a magical hammer that might count as a weapon of mass destruction. The hammer and training allowed Thor to be evenly matched with The Hulk in the film. As far as characterization go, Thor is depicted with the same hard headed personality Chris Hemsworth gave him in the last film. The argument over jurisdiction of Loki’s arrest between Thor and Ironman shows that Thor was raised a prince and believes he can do whatever he wants (although in his defense, he was motivated to save the world).

Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Ironman is as, as always, unimpeachably awesome. The loose cannon nature of the character combined with his paranoia about S.H.I.E.L.D. makes the movie. In terms of power lever, Ironman’s on-screen depiction remains faithful to the comics. The Ironman armor is one of the most advance pieces of technology in existence. Yet at the end of the day, it is still just a suit and cannot compete with the might gods and monsters. In the film, Ironman is a distant third in power ranking, as it should be. However, he is also the only character who can fly easily and his suit of armor comes with lots of useful gadgets. Being able to have the armor form around his bracelets avoids the lengthy suit up process. It also makes the armor similar to the armor in the comics but without having to explain how his armor can be inside his skin. While I am an avid comic book nerd, some things just don’t fit in the movies well and as such need to be altered. The biggest problem I had with Ironman’s armor is the fact that there was only one main suit (well two if you count the upgrade but they seemed to be very similar in terms of power). In the comics Tony Stark has a few hundred different suits for specialized situations. These situations include mortal combat, space exploration, and underwater activity. It is the latter that should have been used. In the first scene with Ironman he is underwater. It would have been a nice addition to show either a completely new suit or some add-ons to make underwater missions easier.

Captain America is another character I worried about. Instead of being underpowered, which is my problem with The Avengers portrayal of Thor, I fully expected Captain America would be overpowered. Cap is just not that powerful in the comics. The super soldier serum is basically just mega-steroids that transform Steve Rogers into the pinnacle of human potential and prevents him from developing fatigue toxins. While the human limit is stretched with Rogers’ powers, he is just slightly above human. He is not a machine, a god, or a walking metaphor for the power of nuclear bombs. Due to the popularity of both Captain America in general and of his recent movie, I assumed they were going to make Cap have some ridiculous moment where he curb-stomps Loki or Thanos. Instead, Cap has to navigate through the edge of a Helicarrier jumping from platform to platform while fighting Loki’s human minions and helping Stark fix the ship. Despite his lack of superhuman physical strength (comparatively speaking, anyway), Cap brings two things to the table that are crucial to The Avengers. First, he is a soldier. Half the team (Hulk, Thor, and Ironman) are not so good at following orders or, for that matter, trusting the government. Having someone like Cap in the mix who does both unconditionally is a good thing. Secondly, Cap is a natural leader. His crowning Moment of Awesome comes when the Avengers are in the middle of Manhattan facing down an invading army. Cap tells everyone what to do, ending it with “Hulk, smash!” Chris Evans delivers the line perfectly. The maverick personalities on this team needed a strong leader, and Cap is the right man for the job.

My fears that Black Widow and Hawkeye would be overpowered in the screenplay and given the ability to punch and kill at Hulk and Thor’s level proved unfounded. Joss Whedon knows exactly how to use them: Black Widow uses her spy skills to get Loki to reveal his master plan and her hijacking of an alien space craft did not require an upgrade of powers beyond what she can do in the comics. Hawkeye is similarly well-played, although he does have a significant impact on the outcome of the final battle thanks to his exploding arrows. The exploding arrows shown in the comics are basically on par with rocket launchers, if not more powerful, so it makes sense for them to do some serious, game-changing damage. The use of Hawkeye’s super-vision to survey the entire area was also a very good idea I never thought of. Even with all his computers, Ironman can’t watch the entire city at the same time that he is fighting the aliens. Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johannson killed, so much so, in fact, that I am hoping they each get a solo movie out of the deal.

Finally, Nick Fury is an old school spy not afraid to be amoral if that is what it takes to save the world. He gets the Avengers together and then uses the death of Agent (Phil) Coulson and some blood-smeared Captain America cards to give them a good reason to start, um, avenging. It is also implied that Fury formed the Avengers as a type of nuclear deterrent. Frakly, I was shocked by Agent Coulson’s death. Didn’t see that coming. Sure, he is a minor character created only for the movies, but he only just made his comic debut (along with a black Nick Fury, the original’s son) a few weeks ago. Maria Hill’s big screen debut was well-delivered. She seemed like the high ranking character she is without going through endless back story. Overall, S.H.I.E.L.D. was perfectly portrayed as a spy agency who have too many secrets to be totally ethical, but one that is legitimately trying to save the world.