This week in the Research Log, we're clocking Joss Whedon's THE AVENGERS. As usual, we've watched the movie and used the Storyclock Notebook to visualize the film's structure in the form of a clock.
Let's Break It Down
- Opening Image: Space Goblin Emperor Dude preps Loki to lead the way for the Chitauri.
- Normalcy: Nick Fury's normalcy is another man's worst day ever. Something is always wrong and the end of the world is always imminent...
- Normalcy Disrupted: ...until suddenly the end of the world arrives in the form of Loki, who breaks a bunch of everything and steals the Tessarect, taking Hawkeye, Stellan Skarsgård, and a featured extra with him for good measure.
- Herald: Every Avenger gets a Herald. In the case of Black Widow visiting Hulk, some of them even get to be Heralds.
- Rational Approach: The Council of Televisions challenges Fury's Avengers Initiative, saying they should just initiate Phase 2. But Fury believes that, with the right "push," the Avengers can be the solution.
- Acceptance and Break Into Act 2: Everyone currently committed gathers on the Helicarrier. For the most part, the Helicarrier will be our primary setting for Act 2. It is the "new world" for our characters, as it represents the idea of the Avengers Assembled in one place for one purpose. But the actual fruition of that idea is going to need to be earned.
- B Story Begins: Loki actually starts doing some stuff, going to Germany to steal some science stuff and a dude's eye.
- Trailer Moments/Promise of the Premise: Cap and crew show up in Germany to take Loki down. Iron Man shows up at the last minute and closes the deal. While escorting Loki back to the Helicarrier, Thor shows up and everyone fights over Loki. This footage made up like half of the trailer, because it's what Blake Snyder calls the "promise of the premise:" all these superheroes from different movies all together in the same movie, interacting with each other. It also represents what this movie's entire story is about: this isn't about good guys fighting bad guys. It's about good guys fighting each other, and learning to fight together. They are each other's bad guys.
- Midpoint/Arrival at Solution: With Loki successfully captured, they lock him up in the Helicarrier and start to argue over what to do next and how to get along.
- Things Get Worse: Evil Hawkeye shows up to extract Loki. Amidst the havoc, Banner Hulks out and start wreaking even more havoc.
- Hero's Last Resort: Cap and Stark learn to work together and fix the Helicarrier. Black Widow beats the evil out of Hawkeye by fighting him really hard. Thor goes to Loki to try and reason with him.
- Game Over: Loki kills Coulson, ejects Thor, and escapes. Hulk falls to the earth after attacking a jet. Fury tosses Coulson's bloody trading cards onto the table. Everyone is super sad and there's a montage of it.
- Breakthrough and Rebirth/Break Into Act 3: Cap gets Stark to talk out his feelings about Coulson and stuff. In the process, Stark realizes where Loki is going, and he heads out to Stark Tower.
- Hero Gains Upper Hand: Stark gets to Stark tower and taunts Loki. Loki opens the portal and the Chitauri show up, but so do the Avengers (one by one, though -- they're not a unit yet). They all start fighting the Chitauri on the ground. Then a Leviathan comes out of the portal. Banner shows up, is like, "I got this," and Hulks the Leviathan to death. A bunch more Leviathans and Chitauri show up, but our Avengers are officially Assembled™️. The whole movie has worked up to this moment, so now it's time to have some fun because we earned it.
- Shadow's Final Push: The Chitauri start to overpower the Avengers. The music gets wearier and more emotionally dire. The Council of Televisions grows impatient and launches a nuke at the city.
- Ultimate Breakthrough: Stellan Skarsgård wakes up and reveals that he put some loophole science in the science portal science. Stark sacrifices himself to hurl the missile into the portal. He falls back to earth and Hulk catches him.
- New Normalcy: All the Avengers like each other and are all BFF's now. Stark tower is now Avengers tower.
- Final Image: Space Goblin Emperor Dude tells his boss everything failed. That boss is Thanos. All nerds freak out and quickly explain to their spouses who Thanos is.
Stuff That Stood Out To Me
- Man. Remember when we were all like, "how are they gonna fit SIX WHOLE CHARACTERS into one movie?" What an amazing time to be alive.
- There are a lot of characters here, thus a lot of different storylines to keep up with. Whedon makes a crazy smart choice to limit the setpieces to two or three locations across the whole movie, letting us focus on the characters and their interactions.
- The first act requires a ton of tedious exposition and pipe-laying, but one of the ways Whedon keeps it moving is through really sharp scene transitions. Every scene in the first act seems to end with a line like, "you should have left it in the ocean," and then cutting to the next scene in the ocean.
- Symmetrical moments: Fury meets with the Council in Act 1 + Fury meets with the Council in Act 3.
- Symmetrical moments: Loki checks in with Chitauri + Loki opens the portal to let the Chitauri in.
- Symmetrical moments: Coulson asks Cap to sign his trading cards + Agent Cobie Smulders reveals that Fury put fake blood on Coulson's trading cards to give them the push they needed. These two moments actually bookend Act 2, which is pretty cool.
- Symmetrical moments: Loki arrives to Helicarrier + Loki leaves the Helicarrier.
- Symmetrical moments: Stark and Cap puff chests at each other in the lab + Stark and Cap work together to fix the Helicarrier.
- Symmetrical moments: Stark and Banner talk about the Hulk problem + Banner Hulks out for the first time in the movie.
Joss Whedon is a literal genius. Very few screenwriters on Earth possess his mastery of both structure and execution. You feel it when you watch this movie and the chemicals rush through your brain screaming, "this is the most fun I will ever have in this life!" (execution). Then you see it when you break this movie apart and look at the thousands of specific choices he made in putting it together (structure).
Most writers would probably agree that execution is the fun part of writing. Structure is where bones of dead screenwriters litter the streets. That's why we created the Storyclock Notebook, to help writers strengthen their structure skills, and hopefully see more of their ideas through to the execution stage. We can't all be Joss Whedon, but we can certainly try.
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