This is meant to co-inside with my film review of “The Avengers” and will hopefully bring some clarity to how the plot actually got the point that you see in the film. I would have made the review a good thousand words longer if I stuck it in there with it, and since it was already a novel I figured it would be better to just stick it in here.
“The Avengers” was an ambitious project that spanned four years and four films from Marvel Studios. If ANY of these films proved to be a flop it would spell disaster for the entire project. “Iron Man” was a success because I felt it took a leaf from Christopher Nolan and made the setting more realistic, it just felt different. When you watch the older Marvel films like “Spiderman” and “Daredevil” you KNOW you are watching a comic book movie by the colors and the questionable acting and dialogue. Here the game was changed for Marvel, they wrote a solid script and made the characters in “Iron Man” more believable as a result. Audiences responded well to this emerging trend in superhero films and Marvel raked in the $$$. This was only the start of one of the most ambitious projects in film history, Marvel planned to expertly intertwine plot lines from four separate superhero films into one. The ball was not dropped once in any of the films, the nay-sayers were proven wrong and the project was a critical and financial success.
I should start by telling you the order in which these Marvel films are meant to be seen.
Iron Man —> Iron Man II / The Incredible Hulk —> Thor —> Captain America —> The Avengers
Chronologically that is the correct order, Iron Man II and The Incredible Hulk take place at the same time.
I will add a number of *’s throughout the account for key details that help tie everything together.
“Iron Man II” is where this plot line gets going and is the best place to start. At the end of “Iron Man” we saw Tony Stark finding Nick Fury of SHIELD waiting for him at his Malibu home, here Fury tells him about “The Avenger Initiative”. Stark still has his arrogant streak and brushes the invitation off, preferring to work alone. However, events in the film force Stark to get help from Fury and as a result he owes his life to SHIELD (*1). In a bizarre twist Stark offers his services to SHIELD’s “Avengers” but this time Fury declines him. Instead he makes Stark “The Consultant for SHIELD”. During this meeting the audience can see a news report playing in the background highlighting the battle between the Hulk and the US Army at a New York University. This ends up being Stark’s first assignment in his new role; He is to find General Ross and persuade him and his forces to stop pursuing Bruce Banner(*2) (Alter Ego: The Incredible Hulk) as SHIELD has their eyes on him and wants to bring him on board with The Avengers. Stark eventually tracks down Ross drowning his sorrows at a bar as can be seen at the end of “The Incredible Hulk”, there he essentially offers to take Banner off the US Military’s hands.
During this meeting SHIELD makes another discovery; A strange ‘Hammer’ has fallen out of nowhere into the middle of the New Mexico desert. Agents are dispatched to the site which is quickly shut off. It seems that this mysterious hammer that nobody can move from the ground came with something else, this is where “Thor” enters the plot.
“Thor” brings a lot to this story, most importantly of all it provides the antagonist Loki and goes into developing his motivations. The events of “Thor” reveal that humans are not alone in the universe and that the land lost to legend, Asgard, has served as our world’s distant protector for centuries. Thor is exiled from Asgard and encounters SHIELD during his stint on Earth. After the battle against Loki’s Destroyer Thor tells the agents that “You may consider me your ally”. SHIELD are not quite sure of this claim as Thor’s own brother Loki leveled an entire town with the Destroyer in his quest for revenge – Something that will have major repercussions in “The Avengers”(*3). Thor departs for Asgard after putting an end to his brother’s maniacal plan, but as it turns out… Asgard still left something behind. One of the scientists Thor encountered during his exile, Dr. Selvik (Or was it really him…), is called in by SHIELD to give his account of events. Selvik comes face-to-face with Nick Fury who seems surprisingly unfazed by his account, he soon reveals why: “Legend tells us one thing, History another. But every now and then we come across something that belongs to both”. Fury reveals that decades ago SHIELD found something that was not native to Earth, something that found it’s way into the wrong hands, it was called ‘The Tesseract’. The Tesseract turns out to be an ancient Asgardian artifact capable of generating colossal amounts of energy.
