The Avengers (2012) – The 6th Marvel Cinematic Universe Film – Directed by Joss Whedon – Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisof, Stan Lee, Powers Boothe, Lou Ferrigno, and Harry Dean Stanton.
Welcome to the fourth character-specific reaction to Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS. I’ve already written a 4,200+ word review of the film, but that wasn’t nearly enough to cover everything I wanted to talk about, so I’m going to write character-specific reactions to delve a bit deeper into the film. You can find all of the relevant AVENGERS links at the bottom of this post.
Let me be clear about what’s coming: SPOILERS. Lots and lots of SPOILERS. Read ahead only if you’re cool with that. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want things ruined, come on back when you do.
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“Director Fury, the council has made a decision.”
“I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it’s a stupid ass decision, I’ve elected to ignore it.”
Art imitating life imitating art.
When Marvel Comics did their Ultimate Universe version of the Avengers, they re-conceptualized Nick Fury to make him look like Samuel L. Jackson. Then when Marvel Studios decided to introduce Nick Fury into their AVENGERS-related movies, they decided to hire Samuel L. Jackson to play the guy that was drawn to look like Samuel L. Jackson.
Art imitating life imitating art.
Nick Fury has appeared in several Marvel Studios films (all of the links are at the bottom of this post) and his job has largely been to look and sound cool and tease us about the possibility of THE AVENGERS movie. Samuel L. Jackson can look and sound cool as well as anyone on the planet, and it’s amazing that even after all these years he rarely sounds like he’s devolved into a self-parody of himself.
In MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS (a title that almost everyone just thankfully ignores) Nick Fury has to do more than be cool, he’s got to be a contributing cog in this big-budget extravaganza. One of the more interesting results of how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has progressed, however, has been the rise of Agent Phil Coulson as the cool government guy. Coulson gets to be cool for reasons antithetical to Fury; where Fury gets a long leather coat, an eye-patch, and a penchant for showing up in darkened rooms, Coulson gets a boring business suit, a pair of sunglasses, and a penchant for showing up during business hours.
And yet it’s Coulson who’s become the fan favorite character, and Coulson that a good number of fans want to see interacting with the Avengers more than they do Fury.
Critically, Nick Fury had to step up in AVENGERS and be a real character. He can no longer just look cool and say something awesome, he’s got to prove his place in the movie.
At times, AVENGERS feels like it’s trying too hard to prove Fury’s worthiness. Perhaps it’s just the nature of Sam Jackson that the audience is not only waiting for him to go loud, but the producers are looking for ways to set him off, but Jackson’s best moments in AVENGERS are his quieter ones, and not the occasional bombastic reference to the say-something-audacious-and-say-it-loud Sam Jackson Signature Moment.
Check out the opening quote up above: “I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it’s a stupid ass decision, I’ve elected to ignore it.”
There’s three parts to that quote: the set-up, the bombast, and the matter-of-fact. The set-up is what it is. The bombast is something Fury gets away with, as Eric Woodward noted in the comments section of my review of the entire move, only because it’s Sam Jackson saying it. The third part is the segment that really matters. The Council is a group of shadowy figures on big screens led by Powers Boothe who like to give Fury orders. It’s important that we see that there’s another level of authority here because it helps to complicate Fury’s character, and it gives Fury’s declaration that “I’ve elected to ignore it” real bite.
After the Tesseract is stolen from the SHIELD facility, Fury has to go begging to the Council to get the Avenger Initiative back up and running. He then sends Agent Coulson after Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) after Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), while he takes on the recruitment of Captain America (Chris Evans).
It’s a potentially soft move on Fury’s part since, well, it’s not like Cap is gonna say no, right? Stark and Banner are the challenges to bring in, so Fury’s decision to send two of his top agents on the tougher assignments could come off as a bit weak, but it’s actually a smart decision. Fury knows darn well that as far as everyone is concerned, he is SHIELD. Sending Coulson and Tasha puts a layer of protection between him and them. Plus, you know, one of the benefits of having the big office is that you get to send a lackey to bring in the most destructive individual on the planet.
Fury’s recruitment of Cap is just an extended version of the scene that takes place at the end of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. It’s a good scene but I thought they missed an opportunity to push a little deeper. We see later that Fury isn’t above manipulating this team, so I thought perhaps we could have seen a bit more here about Fury pressing Cap, or grooming Cap, for the team’s leadership position.
