In a poll I conducted with an admittedly small sample-size (3): 100% of people said Hulk bashing Loki was their favorite thing in the movie.
We're going to breakdown why this moment satisfies so much.
Director: Joss Whedon
Obviously loves this: Robert Downey Jr.
WAY WAY WAY better in this movie than in Thor: Tom Hiddleston
Also cooler in this than in his previous movie: Chris Evans
I love when he doesn't understand Human-culture: Chris Hemsworth
She makes me happy: Scarlett Johansson
Nothing against Mark, but I think I prefer Edward: Mark Ruffalo
I kept expecting him to revert to being mind-controlled: Jeremy Renner
"I better get to fire a rocket, else fuck this movie.": Samuel L. Jackson
I'm pretty sure she spoke with a Canadian accent: Cobie Smulders
I'm pretty sure he'll be back: Clark Gregg
Got to show his belly for a second: Stellan Skarsgard
WAY TO LOOK SEXY AND KNOW IT: Gwyneth Paltrow
What a nice man: Harry Dean Stanton
In covering Super 8 I discussed how narratives have public and private realms.
The private realm is pretty narrow. It's the extent of the characters in the narrative. So in Fight Club the private realm is primarily made up of Jack, Tyler Durden, and Marla. Then we get some ancillary characters: Robert Paulson, fucking Lou, Jack's boss, Angel Face.
In Spielberg's War of the Worlds, the private realm is almost exclusively Tom Cruise, Justin Chatwin, and Dakota Fanning.
The public realm is ridiculously large, since we can continue to expand it. In the TV show Desperate Housewives the public realm is a street "Wisteria Lane". In Groundhog Day the public realm is the small town of Punxsutawney, PA. In Anchorman the public realm is Whale's Vagina, aka the city of San Diego. There Will Be Blood is a good example of expansion in the realm: on the one hand, the public realm is Little Boston, CA. But the film is also involving the public realm of American business practices, specifically business practices of private drilling companies, and this gets into the culture of the American West at the beginning of the 20th century, which is the foundation for America as we know it today. We have global conflict movies like Casino Royale. Then movies whose public realm encompasses not just the Earth but Outer Space as well: Independence Day, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 2001: A Spacey Odyssey. The public realm of the Star Wars franchise involves not only multiple planets but many galaxies.
The Avengers is one of these Earth/Outer Space public realm movies.
The public realm encompasses the private realm.
And our private realm characters usually embody either the ideal of the public realm or the antithesis. For instance, Fight Club. Edward Norton's Jack is the ideal representative of the public realm Consumer Culture. Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden is the antithesis. (In Desperate Housewives the female leads are embodiments of the culture of Wisteria Lane, which is a type of satire of rich Connecticut-style housewives a la The Stepford Wives, which gets at the lifestyles of the wealthy in America).
In Fight Club the Public Realm dominates Jack. His response is a psychic breakdown: Tyler Durden appears. Tyler encourages Jack to rail against Consumerism, to change his life. The two recruit an army and what we see is a "Frankenstein's Monster" scenario: Consumerism is responsible for creating Tyler Durden, and Tyler Durden makes a solid attempt to destroy Consumerism. The private realm and public realm are in direct conflict with one another.
We see avatars of the Public realm that reflect negative aspects of the public realm: Marla (parasite), Chloe (dying), Lou (a predator) Jack's Boss (a pawn), the Raymond K. Hessel (a slave), debt records (shackles).
Edward and Tyler have conflicts with each of these avatars: Marla becomes a source of redemption for Jack (and he her) as they spend time together. Chloe dies, is another victim (in this case, there's a lack of conflict, a lack of interest--others aren't as important as the self). The Predator and Boss are both stripped of power. The Slave is freed against his will. The debt records are destroyed, people are set free.
The Avengers inverses this structure. Instead of the public realm causing the private realm to react, the private realm causes the public realm to react.
