It came, it saw, and it smashed the box office. The team-up of the Marvel-owned superheroes that have not yet been derailed by other film companies certainly left an impact on this summer. And they stand tall, these modern heroes, or rather gods. For in a subtle, yet unambigious way, The Avengers leans heavily on the myth of Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods. Although I must admit I might not have realized this if it weren't for the movies proud utilization of Thor and Loki themselves.
Anthony Hopkins' Odin is absent, and in his stead stands the equally one-eyed Nick Fury, manipulating his future army in a way that would make the All-Father and his management of the Einherjar proud. Opposite him stands Loki, the definite article, and this time (as in myth) he has recruited an archer with an ocular oddity to use as an unwitting pawn. This archer then becomes the instrument to the treachery that results in the death of the good-hearted and all-loved Balder, here personified by Agent Coulson, who is loved by all the flawed heroes that can barely love themselves. And just as in Norse mythology, it is his death that constitutes the point of no return, the battle to end all battles is inevitable now.
No art form like film can portray cataclysmic spectacles. It can portray worlds like or unlike our own and then tear them apart before our eyes and ears. But what makes The Avengers different from spectacles such as 2012, Independance Day or the equally city-destroying Transformers: Dark of the Moon, is that the characters in the middle of this spectacle are known to us through previous movies. Even if the audience at large is unfamiliar with one or two of them, the cast and crew are not. The characters are all tried, true and battleworn, and the film is all the better for it. Like Richard Wagners own process Götterdämmerung it all seems to work backwards from here.
In Norse Mythology all comes to a close when the Jotun leader Surtr plunges his sword of flames into the earth, and all the world is consumed by the fire. Subsequently, at least in most retellings of the myth, a new world emerges afterwards, free of the struggle between the gods and the Jotun. The sword of fire is a nuclear missilie here, and in a significant reversal, it is plunged by Iron Man and destroys the "Invading world" through the portal, sparing our own.
But our own world is not cheated of significant change, as the public at large is now aware of potentially hostile aliens, and in turn aware of their dependance on the heroic Avengers, though there is not really a uniform enthusiam about this. Even when relying heavily on motifs relying on the end of the world, The Avengers ends on an upbeat note, save for a mid-credits sequence obviously intended to act as a sequel hook. Thus the ending i turned into another beginning ushering in another era, at least on paper. Though many contracts have been signed, it yet remains to be seen whether the superhero market has been satisfied, or whether a destructive succes such as The Avengers can be repeated, or if this was the actual all-ending climax.
The general agreement seems to be that The Avengers is a well-functioning example of the otherwise very hit-and-miss superhero genre. For every X-Men 2 there seems to be another Daredevil waiting to happen. The Avengers takes what works from its genre (entertaining action, and sharply drawn characters now in clinch with eachother) and ditches what usually bogs the movies down (drawn-out origin stories that leave the audiences bored before the hero dons his cape). Ironically part of this new age that The Avengers ushered in will probably feature many more of the cookie-cutter hero's journey stories it tries to distance itself from. Thus any "new era" that might dawn with probably be suspiciously similar to the last decade in regards to superhero-output.