Nick Fury’s most important act in THE AVENGERS is when he manipulates Agent Coulson’s death to give the team something to … avenge. (It’s not an easy word to work into a normal sentence, is it?) I covered this scene from Coulson’s position over in the Reaction devoted to our favorite SHIELD agent, but I want to talk a bit more about Fury’s actions in this sequence. Let’s take a careful look at exactly what happens (you know, from memory nearly a week ago now, so if I screw this up, call me on it so I can fix it):
1. Fury arrives on the scene to find an injured Coulson.
2. Fury calls it in, someone (I believe it was Maria Hill) tells him she’s sending medics, but Fury tells her they’re already on the scene.
3. Fury and Coulson have a moment, Fury tries to say something encouraging, but Coulson tells him it’s okay because the team needs something to — he never finishes the sentence because he dies.
4. Fury tells everyone, through their com system, that the medics have declared dead, but we don’t see them declare him dead.
5. Fury tosses Coulson’ now blood-soaked pack of Captain America playing cards on the table in front of Cap and Stark and tells them, “I guess he never did get them signed.”
6. Cap and Stark steal a SHIELD jet to go stop Loki.
7. Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) wonders aloud to Fury about how those trading cards got blood on them, since she knows Coulson didn’t keep them on him, but rather kept them in his locker.
8. Fury says the team needed a push.
The entire sequence is wonderfully designed, built, and played, and I do think most of us (myself included, at first) fell for Fury’s subterfuge right alongside the Avengers.
Because I just don’t see any reason to think that Coulson is really dead. I mean, this is comics, right? Just comics blown up on the big screen. Bankable characters never stay dead. We always find out later that what we saw wasn’t what we actually saw. Heck, this time around, we didn’t even see it. We just had Fury tell us, and since Fury, at the very least, lied about the trading cards, it’s entirely possible he lied about Coulson’s death. Either Coulson is really dead and Fury manipulated his death for what he sees as the greater good, or Coulson is just severely injured and Fury manipulated that injury for what he sees as the greater good.
Now, to be fair and present the other side, while in the comics world deaths aren’t permanent, in the Whedon world, deaths are. Usually. Sometimes. (He killed Buffy! And Wash! And only one of them came back!)
What’s striking to me about this is that Fury probably didn’t even have to do it, given that the team was already uniting around the idea of not trusting him. Before the Hawkeye-led attack on the Helicarrier, Stark, Banner, and Steve all give voice to their own doubts about Fury’s honest, with Cap even going so far as to break into a storage room to find weapons designed to work with the Tesseract.
One Fury scene that did not work for me was when the Security Council ordered a nuclear strike instead of allowing the Avengers opportunity to contain and neutralize the threat and Fury runs outside to the deck of the Helicarrier with a bazooka on his shoulder and shoots down a fighter jet that was about to take off. It just seems like they decided they needed another moment for Fury to look cool instead of adding a moment to the film that enhanced the narrative. Because right after Fury shoots down the first jet, a second jet takes off to deliver the nuke. So what was the point other than giving Fury a moment to do something cool?
That’s a small complaint, though, in an otherwise engaging conception of this character. Nick Fury needed to step up and he did. I suppose the question of why he’s doing all of this Avenger Initiative stuff is still out there, but it’s probably enough to know that he wants them on his side if things go wrong. I love the manipulative side of Fury because it comes from a consistent, if not wholly honest, place. Nick Fury is the Avengers’ Daddy in the Cinematic Universe, because he’s the man that brought them together and pointed them towards their purpose.
I need to say, too, that I completely adore how Sam Jackson has embraced his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Right from the start, he seemed to absolutely love being a part of it all, and his enthusiasm at cons and in interviews is palpable. Where most of the other actors involved in these projects seemed a bit uncomfortable or unsteady at times (and who can blame them with all the press they’ve had to do over the years), Jackson has enthusiastically embraced the movies and the fans and the entire bag of crazy that goes along with being in a huge franchise like AVENGERS. So thanks, Mr. Jackson, for not only being great at what you do, but loving the fact that you do it, and loving that we’re all part of this larger AVENGERS community.
THE AVENGERS REVIEW INDEX
THE AVENGERS: THE MOVIE REVIEW
THE AVENGERS: THE HAWKEYE REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE AGENT COULSON REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE BLACK WIDOW REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE NICK FURY REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE MARIA HILL REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE CAPTAIN AMERICA REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE CHITAURI/THANOS REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE HULK REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE THOR REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE LOKI REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE IRON MAN REACTION
THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REVIEW INDEX