Are They Really Avenging?


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For being called The Avengers, the collection of Marvel superheroes most recently featured in the Hollywood blockbusters directed by Joss Whedon have little to understand their name by. The concept seems simple. Avenging is the action of actively inflicting harm in response to an action previously done to the avenger or someone else whom the avenger has a personal stake in. While this is a vague definition, it entails quite a few things that are commonly understood about the plot of the movie and what I believe to be its original intent.

The most concerning use of their title is the main plot of the film. Loki is considered the main villain but for what? He plots far in advance and performs actions worthy of avenging, none of which are unifying until the end. Can the Avengers really be considered to be Avenging anything entirely as a group until Loki’s violence is wreaked upon the earth? Is their title apt, or just a convenient way for Nick Fury to manipulate the rag-tag team of psychologically incompatible vigilantes as he is apparently now notorious for doing?

Admittedly, Loki had the intent to cause trouble for the team, but his only actual violence to inspire this avenging was committed against the peoplethe-avengers-loki of S.H.I.E.L.D., when he first came through the portal. Does stealing the tesseract and killing several agents and a scientist constitute an entire task force dedicated to harming this one man? Regardless of what your particular answer may be, their mission is to capture him. This is not avenging as per the definition of the term. In fact, at the end of the movie they don’t even succeed in avenging these deaths at all, unless you consider handcuffing and muzzling a god a fitting revenge. They kill the Chitauri for their deeds and that is the end of their avenging before the act has even been finished.

So, who, aside from his own adoptive brother, where there is obviously no real intent to commit violence, succeeds in inflicting harm on Loki? The Hulk. But Bruce Banner never really has a personal reason to inflict harm on the god, unless we’re taking avenging to be the vengeance sought on anyone’s account at all. That does not seem to be a particularly valid definition of avenging because at that point you could take any action against anyone that has done wrong to anyone else and assume the responsibility of punishing them for their crimes with the slightest of provocation.

This brings to question what about vigilante justice can be considered just in a meaningful way. A vigilante is a fighter of crimes, crimes that are not generally perpetrated on them. They take the law to be a set of guidelines, rather than something that the state enforces and should be followed for the betterment of society. Granted, there are plenty of reasons not to just do as your state commands (unjust laws, unjust powers, etc.) but they are exacting revenge for acts that they have no personal stake in. Sometimes they commit acts against people who target only them, as in the case with Ivan Vanko (“Whiplash”) and Tony Stark; this seems like a more reasonable use of vengeance as a justification for the violence that they plan to commit, not just taking retribution from those who might wish to at least be involved or see the person perish at the hands of the system that they consent to, tacitly or not.

Vengeance for the sake of others does not seem to be a veritable version of vengeance. The attack must have been personal for it to seem justified in any way, if vengeance even can be justified.

the-hulk-in-avengers-imagesCircling back to Banner, even if Bruce did have a personal reason for exacting revenge on Loki, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the Hulk would have complied with any request to harm the god. Although this is tangential to the core focus being on this particular Movieverse, the Hulk has a tendency to do what Banner doesn’t want to happen and vice versa. The Hulk does what he wants and apparently what he wanted was unwarranted domination of the “puny god.” But there is no vengeance here.

Perhaps this is why Fury instigated Coulson’s certain death in the first place. I can’t say for certain that the man knew that the agent wasn’t going to die, but he did manipulate the evidence to inspire in the group something in which to believe.

There is a long list of happenings that Fury could have used for this inspiration but few actions meet the threshold for a person’s desire to avenge. As Loki_Avengerspreviously stated, the deaths of the people at the underground S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker were actions that could have merited avenging. The brainwashing of Hawkeye and Dr. Selvig could not be justifiably avenged, but were things that inspired Thor and Black Widow to have a personal stake in Loki’s capture. At least Dr. Selvig could have potentially been an extra push for Thor. Iron Man’s problems with Loki seem to just be pride-based and the Captain never had a reason aside from his protecting the United States of America. Coulson was a necessary death, as it were, to inspire at least the last member of the group.

So the question remains: are any of these reasons a definite and collective reason to perpetrate vengeance on Loki? The Avengers does not seem an apt title, either because there is not enough to incite rage in the team as a whole or because what they carry out is not considered vengeance in the traditional sense. For the actions that they might be inspired to avenge, it seems that there are none that truly fit Loki’s punishment at the end of the film. They are not Avengers. They have no common theme but the false words thrown from Fury’s mouth to their vagrant, prideful minds and hearts.

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