Hero Complex: The Avengers thrills but shortchanges its characters by Trevor Main

    the-avengers_250x211[dropcap]B[/dropcap]efore The Avengers, the name Joss Wheadon (director, screenwriter) would elicit either “he’s a genius!” or “Joss who?” He certainly has come a long way from cult television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly to director of the most anticipated Marvel movie.

    Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s evil half-brother, wants to rule the world. The Avengers, an elite group of people with heroic abilities assembled by the Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), slowly start to form in response to Loki’s appearance but soon grow disgruntled with each other. When Loki heralds the coming of an alien invasion, the clashing heroes must learn teamwork to thwart Loki from ruling Earth as a god.

    The best Avenger is arguably Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). The fact that he’s heir of a multibillion-dollar company makes him slightly similar to Batman, but his brilliance for technology led him to create a metal suit instead of donning tights and a cape. Having been raised by an emotionless father, Stark hides his daddy issues behind multiple walls of humor, sarcasm, and apathy, making him the most interesting Avenger. But you’d have to watch Iron Man (2008) to fully appreciate him, since The Avengers audience is expected to have seen the hero movies already, and the film doesn’t take the time to explain who everyone is.

    The Avengers spews familiar hero archetypes that are rarely present together in one film, which makes the film most entertaining. There’s the genius cynic Tony Stark, born with a complete set of silverware in his mouth, whose childhood with a distant father has left him scarred; the true-blue classic hero Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who, having undergone an experiment in WWII, is now the naïve and morally straight Captain America; then there is the melancholy isolationist with a Mr. Hyde complex (Mark Ruffalo) and the elitist alien (Chris Hemsworth) whose race inspired the Norse mythology. Most movies have only one of these hero types, but throw them all together and expect them to play nicely? Yeah, right. Yet play nicely is exactly what they must do. After all, they are on the same side, working for the same goal, but their various methods make them adversaries for a time. There’s little communication among them, which reflects one of the greatest hurdles in the Christian life: Flexibility. Likemindedness. Teamwork. Whatever you want to call it, it’s the clash of personal ideals and desires that makes us forget we are all followers of Christ.

    Sadly, the movie’s strength is also its weakness. In a typical superhero movie you’ve got the hero, the love interest, and the villain, so the film has time to focus on a narrow cast. Even though multiple heroes fighting an army of aliens is cool, the story spends too much time on getting the group to work together. X-Men (2000) had a similar set-up, but the difference is that they were already a team, so the story could invest its narrative energy in the individual characters.

    The movie isn’t without its inconsistencies, like how in the entire movie Bruce Banner is cautious for fear of turning into The Hulk, a state in which he doesn’t recognize friend from foe. Through much of the film Tony Stark wants to know Bruce’s secret of keeping himself from transforming. In the last battle sequence in New York City, Bruce reveals his secret: “I’m always angry.” But this makes no sense, seeing how he unwillingly transforms and runs amuck earlier in the movie. Now he can suddenly change at will and keep his sanity?

    If it wasn’t for the character of Loki, the movie Thor (2011) wouldn’t have been nearly as good as it was. He craved to be a better person but ended up becoming corrupt, much like Anakin Skywalker. His role in The Avengers, however, loses that psychological edge. He still remains an interesting character to some degree because of his philosophy of the human race, but he physically does very little in the movie besides rant on how he should be god.

    In a scene where Loki has landed in the middle of a populated area, he makes all the nearby humans bow before him and professes that the human race was created to worship something larger than itself. Mankind’s power-grabbing is what causes war and violence among us, but if we all had a common deity to worship and make us realize that we were meant to be slaves to something greater, then war would stop. Loki then proposes himself as the god they should worship. “When you understand there’s no true freedom, then you’ll know peace,” he says.

    Loki is obviously the Satan archetype in the movie, doing what the enemy does best. Using truth to tell a lie. Despite Loki being a villain in the movie, we can still accept his accurate assessment of the human race. We do have a problem, and it does cause chaos in the world. Even the solution Loki presents is the only answer to our condition–to recognize we were created to be slaves. Some people may cringe at the term “slaves,” but the idea comes straight out of Romans 6:15-18. In this passage, Paul tells us we will be slaves no matter what. But we can choose either to be slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness.

    That’s where the truth stops in The Avengers. Loki would have them believe he is the one who mankind should worship. We, of course, know otherwise. But that shouldn’t stop us from remembering to look past the enemy for God to fill that role.

    To appreciate The Avengers, you’ll need to see the other hero movies (Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor), because without them, these characters have little depth or context. Even with prior knowledge of the heroes, The Avengers won’t win any awards for best story, but it will make every comic book fan’s day.

    Trevor Main has a B.A. in fiction writing from Columbia College, Chicago, and is working on his master’s degree in communication at Dallas Theological Seminary. His ministry experience with Youth With a Mission has taken him across Europe, Africa, and Asia.

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