How did SHIELD find this? Who was using it before it was found? When was this found? About a year after the events of “Thor” another miraculous discovery is made by SHIELD in the arctic… Captain America, the final piece of this puzzle. At this point the plot goes back in time to the 1940’s to make sense of what is to come.
Before SHIELD was even a twinkle in people’s eyes World War II was raging across Europe. During the war Nazi Germany had a ‘Deep-Science Division’ called HYDRA that believed occult power was key to not only winning the war but subjigating it entirely, this unit was led by an excellent but maniacal scientist called Johan Schmidt. Schmidt leads a small force of soldiers to Norway in 1942 and discovers the Tesseract that was left behind by the Asgardians over a millenia ago. Incredibly HYDRA is able to harness the power of the artifact in small quantities and uses it to gain an overwhelming advantage against the Allies and the Nazi’s alike. In response to this threat the weak but brave Steven Rogers is infused with a special serum (*4) that enhances his feeble body to the peak of perfection and becomes “Captain America”. Rogers proves himself to the Allies and fights against HYDRA during the war. Rogers finally faces off against Johan Schmidt on a plane about to annihilate the US East Coast. The battle against Schmidt forces Rogers to crash his plane into the arctic ocean to prevent it’s devastating payload, the Tesseract, reaching it’s target and detonating. After the battle the Tesseract falls to the bottom of the ocean where it is recovered by Howard Stark (*5). Rogers is assumed KIA until his body, saved from the elements by the serum he was given, is found by SHIELD agents. Rogers is miraculously revived and is understandably shocked about being 70 years into the future, about being in the modern world. However he has no time to adjust to his new reality as Nick Fury approaches him with a new mission… The Tesseract has been stolen by Loki who has found his way to Earth. SHIELD already knows what Loki is capable of and responds by assembling “The Avengers” to track him down, and he wants Rogers to be part of it.
This is where “The Avengers” begins.
It’s quite an achievement by Marvel to have combined so many film plot lines into one over the course of four years, they managed it and in the process set a benchmark for others to aspire to. Not only had Marvel created one of the greatest superhero films ever made, they had created a number of excellent superhero films building up to it each with their own stories connecting to each other whilst still having their own identity. I have no doubt that Marvel can take this well established universe and build on it even more because they have over 60 years of material to use and now… masses of financial and audience backing to do so.
Hopefully my review of “The Avengers” will make more sense now, hopefully.
The small points,
*1 – This is tied to *5. Howard Stark was Tony Stark/Iron Man’s father and according to Nick Fury was one of the founding members of SHIELD after World War II. It is Howard’s research with the Tesseract he recovers after the events of “Captain America” that allows his son to save his own1 life. Howard’s notes are given to Tony by SHIELD, effectively saving his life. Stark is indebted to Fury as a result and this sways him to finally join The Avengers.
*2 -This is a point brought up by Black Widow when she finds Bruce Banner in hiding during “The Avengers”.
“SHIELD has kept close tabs on you, even kept some other interested parties off of your trail.”
*3 – The sheer amount of carnage caused by Loki’s short rampage on Earth is what prompted SHIELD to spend a year experimenting vigorously with the Tesseract in order to build weapons with it. This is also what makes the exiled Loki find it on Earth. This is revealed in “The Avengers”;
Banner: “I want to know why SHIELD is using the Tesseract to build weapons!”
Nick Fury: *Points at Thor* “Because of him!” – “About a year ago the Earth had a visitor with a grudge match to settle that leveled a small town. Not only did we learn that we are not alone in the universe but we are hopelessly… HILARIOUSLY outgunned.”
Thor: “This work of yours is what drew Loki to the Tesseract to begin with… you fool!”
*4 – This ‘Serum’ used on Steven Rogers is the forerunner of the same serum that transformed Bruce Banner into the Hulk. However, since the creator of the original serum had committed the formula to memory future attempts to replicate the serum properly would fail. The worst failure of which resulted in creating the Hulk. This is mentioned during “The Incredible Hulk”.
General Ross: “Back in World War 2 the Allies had a super-soldier project running. Banner’s work was to try replicate it.”