On face value, Marvel’s The Avengers seems like a typical superhero movie. It’s big. It’s got flashy special effects. It’s got fight scenes in a lab, a portal between dimensions, and a powerful object everyone is fighting to own. And by using the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor characters whose individual movies collectively made $1.2 billion at the box office it feels like a brand retread or an obvious studio stunt to make money. (Which it is and will. Probably not as much as the other movies combined, but possibly enough to break box office records.)
But what it does possess is a perfect cast, a spot-on script and smart direction by Joss Whedon, and astonishing special effects. But unlike X-Men or The Fantastic Four, this movie isn’t simply a bunch of superheroes: It is a culmination and a continuation of The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 1 and 2, Captain America and Thor. The development of each character is not stymied by the presence or screen time of the others; rather, it is enhanced. We know each of these characters so well, it is exciting and oftentimes hilarious to see them interact. And while the 2 hour-and-15-minute film could have been edited down a bit, it never feels weighted down by its number of characters or subplots. (I give it a B.)
However, since Avengers picks up right where the previous films left off, there are several plot points, people and items from the Marvel Universe you may need to know before going to the megaplex. So, even if you haven’t seen all the movies or haven’t seen them in a while, here are seven things that will help you understand and enjoy Avengers even more.
1. Loki—the antagonist in Avengers —is the adopted (and kind of annoying) brother and arch-nemesis of Thor. Obsessed with magic, he is able to teleport across short distances, project images of himself, and cloak himself from others. At the end of Thor, Loki, after being overpowered, falls into an abyss. Thor believes he is lost.
2. S.H.I.E.L.D. is the acronym for the secret, military agency called Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. Lead by eyepatched Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), under the auspices of an unnamed council, the agency is tasked to protect the Earth from all threats. In previous films, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury approach each superhero about joining S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Avenger Initiative.
3. The tesseract is a glowing, blue cube—currently in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s possession—that is believed to bring unlimited power to its owner.
4. Along with mentee Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) helps Thor when is banished to Earth without powers. In the Thor’s bonus scene, Selvig is shown the tesseract by Fury. Unseen by Fury is Loki, who is controlling Selvig.
5. In the Marvel universe, gamma radiation is the shizz. It is what caused Bruce Banner to become the Hulk and what the tesseract emits.
6. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) both work for S.H.I.E.L.D. He is a marksman with a bow and arrow (briefly appearing in Thor) and she is an ass-kicking, femme fatale (also appearing in Iron Man 2).
7. As is typical with the other movies in this series, stay through the end of the credits for additional scenes.
A final bit of advice: The Avengers was not filmed in 3D, merely converted in post-production. As I’ve stated before, save your money. Other than the characters looking like there walking through a room, you will miss nothing with 2D.