NICK FURY: We have no quarrel with your people.
LOKI: An ant has no quarrel with a boot.
NICK FURY: Are you planning to step on us?
LOKI: I come with glad tidings of a world made free.
NICK FURY: Free from what?
LOKI: Freedom. Freedom is life's great lie. Once you accept that, in your heart...
This is pretty much the basis of the film's conflict: Loki wants to rule the Earth, Nick Fury would rather he not. The conflict basically comes down to humanity's identity: are we going to be ants, or something more?
STEVE ROGERS: When I went under, the world was at war. I wake up, they say we won. They didn't say what we lost.
NICK FURY: We've made some mistakes along the way. Some, very recently.
STEVE ROGERS: Are you here with a mission, sir?
NICK FURY: I am.
STEVE ROGERS: Trying to get me back in the world?
NICK FURY: Trying to save it.
Cap's journey in this movie is finding his place in a world that he doesn't belong to. Can he be the hero he was in a time that doesn't seem to need them? As the guy who helped create these characters would say, "stay tuned, true believers!"
STEVE ROGERS: The uniform? Aren't the stars and stripes a little...old-fashioned?
PHIL COULSON: With everything that's happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned.
Cap's identity is rooted in the past, a past where guys walking around in bright blue tights weren't so out of place. But it also speaks to a purer code of honor, where people did the right thing just because it's the right thing to do. Coulson thinks that could come in handy in this latest situation.
TONY STARK: You should come by Stark Tower sometime. Top ten floors all R&D, you'd love it... it's Candyland.
BRUCE BANNER: Thanks, but the last time I was in New York I kind of broke... Harlem.
Dr. Banner has a much more…complicated sense of identity, given that he literally destroys cities when he gets too angry. That means keeping a lid on that side of himself, which is never a good thing.
STEVE ROGERS: We have orders, we should follow them.
TONY STARK: Following's not really my style.
STEVE ROGERS: And you're all about style, aren't you?
TONY STARK: Of the people in this room, which one is A) wearing a spangly outfit and B) not of use?
At the end of the day, these two really don't like each other, for reasons they're spelling out pretty darn clearly here. But they're also debating what it means to be a hero, and whether their differing methods make the world safer or not.
NICK: The cell was built...
BRUCE BANNER: In case you needed to kill me, but you can't! I know! I tried! I got low. I didn't see an end, so I put a bullet in my mouth... and the other guy spit it out! So I moved on. I focused on helping other people. I was good, until you dragged me back into this freak show and put everyone here at risk!
Bruce has been hiding from his Hulk side, which has probably resulted in a lot less property damage than there might be. But he's still hiding, and sooner or later he needs to accept the Hulk if he's going to find peace.
BLACK WIDOW: I've been compromised. I got red in my ledger. I'd like to wipe it out.
The Black Widow spends most of her time in The Avengers either verbally de-pantsing Loki or running from the Hulk. But this is a pretty telling line about who she is and why she's working for SHIELD. (Did you know her character started out as a villain?)
STEVE ROGERS: Is this the first time you've lost a soldier?
TONY STARK: We are not soldiers! I am not marching to Fury's fife!
STEVE ROGERS: Neither am I! He's got the same blood on his hands that Loki does. But right now we've got to put that behind us and get this done.
This conversation is basically Tony and Steve determining who they are in this big game. Steve seems to have it figured out a lot better than Tony has.
JARVIS: Sir, shall I try Ms. Potts?
IRON MAN: Might as well.
Tony's pretty resigned here, but it's saying something that Pepper is the last person he tries to contact before going off to his (presumed) death. His identity is linked to her…and he's not going to forget it.
COUNCILMAN: I don't think you understand what you've started: letting the Avengers loose on this world. They're dangerous.
NICK FURY: They surely are. And the whole world knows it. Every world knows it.
COUNCILMAN: Was that the point of all this? A statement?
NICK FURY: A promise.
At the end, all those fluid identities have formed into a concrete team: six people who know exactly who they are and are ready to put it on the line when the world needs them.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: Not today!
You tell him Cap. Sometimes, being the good guy is simply not doing what someone else says…even though they may be big and scary and have a really intimidating set of horns on their head.