Basically, the main villain of The Avengers, Loki, is motivated by his private realm conflict with his adoptive family. Loki is jealous of his brother, Thor. And mad at his father, Odin. The entire plot of Thor was based on Loki wanting to become king of Asgard and not being able to because Thor was favored by Odin and thus chosen. Because Odin was the king and Thor and Loki both princes, the private realm decisions intrinsically affect the public realm of Asgard. When Odin decides to exile Thor to the Earth, the private realm conflict now impacts not only Asgard but Earth. Loki tries to kill Thor, battle takes place on Earth, town is threatened, Thor saves the day, returns to Asgard, stops Loki, Loki is exiled--Thor ends with this saga of the private conflict settled and the public realms are able to return to peace.
Until The Avengers. The Avengers is an extension of the private conflict in Thor. Loki still wants to be a king and he still is jealous of his brother. Because Thor loves and protects the Earth, Loki wants to steal it and rule it himself, like the jealous child that he is.
Thus the private and public realms collide. In order to take over the Earth, Loki sells himself to the Other, an alien whose most cherished hobby is conquering planets. If Loki gets the Other the Tesseract so the Other can travel about space via convenient wormhole, the Other will help Loki subjugate the Earth. The Earth is an innocent caught in the crossfire of a sibling rivalry.
So what began as a conflict between Loki and Thor becomes a conflict between Earth and the Chitauri.
Earth is represented by SHIELD and the Avengers.
The Chitauri are represented by Loki for most of the movie then a bunch of generic warriors and giant flying eels.
Prior to the decisive battle, the film is dominated by private realm conflicts.
Bruce Banner vs. Black Widow
Bruce Banner vs. Nick Fury
Captain America vs. Nick Fury
Captain America vs. Loki
Captain America vs. Iron Man
Iron Man vs. Captain America
Iron Man vs. Loki
Iron Man vs. Thor
Thor vs. Iron Man
Thor vs. Loki
Thor vs. Hulk
Hulk vs. Thor
Hulk vs. Black Widow
Black Widow vs. loss of Hawkeye
Black Widow vs. Hawkeye
Black Widow vs. Loki
Loki vs. Black Widow
Loki vs. Nick Fury
Loki vs. the crowd in Germany (this is arguably public realm, but it's such a small group of people I'm going to stretch my definition of "private" and include this)
Loki vs. Bruce Banner (referring to Bruce as "The Monster" and plotting to unleash him)
When Loki's team attacks the helicarrier, this is a more public realm conflict: Team Loki vs. SHIELD. And Loki sort of wins. Coulson is dead. Stark's Iron Man armor is damaged. Hulk and Thor are missing. Cap is frustrated. Widow and Hawkeye are doing their own thing. SHIELD, as a unit, is rattled.
When the decisive battle in NYC starts, each side has its Generals.
The Earth has: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Hulk
The Chitauri have: Loki
The public realm conflict can't end until one side's General(s) is defeated (via death, incapacity, surrender or change of heart/redemption).
So either the Avengers are defeated or Loki is. In Fight Club, Project Mayhem--the counter-culture that arises to combat Consumerism--and Consumerism both lose their leaders: Tyler Durden is "killed' and the debt records are wiped. In V for Vedentta V dies while eliminating the last of the leaders of the fascist regime. The revolution can continue because V has become a martyr, a symbol, the same way Guy Fawkes had, and there is a new leader to carry on this spirit (Evey), and the film presents no such replacement for the fascists--fascism is dead in the realm of the film.
This is the first reason why the Hulk emasculating Loki by repeatedly smashing him into the floor in true comic book style is appealing. The leader of the "bad" public entity is defeated.
The second reason Hulk treating Loki the way I treated my PS2 controller whenever the computer would make an insane comeback in Madden '03 is so satisfying has to do with climax.
In a narrative, a climax is something that's built to over the course of the story. It's the release of a high-point of tension. So the big NYC brawl in The Avengers is the climax of the film. Why? Because the Avengers finally work together rather than fighting each other. And the army Loki has been muttering about for 90 minutes finally appears.
Generally, the climax comes near the end of a narrative. This makes sense if you only have one climax. If a movie is 90 minutes, why would you want the highest point of tension to occur in the first 15 minutes? If the plot doesn't have any further tension, what's the point of the last 75 minutes? What's the draw? Why's it interesting? What's the payoff?
