With the reviews of Oblivion behind us, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron upon us in a matter of days, I thought it would be good to review the movie that canonized Joss Whedon into Hollywood sainthood so hard they had to retcon Catholicism into the timeline so this joke could happen.
Here it is, a supercut of every user interface in The Avengers (2013).
Boy there are some amazing interfaces in there. Got any favorites?
A mysterious alien artifact called the Tesseract summons the Asgardian god Loki to the Earth, where he uses a powerful staff to either kill or enthrall several S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives before stealing the Tesseract and making his escape with them. The head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, gains permission from a shadowy council to assemble a team of superheroes (Iron Man, Bruce Banner, Black Widow, and Captain America) code named The Avengers Initiative to help capture Loki and recover the Tesseract. They find and capture him in Berlin but his operatives get away with a cache of rare metals. Loki’s brother Thor shows up to claim him but after fighting Iron Man and Captain America, Thor agrees to let Loki remain captured in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s helicarrier.
Loki’s operatives trace him and sabotage the helicarrier to free him as Banner becomes the Hulk and goes on a rampage through the vessel. Through fierce combat and resourcefulness, the helicarrier is saved from crashing, but Loki escapes with his staff.
In New York City Loki’s operatives use the metals they stole and the Tesseract to create an interdimensional gate through which he summons an alien army. Though the Avengers mount a strong defense of the city, the shadowy council orders a nuclear strike on the city to destroy the alien army. Iron Man intercepts the missile, flies it through the portal into the alien mothership, disabling the invaders em masse before falling back through the portal to Earth.
At the resolution of the film, Thor returns to Asgard with Loki and the Tesseract and the staff remains on Earth. Also the team enjoys some shawarma.
The first computer interface we see in the film occurs at 3:55. It’s an interface for housing and monitoring the tesseract, a cube that is described in the film as “an energy source” that S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to use to “harness energy from space.” We join the cube after it has unexpectedly and erratically begun to throw off low levels of gamma radiation.
The harnessing interface consists of a housing, a dais at the end of a runway, and a monitoring screen.
Fury walks past the dais they erected just because.
The housing & dais
The harness consists of a large circular housing that holds the cube and exposes one face of it towards a long runway that ends in a dais. Diegetically this is meant to be read more as engineering than interface, but it does raise questions. For instance, if they didn’t already know it was going to teleport someone here, why was there a dais there at all, at that exact distance, with stairs leading up to it? How’s that harnessing energy? Wouldn’t you expect a battery at the far end? If they did expect a person as it seems they did, then the whole destroying swaths of New York City thing might have been avoided if the runway had ended instead in the Hulk-holding cage that we see later in the film. So…you know…a considerable flaw in their unknown-passenger teleportation landing strip design. Anyhoo, the housing is also notable for keeping part of the cube visible to users near it, and holding it at a particular orientation, which plays into the other component of the harness—the monitor.
When Loki materializes on the dais, he is holding one the key objects to The Avengers and indeed the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe multi-franchise Infinity Stones plot. What is it?
NIck Fury calls the thing a spear. Others call it a staff. The official Disney wiki calls it the Chitauri Sceptre, but this thing is very much a tool. Over this and the next several posts, I’ll talk about how it is used alternately as the following.
A melée weapon
A projectile weapon
A bad-mojo radiator
A teleconferencing device
An enthrallment knife
Notably, in no scene does he carry it on a ceremonial occasion as a symbol of sovereignty, so scepter really doesn’t fit our purposes. What does? Well, any RPG fan worth their Deck of Many Things knows that the blades-on-a-stick category of weapons are many and nuanced. Finding a perfect term is tough since historians and medievalists have categorized other pole arms according to their construction and function, and none of them are quite like this one.
TRIGGER WARNING: IF YOU ARE PRONE TO SEIZURES, this is not the post for you. In fact, you can just read the text and be quit of it. The more neurologically daring of you can press “MORE,” but you have been forewarned.
If the first use of Loki’s glaive is as a melée weapon, the second use is of a projectile weapon. Loki primes it, it glows fiercely blue-white, and then he fires it with usually-deadly accuracy to the sorrow of his foes.
This blog is not interested in the details of the projectile, but what is interesting is the interface by which he primes and fires it. How does he do it? Let’s look. He fires the thing 8 times over the course of the movie. What do we see there? Continue reading →
Several times throughout the movie, Loki uses places the point of the glaive on a victim’s chest near their heart, and a blue fog passes from the stone to infect them: an electric blackness creeps upward along their skin from their chest until it reaches their eyes, which turn fully black for a moment before becoming the same ice blue of the glaive’s stone, and we see that the victim is now enthralled into Loki’s servitude.
When his battalion of thralls are up and harvesting Vespene Gas working to stabilize the Tesseract, Loki sits down to check in with his boss’ two-thumbed assistant, an MCU-recurring weirdo who goes unnamed in the movie, but which the Marvel wiki assures me is called The Other.
To get into the teleconference, Loki sits down on the ground with the glaive in his right hand and the blue stone roughly in front of his heart. He closes his eyes, straightens his back, and as the stone glows, the walls around him seem to billow away and he sees the asteroidal meeting room where The Other has been on hold (listening to some annoying Chitauri Muzak no doubt).
Loki’s wants to take down the Avengers and the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, to disable the two greatest threats to his invading forces. To accomplish this, he lets himself get captured and the glaive taken away from him, knowing Banner would study it, fall prey to one of its terrible effects, become the ragemonster, and wreck the place.
That effect goes unnamed in the film so I’ll call it the bad mojo radiator. The longer people hang around it, the more discord it sows. In fact just before Loki’s thralls enact a daring rescue of him, we see all of the Avengers fighting in the lab, for no other reason than they stand in the glaive’s presence.
The infighting ends suddenly when Banner unintentionally takes the glaive in hand as he attempts to silence the group. Because the threat of Hulk + glaive is enough to make other fights seem secondary. Continue reading →
On the Twitters Patrick Kovacich made some convincing arguments that the glaive wasn’t really involved in the teleconferencing as much as it was an astral projection by Loki himself, though that raises questions about why it glows so white-hot right as he’s entering the teleconference. So, for arguments’ sake let’s leave it in, but I acknowledge the evidence against is quite compelling if less instructive.
So, with these subtopics covered, let’s turn back to the total question of the glaive: How is it as an interface for these functions? Let’s return to the three values that I hold every show up to: believability, narrative, and as a model for real world interactions. Continue reading →
After Loki has enthralled Selvig, enthralled-Hawkeye lets Loki know that, “This place is about to blow and drop a hundred feet of rock on us.” Selvig looks to the following screen and confirms, “He’s right. The portal is collapsing in on itself.”
This is perhaps one of the most throwaway screens in the film, given the low-rez twisty graphics that could be out of Lawnmower Man, its only-vague-resemblance to the portal itself…
…the text box of wildly scrolling and impossible to read pink code with what looks like a layer of white code hastily slapped over it, and—notably—no trendline of data that would help Selvig quickly identify this Very Important Fact. Maybe he’s such a portal whisperer that he can just see it, but why show the screens rather than show him looking up to the blue thing itself?
There might be some other data on the left of this bank of screens seen a few seconds later in the background…
…but it has more red text overlays, so I’m disinclined to give it the blurry benefit of the doubt.
Fair enough, this is there merely to establish Selvig’s enthrallment, and the scientific certainty of the stakes for the next beat. But, we see his eyes, and the certainty is evidenced by everything collapsing. We don’t need scientific assurance. If the designers were not given time to make it passable, I wish that the beat had been handled without a view of the screens rather than shaky-cam.