WARNING – THIS ARTICLE GIVES AWAY SPOILERS FOR THE AVENGERS, SERENITY, AND DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
Joss Whedon has a penchant for killing off his characters, particularly the likable ones. This is something you should know going into this article. It’s the reason why there’s so much built-in weight to his projects, the idea that characters you grow accustomed to might meet a bad end before it’s all said and done. It’s also the reason why the 360-degree shot in The Avengers – you know, the one your comic book geek mind exploded over after seeing it for the first time – shouldn’t be used as a marketing tool.
One has to think that the shot was designed for trailers and TV spots long before the actual storyboards for The Avengers were even inked on. It’s the kind of shot that makes fans of the series, comic book and film, alike, furious, stomp out of the theater, head for the box office, and pre-order a whole row for The Avengers. They’ve got friends.
Of course, the shot has been played over and over and over again in front of anticipated eyes. A majority of the people seeing The Avengers will have already seen that 360 shot probably more times than they’ve seen any of the other pre-Avengers movies. When the shot comes in the actual film, it’s right at the tail end of an intense action sequence in downtown New York City. This action sequence is just one part of the entire back half of the movie, when aliens rip through the city streets, but this one sequence has your hands clamped onto the arms of your seat and your eyes locked onto what Marvel hath wrought. It’s a glorious moment.
And then, out of nowhere, comes the shot, a wrap-around of the entire crew. Hulk, then Hawkeye, then Thor, then Black Widow, then Captain America, and then, after he has descended from the sky, Iron Man. There’s no denying it’s a magnificent shot, and it would have been an even more riotous 30 seconds in the theater than it already is. People have seen it. It dampens the effect when it plays in the theater, even if just a little bit.
But this isn’t even why it shouldn’t be shown in the ads. Remember what we said about Joss Whedon liking to kill off characters? Well, he does. Just ask Wash or Shepherd Book from Serenity. Hell, ask Penny from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Whedon understands the impact death has on a group, which is the exact reason why it was perfectly believable that one or more members of the Avengers team could be killed off.
More specifically and more to the point, we thought there was a chance Hawkeye could die.
Now, if you’ve seen The Avengers, you know S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye), played in the film by Jeremy Renner, has his mind altered in the film’s opening moments. Loki takes control of his mind within the first five minutes, before any Avengers action even has a snowball’s chance of occurring. Off Hawkeye goes with Loki to wreak havoc on the outside world. Stellan Skarsgard goes along, too, because…hey…he’s Stellan Skarsgard, okay? Also his mind is taken over too.
This is actually a nice bit of writing on Whedon and Zak Penn’s part. Penn gets a story by credit with Whedon, but Whedon wrote the screenplay. Therefore we’ll just give Whedon credit from here on out. Not that we don’t love Penn’s work. Like Elektra. Or X-Men: The Last Stand. Digression over.
It’s a nice turn of events for Hawkeye, because it gives his character something to do while the Avengers are being…assembled. That word has no meaning any longer. He isn’t standing in the corner twiddling his thumbs while Bruce Banner tries to remain calm and Tony Stark tries to be funny. There aren’t pointless montage shots of him splitting arrows with other arrows and doing CRAZY bank shots around the helicarrier. For all intents and purposes, he’s a bad guy at that point. We know he could possibly be turned back at some point.
We also know he could be killed while fighting alongside Loki. And that’s why that shot shouldn’t be revealed. It shows Hawkeye lives, is turned back from the mind-controlling ways of the God of Mischief. We know before we see The Avengers that he’ll be back on the good side before the end credits roll, and he’ll be kicking ass alongside the other good guys. It diminished what could have been intense and extremely weighted action moments between Hawkeye and the Avenger team, particularly Black Widow, who has a very deep history with Hawkeye. That aspect of the film is well constructed, too.
There will be some who say this is a ridiculous argument, that showing that 360 shot in the marketing doesn’t ruin a thing. They’ll say they never thought for a second Hawkeye could die while on Loki’s side. If you’ll allow me to get personal for a moment, it ruined it for me. I know Whedon’s history with doing away with characters you don’t want done away. I’d never seen an episode of “Firefly,” but felt tears in my eyes when Wash died near the end of Serenity. I remembered the downbeat ending to “Dr. Horrible”. I haven’t seen any episodes of “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” or “Angel”, but from what I’ve heard those shows are loaded with untimely character deaths.
Another argument for the shot in the trailers is that it shows any of the other characters in the film, still alive at that point. Why have an issue with it showing Hawkeye and not Hulk, who has been teased as being killed before the shot occurs? And this just comes down to popularity. You knew going in that none of the big four: Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America would die. You were pretty sure Black Widow was okay, but Nick Fury, Hawkeye, and Agent Coulson – sorry, buddy – were all expendable in movie terms. It’s fine to show Hulk battling in the big, culminating battle, because chances are good Hulk makes it to the end. Less so for Hawkeye.
Something even more apparent about Whedon than that is that the guy knows precisely when to make his works ballsy. You’re never totally safe when you sit down to watch a Joss Whedon film or series. They’re never cookie cutter works of product that went down an assembly line. He can catch your attention off guard, and then he makes you pay.
Knowing Joss Whedon, knowing the way he handles one element to his stories – obviously we don’t know how Joss Whedon thinks, we’re just picking out one piece – and knowing that shot exists in the film work against each other. Sure, it’s a money shot, the shot that gets asses in seats. Firmly. And it even erupts the audience when it plays in the film, regardless of how many times they’ve seen it. Simply put, it gives away that Hawkeye doesn’t die at least until that point, and that was a potential for deservedly anxious viewing if ever there was one.
Agent Coulson, on the other hand, is hardly even shown in the trailers. Something about Clark Gregg not being marketable enough. This time, that was a good thing.