Fixing The Avengers: A Writer’s Perspective

Like most people I know, I love movies. As you might expect given my writing proclivities, I’m particularly fond of super hero movies. Add to that my long time love of all things Joss Whedon, and The Avengers was the perfect storm for me. It was one of the few movies in the last 10 years I went to the theaters to see (the others being Serenity (another Whedon flick), the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the latest Star Wars movies including Clone Wars, a few cartoons for the kids, 300, Dark Knight Rises, and Avatar). The only other super hero movies starring any of The Avengers that I had seen were the first Iron Man and the Hulk movies so I went in with mostly my knowledge of comic book lore.

Much has been made about the problems with The Avengers. You can’t release a geek-targeted movie and not expect someone to call foul. But these posts have mostly come from the perspective of comic book fans and movie buffs. While I am both of those things, I’m also a writer and think a few line changes here and there would have made a world of difference. I don’t know the history of the characters/team all that well (I’ve never collected any comic books with any of The Avengers characters) but I do think that in most of the instances, a line of dialogue could have made everything more clear. As if it needed to be said, there are spoilers ahead. But if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you should. It is easily one of the best super hero movies ever made.

First, some words of praise. Whedon took what was obviously a very scripted movie and put life into it. Marvel handed him a series of action scenes and said, “Make a move out of that.” If he had just strung together the action scenes, many people would have been fine with it. Hell, that describes most of the current super hero movies. But he did more than that. He took it and gave life to the characters and made them believable, their relationships complex, and the entire movie work much better than I would have ever dreamed. That said, there was one glaring flaw in the characters and, for me, it was Black Widow.

1) Black Widow’s Reaction to Hulk

Near the beginning of the movie, Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk and tears through the helicarrier. For many people who watched the movie, this seemed to be one of the highlights. Black Widow is powerless in the face of the Hulk and, after the Hulk is distracted by Thor, she sits in stunned silence for a few minutes, unable to even respond to Nick Fury.

This was my problem – I didn’t buy it.

I’m a fan of Scarlett Johansson but I didn’t understand what was going on when I saw the movie the first time and, after I was told what I was supposed to be seeing, I still didn’t believe it. From a writer’s perspective, I understand what was being attempted. I get what Whedon was going for. I’m not sure if it was the acting or the directing that let me down but something did. But it all could have been avoided if, at the very start of the movie where Fury sends Widow to get Banner, she had hesitated. Fury could have said something like, “What, you’re not afraid of a little scientist?” This sets the stage that Widow, someone we just saw kick all sorts of ass while strapped to a chair, recognizes that the Hulk is something else. Something not to be trifled with.

2) Black Widow “Being Compromised”

This is the second and last time I’ll mention Scarlett Johansson. Widow meets with Loki to find out his plan. As we’ve seen her do before, she plays weak to lure her opponents into revealing their plans. I absolutely love this take and we’re really seeing how acting weak can really be a show of strength (I’m pretty sure that’s in the Art of War somewhere). So when Loki reveals his plan, she smiles and leaves. I cheered. Great moment.

But then later, after Hawkeye is rescued (more on that next), she says that she’s “been compromised,” a line she used with Loki. So now I’m confused. Was the scene with Loki an act like I thought or did he really get to her? Or is she really saying that she has feelings for Hawkeye and that’s how she’s been compromised? It really isn’t clear. From a directorial standpoint, some sort of move toward Hawkeye would have indicated that he was the way she was compromised. Again, I think this is more of an acting issue.

3) Hitting On Head Breaks Mind Control

This is such a trite convention I can only believe it came directly from Marvel. Completely overdone. The Whedon-lover in me has to imagine that Joss spent many a meeting with Marvel execs trying to talk them out of this one. Anything would have been better. Loki took control of them by touching them in the heart with his staff. That’s why it wouldn’t work on Iron Man later in the movie. Why not a blow to the heart? Hell, we’ve got not one but two super scientists on board the helicarrier. Can’t they come up with a shot or a patch or something? It isn’t like the mind controlled bad guys weren’t getting hit left and right anyhow. I didn’t see any of them shaking their heads and saying, “No, no, I’m okay now. Stop hitting me with your big-ass hammer please.”

