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Review: Avengers Assemble

Sunday 13 May 2012

Avengers Assemble, directed by Joss Whedon, starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard & Samuel L. Jackson.

*WARNING* – this review contains spoilers.

I suppose I should begin this article with a disclaimer: I can see why Avengers Assemble has been so popular. It’s shiny, lightening-paced and packed to the rafters with stars. It has impressive fight sequences and very good special effects. Some of its jokes are even funny. But beneath its blockbuster veneer lies something much darker…

I left the cinema dazed, a little unsure what I had witnessed. I understood the premise, alright: exiled Norse deity Loki (Hiddleton) strikes a deal with the Other, leader of the alien race, the Chitauri. Loki agrees to retrieve an energy source known as the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D. (a kind of fictional CIA) in exchange for a Chitauri army to assist in his plans to rule Earth. Loki steals the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director, Nick Fury (Jackson) , using it to enslave agent Clint Barton (Renner) and physicist Erik Selvig (Skarsgard), and to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D.’s military base. While S.H.I.E.L.D. try to track Loki down, Fury assembles his team of Avengers: Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Captain America (Evans), Hulk (Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Johansson). They are eventually joined by Loki’s brother, Thor (Hemsworth), who helps them capture and imprison Loki. However, as the team begin to realise the Tesseract’s potential, Loki escapes, and the Avengers must halt his plans for world domination. Standard superhero movie fare? Perhaps. But there were numerous aspects of the film which felt like cold, deliberate propaganda.

The first hint of this comes as Captain America prepares for combat and is advised by Agent Coulson (Gregg) to put on his uniform. When he asks if the ensemble, which closely resembles the American flag, is a little out-dated, Coulson suggests that, in these difficult times, perhaps everyone needs a bit of the ol’ stars-and-stripes.

On several occasions, the viewer is assured that Thor and Loki are not, in fact, Gods. They are described as ’from myth’, ‘almost gods’, and various other reductive terms. This ensures that their presence in the film does not contradict Captain America’s theist statement to Loki that there is only one God.

The Avengers are a singularly Caucasian group. Though Black Widow is officially Russian, she appears to be firmly in league with the Americans. Thor, as a mythical creature, is somewhat exempt from discussion of nationality, though he too has firmly allied himself to S.H.I.E.L.D. Thus, the team is not only Caucasian, but a group of Americans fighting to defeat Loki’s foreign army. For while Thor is Aryan, Loki is darker, not quite so Nordic in appearance. Fury is the only black protagonist, and he is not depicted as wholly trustworthy, manipulating the Avengers and withholding evidence from them – though he eventually makes good and helps to fight a greater evil.

Loki is a deity whose motive is to destroy Freedom – Yes, with a capital ‘F’. His sole purpose is to enslave, to end autonomy. His army are monstrous, inhuman creatures who descend from the sky to destroy New York City (do you see where I’m going with this?). The entirety of the film’s climax features various Chitauri creatures appearing above the city’s skyline before plummeting into the skyscrapers below. It’s a chilling sequence that so vividly evokes images of 9/11 that I refuse to believe it unintentional. The largest of the Chitauri beasts is a giant, mechanical monster that, with its wing-like fins and fish tail, strongly resembles an aeroplane, and as it crashes through buildings before plunging through the side of Grand Central Station, the twisted steelwork of the destroyed building is just a little too familiar. Faux news footage of civilians running in the streets as debris falls from Stark Tower (Iron Man’s headquarters) also feels so emotively contrived as to be blatant.

Fury and the team eventually realise that the only way to destroy the foreign invaders and protect America is with a nuclear bomb, which is naturally promptly deployed. The Chitauri eradicated, the film’s closing shot is of Stark Tower being rebuilt, and rising triumphantly over New York, the letter ‘A’ still intact. ‘A’ for ‘Avengers’, or for ‘America’?

All of these elements serve to render a narrative that is pro-Christian, pro-Caucasian, pro-American and pro-Nuclear armament. That’s a lot of pro-s. It is a film which espouses the importance of monotheism in protecting American liberty, and, by using aliens as an allegorical depiction of Al-Quaeda, renders the Middle East as whole as inhuman, barbarous, blood thirsty and worshiping a false god. You see, for all the talk of an endangered America, the Middle East is tactfully never mentioned at all except for in a brief post-credit scene, where the Avengers gather to eat shawarma. Is this irony or appeasement? The message seems simple: kebab shops are the acceptable face of the Middle East.

Of course, the above is entirely inference. Perhaps I am too ready to analyse the film, too eager to locate ‘meaning’ in it. Perhaps there is none at all. But I can’t help wonder if the words ‘avengers assemble’ are not just the film’s title, but an instruction.

Words: Jack Casey