THE AVENGERS: The MARIA HILL Reaction

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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“Agent Coulson kept those cards in his locker, not in his jacket.”

“They needed a push.”

I mentioned in the main review of MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS that I was most surprised by the appearance of Pepper Potts (at least until You Know Who showed up in the mid-credits sequence) because I didn’t hear anything about Gwyneth Paltrow being in the movie. Prior to seeing the movie, however, I was most surprised by the inclusion of SHIELD Agent Maria Hill, and the casting of Cobie Smulders to play her.

Nothing against either the fine character of Ms. Hill, nor the acting chops of Ms. Smulders, but in a movie that was already stuffed with leading actors, the decision to include an actress from a CBS sitcom to be Fury’s right hand woman on board the Helicarrier just seemed … curious, let’s say.

Now, I haven’t watched more than a handful of episodes of How I Met Your Mother because I don’t have cable and CBS doesn’t play nice with Hulu, but what I have seen left me with a positive impression of Cobie Smulders. Still, the decision just kind of came from out of nowhere for me and while it neither increased nor decreased my excitement for the movie, I was kinda curious to see if Joss Whedon and Co. had included her because they planned on using Maria Hill as a bit of comic relief (or as the straight man for someone else), or if Smulders had the acting chops to play hard and serious on the bridge of the Helicarrier.

I watched AVENGERS the day of release in a 3D theater, and I hate both a crowded theater and Real 3D technology. I don’t like sitting with mouthy high school kids and I don’t understand why anyone thinks depth of field gives you more than watching a darkened print takes away. Smulders didn’t leave a huge impression on me that first time amid all of the other awesomeness so I wondered what the second viewing would bring.

First, Smulders is perfectly fine as Maria Hill. Second, the role of Maria Hill in AVENGERS is to serve as Fury’s right hand woman on the Helicarrier, an equivalent to Agent Coulson’s role out in the real world. Hill basically exists because there’s a few scenes where the film needs someone from SHIELD to do something, so why not have it all be the same person? And if they’re all going to be the same person, why not have it be Maria Hill? And if it’s going to be Hill, why not have it be Cobie Smulders? It all works for me.

Hill doesn’t get to spout a bunch of wonderful Whedon dialogue and she doesn’t get a whole lot of fun things to do, but the stuff Hill is required to do – generally, ask questions of Fury to help clarify the plot for the audience – is handled well by Smulders.

Hill has three basic movements in AVENGERS: her action scene, her administration role, asking Fury questions.

Her action scene comes at the start of the movie. At a SHIELD facility where Er. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) is working on the Tesseract, the cosmic cube flips out, Loki shows up, turns Hawkeye and Selvig into mind-controlled puppets, and steals the Tesseract as the SHIELD facility start collapsing. Just prior to Loki showing up, Fury sends Hill off to another part of the facility, so she’s not there for all the fun, but then when Hawkeye is driving the getaway vehicle, Hill shows back up to have a car chase down a tunnel.

None of it requires much hardcore acting, and to Smulders credit, she doesn’t try to oversell anything in a desperate attempt to make a name for herself in a big summer film. When the script requires her to question Fury, she does it. When it requires her to run Fury’s errand, she does it. When the script requires her to jump into a jeep and take off after Hawkeye, she does it. When the scene requires her to dig herself out of a cave-in, she does it. Good, solid, professional work.

I don’t have any real complaints.

Except …

I can’t escape the feeling that Hill doesn’t really have much of a soul. That is, her personality seems a bit painted on instead of intrinsic. I don’t have much of a sense that she exists off-camera. She comes off a bit as a suit instead of a uniform, if you catch my meaning. I feel like she’d be more comfortable in a corner office than on the bridge of the Helicarrier. Maybe that makes her the perfect right hand man for Fury; she’s certainly not afraid to question him, but she’s professional enough to question him at the right time.

Because what Hill does well is keep things running on the bridge. That’s her real role, it seems. She’s the liaison between Fury and the Helicarrier; she keeps everything running while Fury is pondering bigger questions, but she always has an ear on what’s going on with Fury and the Avengers.

Take the scene where the Avengers are assembling for the first time around the big table. She spends the scene standing in the liminal space between the Avengers and bridge operations. It’s Hill who answers Stark’s questions about the Helicarrier, and then when Fury arrives she keeps her place but her presences slides into the background. The camera finds her a couple times, like when she’s standing behind Thor as he discusses Loki with the rest of the group. It’s a great shot; you could say that Hill is just standing there to add some depth to the scene, to remind the audience where this meeting is taking place, but the way Hill is postured, with her head half-turned away, gives the impression of that liminal space. She’s the only person in the Helicarrier, in that moment, whose focus is split between the Avengers and the Helicarrier, and Smulders does a bang-up job at looking interested without giving off a mother hen vibe.

