The Avengers (2012) Review

I’m aware that I haven’t commented on films before. I usually find them boring and unremarkable, and those that I do enjoy or find interesting don’t really inspire me to write. Today, however, I saw The Avengers and it made me want to praise it publicly, so here are my comments on the movie. There are plenty of “this movie is awesome” / “this movie sucks” reviews out there already, so I will use a more thoughtful approach to my review. In this piece I will explain why The Avengers is a landmark film in the development of film narrative.

Today, May 4th, 2012, Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) came to theatres and carved for itself a space of groundbreaking movies. This might seem like a ridiculous claim to some – a fanboy statement, so to speak – but the fact is that The Avengers is a landmark day for narrative and storytelling in films.

There have been several film crossovers in the history of film. Some of these crossovers, like Freddy vs. Jason (2003) and Alien vs. Predator (2004), are one-shot happenstances created with no regard for storytelling or character development and whose primary purpose is to make money off two popular intellectual properties. In these films, two characters from two different worlds somehow inexplicably meet, do something, and go their separate ways. In subsequent iterations of each of these films, the characters who crossed over have no recollection of said crossover, as it never happened. Other crossovers are done in a more artful way. In films like Van Helsing (2004) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), the story takes place in a single space and the film offers intertextual cues that link back to other films. These films are not really crossovers as much as they are tributes to previous films. As in the previous crossovers, characters in their home worlds and in their narratives have no recollection of the transpired events in the original world which makes them homage. And yet, no film has ever succeeded at storytelling narrative to the level that The Avengers has. The Avengers is the first movie to employ a film-only transmediated approach to storytelling that is cohesive and successfully narrates by its own parameters.

When writing about transmediation, Jenkins explains that a transmediated text must flesh out its narrative through different media, that each of the points of entry must be independently accessible, and that the narrative is more about the space in which the characters reside than about the characters themselves. Although Yu-Gi-Oh (1996) and Pokemon (1996) are the examples by excellence of this style of narrative engagement, Jenkins relies on The Matrix to explain his concept. The Avengers exploits this concept, but focusing only on film.

The Avengers is a film that has been on the works for four years. The release of Iron Man began a narrative in Marvel Space where different stories slowly converge into a single one. In a great review of the movie, Mark Hughes writes in Forbes Online how The Avengers is not just the movie itself, but it’s closer to “four solo superhero franchises, all existing in the same bigger world together, and all leading into a massive team-up movie where they all share the limelight? And afterward, more solo films and some new solo movies spun off from the team-up film, to lead into yet another shared movie.” In The Avengers, the narratives from Thor  (2011), Iron Man (2008), Hulk(2008), and Captain America (2011) converge into a single space. This fleshing out of a story allows for a level of character development from the film studios and a level of character identification from the audience previously unachievable.

And this is why The Avengers is a landmark spot for film storytelling.

Unlike any film-only narrative previous to it, The Avengers can be accessed on its own or through any of the individual films that lay the groundwork for its narrative. More importantly, while the film leaves the narrative slightly open and allows for possibility of sequel films, it allows for not just one sequel, but many. Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America lay the groundwork for The Avengers, and The Avengers at the same time allows for further Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Avengers narratives, as well as for narratives of the characters introduced in-depth in the movie: Black Widow and Hawkeye. In short, thanks to its writing, and the writing of the previous films, The Avengers is a coherent convergent space for different narratives, the first of its kind. This is what earns The Avengers a space in the list of groundbreaking films.


Unformatted References:

Mark Hughes’ “The Avengers Assemble The Best Superhero Movie of All Time” –

Henry Jenkins’s Convergence Culture –


Movies Considered for Commentary:

The Avengers –

Hulk –

Thor –

Iron Man –

Captain America –


Movies Mentioned:

Who Framed Roger Rabbit –

Alien vs. Predator –

Freddy vs. Jason –

Van Helsing –


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on May 5, 2012, in Film Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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