STEVE ROGERS: Word is you can find the cube.
BRUCE BANNER: Is that the only word on me?
STEVE ROGERS: Only word I care about.
How can you not love Cap after a line like that? There's no duplicity in him, no need to edge around Dr. Banner's, um, temperamental outbursts.
He says what's important and gives the doc a boost of confidence. He lets him know that they've briefed him on the whole Hulk thing… and it really doesn't matter. That's the kind of thing you need to hear in a hero.
BRUCE BANNER: I don't think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy's brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.
THOR: Have a care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother!
BLACK WIDOW: He killed eighty people in two days.
THOR: He's adopted.
It's a funny exchange, but it also shows how good and evil aren't quite so sharply divided as we might think. Thor is still loyal to Loki, which suggests that he might stick to his kin instead of doing the right thing.
NICK FURY: You think you could make Loki tell us where the Tesseract is?
THOR: I do not know. Loki's mind is far afield. It's not just power he craves, it's vengeance, upon me. There's no pain would prise his need from him.
NICK FURY: A lot of guys think that. Until the pain starts.
THOR: What are you asking me to do?
NICK FURY: I'm asking, what are you prepared to do?
THOR: Loki is a prisoner.
NICK FURY: Then why do I feel like he's the only person on this boat that wants to be here?
Nick Fury stands at the balance between good and evil in this film. He's definitely an ends-justify-the-means kind of guy. What does that say about who he is?
LOKI: It's an impressive cage. Not built, I think, for me.
NICK FURY: Built for something a lot stronger than you.
LOKI: Oh, I've heard. The mindless beast, makes play he's still a man. How desperate are you, that you call on such lost creatures to defend you?
NICK FURY: How desperate am I? You threaten my world with war. You steal a force you can't hope to control. You talk about peace and you kill 'cause it's fun. You have made me very desperate. You might not be glad that you did.
This is a classic hero vs. villain showdown, though Loki has a point: the Avengers aren't exactly knights in shining armor at this point. Part of their journey is finding out just what a force for good they can be.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: Phase 2 is SHIELD uses the Cube to make weapons! Sorry, the computer was moving a little slow for me.
NICK FURY: Rogers, we gathered everything related to the Tesseract, this does not mean that we...
TONY STARK: I'm sorry Nick, what were you lying?
CAPTAIN AMERICA: I was wrong, Director. The world hasn't changed a bit.
Stark and Rogers may butt heads from time to time, but they clearly both have well-defined senses of right and wrong, and neither of them are willing to let Fury off the hook because of it.
THOR: Your work with the Tesseract is what drew Loki to it...and his allies. It is a signal to the Realm that Earth is ready for a higher form of war!
NICK FURY: Higher form? You forced our hand! We had to come up with some way that we could...
Here's that "ends justify the means" thing again: Fury's trying to keep the world safe, but he's using a lot of less-than-heroic ways of doing it.
PHIL COULSON: You're gonna lose.
LOKI: Am I?
PHIL COULSON: It's in your nature.
LOKI: Your heroes are scattered, your floating fortress falls from the sky... where is my disadvantage?
PHIL COULSON: You lack conviction.
For all his secret agent cynicism, Coulson has a pretty well-developed sense of good and evil and right and wrong. He's convinced that Loki's going to lose simply because Loki is evil. And hey, he's right.
NICK FURY: There was an idea, Stark knows this, called the Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could. Phil Coulson died, still believing in that idea. In heroes.
Heroes can exist, and the good they do can inspire more good. That's what Coulson died for and what Fury is hoping to use to get his gang off their butts and back in the game.
COUNCILMAN: Director Fury, the council has made a decision.
NICK FURY: I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it's a stupid-ass decision, I've elected to ignore it.
COUNCILMAN: It's a nuclear missile to take out the portal!
NICK FURY: Situated on the island of MANHATTAN!
This may be the point where Fury finally shows which side he belongs on. He'll be the sneakiest sneak alive when he thinks it will save lives (even killing people if he thinks it's necessary). But there are some lines he still won't cross.
STEVE ROGERS: Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?