It’s these scenes in the middle where Hill is at her most interesting, as her disapproving glance at Stark says more about her than all that running and driving and shooting in the action sequence because it could be anyone running, driving, and shooting, but here on the Helicarrier, it can only be Maria Hill.

Hill’s other contribution to the film is to serve as Sarah Jane to Fury’s Doctor. She asks the questions that clarifies the action for the audience, and her big question is when she raises the issue of Coulson’s trading cards. Fury makes a big show of slapping the bloodied cards down on the table in front of Cap and Stark and remarking, “I guess he never did get them signed.”

Like the dutiful soldier, Hill lets this scene play out without questioning her superior officer, but like the good right hand woman, Hill does question him when they’re alone. She wants to know how the blood got on those cards since Coulson kept them in his locker and not on him, as Fury claimed. When Fury explains, “They needed a push,” Hill simply absorbs the answer. You can see the gears spinning a bit behind her eyes, but Hill doesn’t say either, “Hey, you know, not cool,” or “Well done.”

The Nick Fury subplot ends with Nick coming out of a meeting with the World Security Council. He gets dressed down a bit and Hill wants to know what happens next, and Fury says the Avengers will be there when the world needs them. Again, Hill absorbs the answer and walks back into the operations center of the Helicarrier bridge. Maybe she didn’t get the answer she wanted, but she got the only answer she needed, so while Fury gets one final pose to look cool, Hill goes back to work.

It’s a solid performance by Smulders of a solid character in Maria Hill. While the character never wowed me, she’s a glue character in the movie, doing her part to keep things moving and making sure the audience knows what it needs to know.

And for those wondering why the heck I’m doing a Maria Hill reaction when I haven’t done a reaction for the Big 5 yet (Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Loki), I wanted to see AVENGERS a second time before digging into them. They’ll be coming up next.

Thanks for reading along, everyone.

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Atomic Reactions: Marvel Comics on Film now available.

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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

1. IRON MAN
2. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
3. IRON MAN 2
4. THOR
5. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

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6 thoughts on “THE AVENGERS: The MARIA HILL Reaction

  1. My guess would be, in the wake of Coulson’s death, we’ll start seeing Maria Hill popping up in other films, the way Coulson or Fury did when they were setting up the Avengers. It wouldn’t make sense for Fury to keep appearing, since Jackson has already appeared in 4 films out of his 9-picture deal – they probably wouldn’t want to waste too many more on cameos. But Smolders also apparently signed on for 9 films, so they could easily keep using her as the standard S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. I liked her in the film, but I’d welcome the opportunity to see various writers/directors of other films evolve her the way they did with Coulson.

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  2. I also got the sense that her character wasn’t fully explored. Unlike the six avengers, Fury, and Coulson, we never get to see what matters to her. It’s actually really impressive that eight characters got explored as well as they did, though it does make Maria Hill seem the odd one out. I’d also like to point out that I really love that you’re doing this in depth multi-post series on the Avengers–everyone’s talking about it, but most only tackle the big obvious things, and a lot of the smaller but still interesting parts of the movie aren’t getting enough attention. It’s great that you’re taking the time to tackle all of these characters, because it’s not just the obvious ones who deserve to be talked about.

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    • Thanks, Marie. I really appreciate the kind words. These posts have been fun to write and they’re proving themselves highly popular. You’ve hit on why I’m doing them – to more fully explore some of the less obvious moments of the film. I think there’s a bunch we can infer from Hill’s reactions but she’s definitely the one character that felt less whole than the others.

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  3. Originally Hill’s perspective was used as a framing device for the narrative of the film. I think at some point Whedon realized the narrative wasn’t going to drive this story in the slightest, so he dropped the idea.

    Still her purpose is audience surrogate to ask Nick Fury questions and to be a sounding board for his thoughts. That’s it. Its an important role, akin to the straight man in a comedy routine. Fury gets to make all the crazy decisions and do all his bad ass things, but without a button down Hill by his side, he seems more like a lunatic than a master manipulator and leader.

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  4. Hi! Great piece on Maria Hill. I was wondering if you could explain the look that she gave Captain America as he walked into the bridge for the first time. Thanks so much!

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