4) Doctor Failsafe

This one drives me crazy because it is such an easy fix. Late in the movie, the main researcher (who is a friend of Thor) finally gets hit in the head and regains his senses. The previously impenetrable field around the portal creator device, he reveals, can be penetrated by Loki’s staff. If he had just shut his mouth right there, it would have been fine. But he adds that he built this failsafe in on purpose – somehow overriding the mind control. With Hawkeye gladly attacking his friends (and maybe lover if the Widow compromise is taken to its logical conclusion), this seems a herculean accomplishment.

Most people suggest that the story would have been better if he’d just left off the “I built in” part and had the scientist realize that the staff, utilizing the same energy of the tesseract, could pass through the field safely. But, from a writer’s perspective, I think it makes more sense to have the failsafe be purposeful. But not by the mind-controlled scientist but by Loki. He’s a trickster god. He’s made a deal with powers much greater than his. Wouldn’t he have wanted some sort of backup? Some sort of kill switch to keep that army in check? You bet he would. So, had the line been changed from “I built in” to “Loki had me build in” and the whole movie would have made more sense. Plus, this would have shown that Loki wasn’t just a stupid, vengeful villain with no real plans for the future. When he and Thor fight and Thor tells him that Loki’s allies will never let him rule, we would later know how Loki planned on keeping his allies in check.

5) Hulk Control

When Banner loses control on the helicarrier, he attacks everyone in sight but, later, he seems to retain some measure of control. That’s been explained in a number of ways. Loki’s staff started the change in Banner so that’s why he didn’t have control. The change was triggered by external forces so that’s why he didn’t have control. Both of these suppose that Banner, when he changed of his own will, did have some measure of control. But when Banner and Stark are talking in the lab, Stark is trying to tell him that he CAN have control and Banner isn’t saying anything that would lead anyone to believe that he could control the Hulk at all.

I see two ways to solve this. First, Banner hasn’t had a transformation in a long time (according to Widow at the beginning of the movie). Maybe he doesn’t know he can exert control. Maybe he’s never instigated the change like he did later in the movie (though we saw him do just that at the end of the Edward Norton movie). If Banner had said something to that effect. Something like, “So, you think that if I embrace the Hulk, I’ll be able to control him?” Later, when he makes the change and punches the big worm monster thing, he could turn back to the group and Iron Man could say, “Banner? Are you in there.” Hulk could roar (or whatever), take a step toward Iron Man, and push him aside roughly. Iron Man hits the ground as Hulk punches another alien. Iron man replies, “I’ll take that as a yes.”

6) Banner Angry All The Time

The explanation for Banner not having a transformation (and, in my version, why he can now control the Hulk) was that he was angry all the time. Have you ever tried to feel one emotion constantly? When I was in high school I was your typical angsty goth type. I spent a lot of energy trying to feel unappreciated and discriminated against. But the minute some little baby came in the room, all that fell away and I’d smile and coo just like everyone else. But, whatever, Banner’s mad all the time. This is a movie, a comic book movie no less, and if hitting someone on the head breaks mystical mind control, a little anger is okay I guess.

I’ve tried to come up with some other explanation. The best I can do is to change the whole thing. Rather than make the transformation effortless, have Banner have to work for it. Have him struggle to reach that level of anger so that he transforms into the Hulk. Now, his control makes sense. It doesn’t explain his lack of transformations over the last year but we don’t really need that do we? He just didn’t. Luck. Meditation. As Stark says, “A big bag of weed.” Doesn’t matter. What matters is that he is now able to transform and, with that ability, have a measure of control.

7) Nuke

The powers that be don’t trust The Avengers to get the job done so they decide to send in a nuke. Been done to death but I still think it is plausible. Nick Fury fights them, but they get the nuke launched. Iron Man forces the nuke into the portal and blows up the bad guys. He falls through the portal just as it is closing and the day is saved. Huzzah.

But, of course, it makes no sense. Nukes are triggered to blow – they don’t run into stuff to blow up. So Iron Man couldn’t have redirected it forcibly because it would have just blown when it got to the correct place. Sure, this could be solved by a line about targeting Stark Tower or something but I have a better (I think) suggestion.