Most really good narratives have multiple climaxes. In the 1986 animated film Transformers: The Movie a large-scale battle erupts 15 minutes into the movie. The evil Decepticons are attacking Autobot City (home of the good guys). The Decepticons are on the brink of victory. Until Optimus Prime, the Autobot leader and ultimate badass, arrives. Optimus and Megatron, the douche in charge of the Decepticons, fight. They mortally wound and defeat each other. The battle is over. Instead of the Decepticons winning, they retreat. Optimus saved the day. Their fight was the climax of the battle. There's 60-some minutes left, so there's a worse enemy than Megatron and the Decepticons, more battles are fought, small climaxes occur while more tension builds. At the end of the film, we have a battle between Galvatron (reincarnated Megatron) and Hot Rod (the heir to Optimus). For most fans of Transformers, the Optimus and Megatron battle is the high-point of the movie. In terms of the narrative, the fight between Galvatron and Hot Rod is a more important climax since there's more at stake than just Autobot City (entire worlds).
Look at Iron Man. The first climax is Stark's creation and initial use of the Iron Man suit to escape his terrorist captors. The next climax is the perfection of the armor following a "building" and "trail-and-error" montage. Following this, we have another climax: the first USE of the armor--Stark goes to a Middle East village under attack by the same terrorist group that had captured him, and Iron Man saves the village. Then there's the climactic fight between the main villain of the narrative, Obadiah Stane, and Stark. Arguably the best climax though is the final line of the movie: "I am Iron Man." BOOM. Cut to credits!
Why is "I am Iron Man" such a great climax? Because almost every major superhero has a "secret identity". Superman has Clark Kent. Batman has Bruce Wayne. Spider-Man has Peter Parker. Green Lantern has Hal Jordan. Darkhawk has Chris Powell. Daredevil has Matt Murdock. And leading up to the line in Iron Man, Agent Coulson was coaching Tony Stark on the fake story he was supposed to use, because the government didn't want anyone knowing Stark was Iron Man. Also, Iron Man followed on the heels of Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins, and Superman Returns. Four blockbuster movies that emphasized the importance of The Secret Identity. For most of Iron Man, only a few people know Tony Stark is the titular hero. Before this press conference begins, Tony Stark has a secret identity. And odds are first-time viewers are expecting this to hold true because previous superhero films had conditioned viewers to believe The Secret Identity is sacred. Then Stark just irreverently announces to the world that he is Iron Man. That's awesome. Fuck The Secret Identity: I'm a rockstar.
So the moment is important because, in the realm of the film, Stark has lost his secret identity, but also because the action transcends the film itself and does something no other movie in the genre had: reveal the superhero's identity to the entire world.
All of this to set-up discussion of The Avengers.
There are several threads of tension that tie together in Hulk's beat-down of Loki.
1. The Hulk.
For the first half of the movie, the Hulk is withheld. Everyone talks about him/it. Bruce Banner refers to him. When Bruce and Scarlet are first talking Scarlet is obviously frightened. There's an entire unit of SHIELD soldiers surrounding the cottage the discussion is taking place in. Everyone, aside from Tony Stark, is on edge around Banner. Stark says he's a fan of Banner turning into a "giant green rage monster." Loki refers to Banner as "the monster". When all the would-be Avengers are arguing aboard the helicarrier, they all stop arguing when Banner starts to get angry--they're all obviously worried about Hulk appearing.
Then Hulk does appear. And it's anti-climactic because he's chasing Black Widow, a good character, and most of us don't want to see Hulk injure an innocent...we want to see him Hulk-out on bad guys. Then he fights Thor, which is cool, but, again, most of us don't want to see Thor injured.
But also what's going on here: a fight between Widow and Hulk isn't fair--she's a normal person who is highly skilled; he is the fucking Hulk. A fight between Thor and Hulk is sort of even, what with Thor being a demigod and all--in other words, we don't get the pleasure of seeing Hulk dominate.
So given the characters involved and their abilities these confrontations are not satisfying. We're not seeing Hulk used as we want to see Hulk used.
