After 4 years of setup, The Avengers has finally become a reality. Thankfully, it has lived up to its expectations, as it had the potential to be one of the biggest disappointments in cinema history. However, while it is filled with big explosions and thrilling action, it succeeds not through its thrills, but through the humanity of its characters.
Superheroes represent the pinnacle of humankind. They are able to do things that people can only dream of doing, and they operate in a world of black and white. We love to go to the theatre or read comic books in order to imagine how awesome it would be to fight off evil invading aliens or a maniacal super villain. The Avengers gives us this escape, but each of the main characters is also a deeply flawed person in addition to an epic superhero.
The majority of the film focuses on the team having troubles coming together in order to face their common foe. Each of their personalities forces them away from each other. Tony Stark overcompensates for his ego and drives everyone around him away with his pompousness, Bruce Banner struggles with his severe anger problems, and Steve Rogers is dealing with being a man who has lost touch with the modern world. Each of these problems is extended into the fantastical realm, such as Bruce Banner turning into a giant rage monster when he gets angry or Steve Rogers having been frozen in ice for several years, but they all resonate clearly with the audience. We like these people because we can relate to their problems, not because they can jump over buildings.
The one member of the team that stands outside this pattern, and as such is a less effective character, is Thor. While he has to deal with the fact that the villain is his brother, he speaks in Elizabethan era English and feels less human than the rest. He is a god and as such exists on a different level than the other characters. In the end, he ends up getting less screen time as he is simply less interesting than the other characters.
The humanity of the characters is truly brought to the forefront when, in classic Joss Whedon fashion, the most human of the characters is killed off. This death does not happen to one of the superheroic members of the team, but instead to Agent Colson, their completely human friend. He dies trying to protect Thor from his brother, but in the end proves mostly ineffective. His death provides a truly emotional moment for the audience. For those who have been watching these films since Iron Man, Colson has been a constant presence who helped to bring these characters together. However, even for those who have only seen The Avengers his earlier scene in which he starts to gush to Captain America about how he has collected all of his trading cards endears him to the audience. He represents us as we get excited about these characters. He looks up to them just as we do. His death allows the Avengers to move past their own personal issue and unite in their common grief.
All of these human emotions pay off in the very last scene of the film. After the credits are done rolling, we are treated to a two minute long scene of these superheroes, still in costume, eating shawarma in a grungy New York restaurant. This moment is the most human moment in the film. No one does anything fantastic. No one says anything to each other. They simply sit there and eat, allowing themselves to relax after the stressful day they have had. This relaxation is a sentiment that everyone can relate to. Sometimes we just need to sit back and eat some food. It’s a refreshing thought to know that superheroes need to eat too.