Nick Fury announces a Nuke is on the way. Captain America suggests sending it through the portal. Nick says it’ll blow before it goes through. Iron Man offers to hack the missile but has to be connected to do it. Grabs onto the missile but can’t redirect it and hack at the same time. Hawkeye shoots one of the fins somehow (comic book logic) redirecting the missile towards the portal. But it will miss! Cap asks where the Hulk is. Black Widow approaches Hulk and directs him to jump on the back of it (or something). It tips it up just enough to go through the portal. Iron Man reveals that he when he disconnects from the missile it will explode. Sad moment of mournful looks. Iron Man disconnects and falls back as missile explodes. Thor catches him, flies back through portal just as it closes.

More believable? Not really. But at least the nuke acts like a nuke and everyone gets to do something at the end. Plus, Black Widow gets to get over her Hulk fear.

8) Enemies All Die At End

Why? Why did that happen? There is no explanation why blowing up what looked to be some sort of alien mothership would kill all the invading forces. It made no sense. To me, it was more of a, “Dude, we are totally out of budget here. What should we do?” thing than an actual plan. Okay, so the easy fix is that, early in the movie when Thor reveals the name of the aliens, he says something like, “They are bio-mechanical organisms…” This suggests that there might be some sort of reason why they are all connected. Having one of The Avengers look at the lifeless body right after they all fall over and say, “Huh, didn’t expect that to happen,” would have echoed the audience’s reaction.

But why not just let the US Army come in and sweep them up at the end? The Avengers close the portal, they take out a few more of the bad guys, and some general-looking guy steps up and says, “We’ll take care of the rest of these alien scum. Good work.” End of story.

More concerning to me was that, out of alien invasions, the aliens in The Avengers were, by far, the smallest invasion force I’ve ever seen. What was needed was some sort of real threat. The Hulk took out one of those flying worm things with one punch. Probably my second favorite part of the movie. What if the mothership that Iron Man blows up at the end wasn’t a ship but, instead, the adult form of the larvae that the aliens were riding? That’s right, what if those worm things were babies? And what if Iron Man saw many, many adults waiting to come through the portal?

Now that sounds like an invasion force to me.

9) Ear Pieces/Banner Finding Avengers/Thor Getting to Earth

There are a few small things that drive the more neurotic among us crazy. At the beginning of the movie, everyone has Bluetooth headsets. By the end, The Avengers are just putting their hands to their ear. A moment where they are passing out earpieces would have been nice but I’m not that nitpicky. Banner finds The Avengers just in time for the big fight? Fine. Whatever. It wasn’t like there was a huge portal in the sky to lead him there. At least with a motorcycle he could reasonably get through the gridlock that was sure to be surrounding the city. Thor gets to Earth without the tesseract – the thing that he apparently needed in the first movie. Loki explains this by saying something about Dark Energy. Good enough for me. If Joss went through the trouble of including these small explanations, fans should at least give him a break.

Conclusion

So, that’s it. That’s my take on how The Avengers could have been made a little better just by changing a few lines. Yes, I have a real problem with the Black Widow and the end of the movie in general, but, all in all, a few line changes here and there would have made the movie much more believable and, in my mind, better. Feel free to make your suggestions below.

2 thoughts on “Fixing The Avengers: A Writer’s Perspective”

  1. Good write up Tom,
    I really enjoyed the movie as I didn’t nit pick it to death as you did. I’ve never seen a perfectly written or acted movie but this one was damn good.
    I grew up a comic book and huge super hero fan and I’m just pleased they returned after all these years.
    I’m completely grateful to have them. Even the not so good ones are still fun. Like Star Wars EP1 , I really enjoyed watching it.

    1. Yeah, I hope I made it clear that I liked the movie. I really think that Whedon was hamstringed by Marvel. Might not be true but it’s what I believe. What is clear to me, however, is that a few simple line changes could have eliminated a good portion of the complaints I and others like me have about the movie.

      In all fairness, I could do the same treatment to many of my favorite movies including The Crow, The Dark Knight, Star Trek, Blade, and many more. Don’t get me started on the movies I didn’t like.

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