But then Banner appears during the Final Battle. And this IS satisfying because:
A: Banner willingly turns into the Hulk after saying a line worthy of CSI.
B: Hulk immediately fights a bad guy.
C: The bad guy is the first giant eel Chitauri monster that's appeared and none of the other Avengers were sure of how to handle it--so a question was created--who will stop this thing?--and the Hulk is the answer.
D: There's no challenge. Hulk absolutely destroys this thing, with ease.
But seeing Hulk destroy the giant eel thing isn't as satisfying as him crushing Loki. Why?
2. Loki's annoying monologuing about how pathetic humans are.
Most of Loki's dialogue is about how humans suck and he is better.
He talks shit about us to the Chitauri.
He talks shit about us in Germany when he makes everyone kneel and gives his big subjugation speech.
He talks shit about us to Thor.
He talks shit to Black Widow.
He talks shit to Tony Stark before the final battle begins.
All of this builds tension with the viewer because, well, we're human and most of us don't like being dominated by anemic dudes with confidence problems. When someone insults you, it's human nature to want them to feel bad and apologize or to have something bad happen to them. In real life, we don't really or normally want awful, awful things to happen to people. If someone makes fun of you in front of a group of people, then this person, as they're walking away, slips and falls and everyone laughs at them, that's satisfying enough. Eye for an eye, right?
But in video games and novels and comics and TV shows and movies, we can enjoy...more violent acts of karma. In Gladiator we're supposed to feel good when Russell Crowe kills Joaquin Phoenix.
Throughout the movie, Loki builds up a lot of negative karma. And we want to see him get his comeuppance in a way that fits the tone of the movie--i.e. via a fight.
3. The private conflicts.
As listed earlier, there's something like 20 points of private realm conflict in the film prior to the Final Battle. 12 of these are Good Guy/Girl vs. Good Guy/Girl.
8 of these involve Loki.
We see Nick Fury and Loki briefly collide. Captain America and Loki. Iron Man and Loki. Thor and Loki. Black Widow and Loki.
That's everyone except Hawkeye and Banner/Hulk (Bulk).
Hawkeye professes his desire to get even with Loki. Bulk says no such thing.
Prior to Hulk going green rage monster on Loki, Hawkeye has his moment. And this is really the start of everything coming together.
4. How these threads all come together.
When Hawkeye fires an arrow at Loki, Loki catches the arrow, without looking. That's pretty badass. And Loki knows it. He smirks and looks at Hawkeye like "I'm cool and you know it." Most viewers were probably pretty impressed with Loki here. Then Hawkeye hits a button and the arrow explodes. Loki goes flying into Stark's tower-penthouse. HA!!
This is an example of the karma I talked about earlier. A guy mocks someone in front of a crowd of people, then the guy, in his moment of triumph, trips and falls down and everyone laughs. The person who had been mocked is satisfied. And the audience, if we're rooting for the person who had been mocked, is also satisfied.
Hawkeye's arrow-trick is a pseudo-climax because we see something bad happen to Loki but it doesn't entirely make-up for everything he's said and done. It's like instead of the Mocking Guy falling down, he only stumbled.
Then Loki finds himself face to face with Hulk.
This is important because Hulk is the only Avenger Loki had yet to have a conflict with. Which means this is also a climax.
Loki erupts into a speech about how he is awesome and how he won't be bullied, YADDA YADDA YADDA. More of the stuff that makes most of us dislike Loki.
And what's Hulk do?
Hulk fucking Hulks-out.
He picks Loki up and smashes him into the ground like a child throwing a tantrum.
And this is VERY SATISFYING.
Because every other private realm conflict pretty much ended in a stalemate. None of the Avengers were going to hurt each other. And none of the other Avengers could do this to Loki. Loki and Iron Man isn't lopsided. Loki versus Captain isn't lopsided. Loki versus Widow, Hawkeye, or Fury is probably more in Loki's favor. Thor and Loki are pretty even (as evidenced by Thor). Hulk is the only one capable of manhandling Loki.
This is the first time a private realm battle has concluded with a clear-cut winner.
This is also the climax of Hulk being able to go all-out. When Hulk was chasing Widow, we're not supposed to want him to hurt her. When Hulk is fighting Thor, we're not supposed to want Hulk to hurt Thor (though it is hilarious when, way after the two fought, Hulk punches an unsuspecting Thor (talk about a high-point of tension)). When Hulk is facing the Chitauri, we root for Hulk, and the action is invigorating. But the Chitauri are randoms. It's cool to see Hulk destroy a giant eel monster and destroy the hovercrafts and fling generic Chitauri soldiers. But there's no tension built up between the viewer and these soldiers--we don't specifically want Hulk to beat that soldier or that soldier, we just want to see Hulk do cool things and the soldiers happen to be available. They're bad guys, but they're not The Bad Guy. WE'RE SUPPOSED TO WANT TO SEE BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO LOKI. If there's one person in the movie that DESERVES a thrashing from The Incredible Hulk, it's Loki.
Where as Black Widow was an uneven match for Hulk, and Thor was too even a match, Loki is that nice middle ground of "not totally defenseless" yet "terribly vulnerable" and "we don't care what happens to Loki" and "Loki deserves something bad happening to him".
It's also the climax of bad karma for Loki. We're supposed to dislike Loki because he's trying to become the King of Earth. But mostly because he talks so much shit about humans. And while Loki does do some things (like steal the Tesseract), he mostly talks. And talks. And talks. And talks. So when he starts to talk, again, and Hulk interrupts him so forcefully: it's perfect. Because the audience-tension built by Loki against himself is caused by dialogue. So an interruption of the dialogue is the appropriate climax.
It's also a great moment because Loki is The Bad Guy and most films make a big deal about The Confrontation Between Hero and Villain. Like previous superhero movies conditioned people to place importance on The Secret Identity, most action movies, most dramas, have conditioned us for a Dramatic Final Fight. So the same way Tony Stark ending Iron Man by announcing he is Iron Man amused us because it undermined the notion that The Secret Identity Must Not Be Revealed Except to Love Interests and Then Only After All Sorts of Drama, The Avengers undercuts the notion that The Final Fight Must Be Epic and Such a Struggle.
And the moment also signifies a victory for Earth. Loki is the representative of the Chitauri. He's the head of the snake. After Hulk Hulks on Loki, Iron Man drives the nuke into outer space and the battle ends--the snake is dead (well, except Thanos appears, but that's a whole 'nother snake).
Which means that Hulk Lokiing Loki climaxes the private realm battles. It climaxes Loki insulting humans and thus us, the audience. It climaxes "Cool Things The Hulk Can Do". It climaxes "Hero vs. Villain". And it also climaxes the Public realm conflict of Earth vs. Chitauri, since Hulk is a Private Realm avatar for Earth and Loki is the private realm avatar for the Chitauri. Yes, technically Iron Man destroys the Chitauri with the nuke, but I argue that's merely icing on the cake. If Hulk hadn't defeated Loki, Loki would have found other ways to fight. And, really, what would you rather watch a clip of? Iron Man guiding the rocket? Or Loki getting Lokied by Hulk?
Did I Like It:
Yes. As of right now, I'm saying this is my favorite superhero movie. The Dark Knight had been. And as much as I love TDK, each time I watch it I find more and more things that nag at me (mostly dealing with the Joker's masterplan. Like...he had henchmen in buildings waiting with net guns in order to take down a helicopter...how the fuck did he know the helicopter would appear on that street, by that buildings? I just don't buy it. And there are other little things like this that I didn't notice the first time I watched but now bother me and make me unable to suspend disbelief). Maybe the same thing will happen with The Avengers? I don't know. But as of right now, Avengers is more appealing to me than The Dark Knight.
I really liked how each character had his or her own tone. They each had their sense of humor. This was cool to me.
I loved Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men. He knew how to make each character have a moment where you were like "Cool!".
I wonder if Marvel will save him for the sequel, or if they'll have him script/direct another solo entry: like the next Hulk movie, or the Black Widow movie, or a Hawkeye movie?
They should just put Black Widow and Hawkeye in a movie together and let Whedon write and direct it.
I read 20-30 reviews from RT Top Critics. It's RIDICULOUS to me how many disparaged the final fight sequence by saying it was weak because it was just mindless CGI mayhem, with many citing a resemblance to Michael Bay's Transformers movies. I don't know what the critics would want? I guess they want stakes? Like individual people in trouble? Or some sort of conflict between A Named Character and A Hero. Generic bad guy bashing isn't enough for them? I see it like this: The Avengers earned the right to have large-scale senseless mayhem. We see the Avengers working together as a unit for the first time. And it's also, really, the first time we see any of the heroes in extended action. It's not like the movie totally lacked depth then went for a senseless carnage. It built up to large scale battle and gave us just that. Would these critics rather build up to the battle then cut to the finale? I don't know about you, but I got exactly what I wanted to see. Do you remember Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones? The fucking Tusken Raiders kidnap and kill Anakin's mom. OH SHIT. Anakin's like...going to become Darth Vader. Darth Vader is ULTRA POWERFUL. Where going to get to see him SLAUGHTER SOME TUSKENS OUT OF VENGEANCE! Except we don't get to because George Lucas is a big bitch (maybe not as a person, but as a director, yes) and he CUTS, leaving us to imagine the moment. THAT'S A HUGE MOMENT FOR THE CHARACTER'S DESCENT TO THE DARK SIDE. And you cut? Maybe I'm just sadistic? But, anyway, George Lucas cut during a sequence I think was important because, one, it was earned, and, two, it's a crucial psychological moment for the character and I don't think hinting at Anakin killing Tuskens is enough. We have to see some evidence. Whether it's just a close-up of his face. Or flashes of his lightsaber at the screen. Or a shot of all the bodies. We don't have to seem him killing all the Tuskens...but...I think we need more involvement with this moment if we are to fully believe the conversion to Darth Vader. And there are tasteful, non-gruesome ways to do this rather than just avoiding showing anything.
Anyway. I obviously wanted to talk about George Lucas.
I don't get the last paragraph of Ebert's review: "Comic-Con nerds will have multiple orgasms," predicts critic David Edelstein in New York magazine, confirming something I had vaguely suspected about them. If he is correct, it's time for desperately needed movies to re-educate nerds in the joys of sex. "The Avengers" is done well by Joss Whedon, with style and energy. It provides its fans with exactly what they desire. Whether it is exactly what they deserve is arguable.
Everything he said there seems totally unnecessary to me?
What's infinitely fascinating to me about this movie is that you can see how...highly skilled all of the Avengers are. I mean, Thor and Hulk are mostly just really powerful. But Iron Man, Cap, Widow, Hawkeye: they're masters. And systematic. It was like watching the gold medalists at the Olympics: just total perfection of skill.
What It's Good For:
-superheroes doing superhero things
-kids, teens, adults
-I think most people will like the movie
-Cleveland doing something right
-making all of the characters cool
-Tom Hiddleston stepping up
-turning "Loki" into a verb
-Scarlett Johnasson's dry sense of humor
-Paltrow in shorts
-you might not like 30-40 minutes of non-stop superhero action
-people without a sense of humor may not like the film
-Hawkeye is given no backstory
-people may doubt the Black Widow, having no superpowers, could do everything that she did
-It's over two hours. I didn't have a problem with this. Some could
% Character / % Actor's personality
-Whedon: Firefly, The Cabin in the Woods
-Downey Jr being Downey Jr.: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang; Iron Man; Zodiac; Tropic Thunder
-Evans being action-oriented: Cellular
-Ruffalo being calm: The Kids Are Alright; Shutter Island
-Scar-Jo in silly movies: Home Alone 3; My Brother the Pig; The Spongebob Squarepants Movie; The Nanny Diaries; The Spirit
-Renner being a little prick: North Country
-Hiddleston charming: War Horse
-Samuel L. Jackson being killed by a velociraptor: Jurassic Park; Star Wars Episode III: Return of the Sith; Jumper
-my other top 5 superhero movies: The Dark Knight; X2; Unbreakable; The Incredible Hulk;