TONY STARK: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.
STEVE ROGERS: I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I've seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You're not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.
TONY STARK: I think I would just cut the wire.
STEVE ROGERS: Always a way out... You know, you may not be a threat, but you better stop pretending to be a hero.
TONY STARK: A hero? Like you? You're a lab rat, Rogers. Everything special about you came out of a bottle!
STEVE ROGERS: Put on the suit. Let's go a few rounds.
Rogers and Stark basically jockey for position from the very beginning, but what are they jockeying for? Well, they're the two most natural leaders of the group, and while they may not be entirely aware of it, they're determining who gets to sit in the big seat.
THOR: You people are so petty…and tiny.
Thor's got a big streak of jock jerkwad in him, and while he mostly put that behind him in the first Thor movie, it still comes poking out from time to time. Ratchet it back there, Blondie; we got bigger fish to fry.
THOR: Our father...
LOKI: Your father! He did tell you my true parentage, did he not?
THOR: We were raised together, we played together, we fought together. Do you remember none of that?
LOKI: I remember a shadow, living in the shade of your greatness. I remember you tossing me into an abyss, I who was and should be king!
There's no rivalry like sibling rivalry. The competition is dialed up to 11 with these two: it's all "Daddy loved you best" and "You're not my real brother," coupled with thousands of years of getting under each other's skin.
THOR: Do not touch me again!
IRON MAN: Then don't take my stuff.
THOR: You have no idea what you are dealing with.
IRON MAN: Uh, Shakespeare in the Park? "Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?"
Stark uses put-downs a lot, in part because he's a snarky little narcissist, but also to send a message: you may be big and strong, but I'm not afraid of you. In fact, he's going to crack jokes at your expense while you threaten him.
THOR: I thought humans were more evolved than this.
NICK FURY: Excuse me, did we come to your planet and blow stuff up?
Fury's got a point, but he's also trying to establish a moral high ground here. Asgard and Earth are just coming into contact, and Fury wants to make sure they aren't outgunned by the, you know, gods.
TONY STARK: Why shouldn't the guy let off a little steam?
STEVE ROGERS: You know damn well why! Back off!
TONY STARK: Oh, I'm starting to want you to make me.
Hang on fellas: you'll get to argue all you want in Civil War. In the meantime, though, it's nice to see your natural competitiveness bubbling over.
TONY STARK: Why did Fury call us in? Why now? Why not before? What isn't he telling us? I can't do the equation unless I have all the variables.
STEVE ROGERS: You think Fury's hiding something?
TONY STARK: He's a spy. Captain. He's the spy. His secrets have secrets.
Another game, and another way for the heroes so see if they can beat it. The name of this game is "What's Fury Up To?"
TONY STARK: He wants an audience.
STEVE ROGERS: Right. I caught his act at Stuttgart.
TONY STARK: Yeah, that was just previews. This is—this is opening night. And Loki, he's a full-tilt diva, right? He wants flowers, he wants parades. He wants a monument built to the skies with his name plastered…
Loki has a lot more going on here than you'd expect from a comic-book supervillain. But, as rich a character as he becomes, he's still got some old-fashioned supervillain failings…like vanity. He has to be shown defeating his rivals, which is an edge that our gang can use to get the jump on him.
LOKI: The soldier. A man out of time.
STEVE ROGERS: I'm not the one who's out of time.
Competition is fiercest between the heroes themselves, but they're not above playing a little one-upmanship with Loki. That's par for the course for superhero stories, going back to the earliest days. The Avengers is just good enough to treat it with a little more playfulness than most.
LOKI: Enough! You are, all of you are beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by...
[Hulk flattens Loki by smashing him like a rag doll]
THE HULK: Puny god.
Leave it to the Hulk – weirdly, the least competitive guy in the whole movie—to have the final word on who wins this thing.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: You know, the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing.
Cap's the master of understatement here, but linking Loki to Hitler is no joke. He knows what it means when one man tells everyone else to bow. It rarely ends well.
THOR: This is beyond you, metal man. Loki will face Asgardian justice.
IRON MAN: He gives up the Cube, he's all yours. Until then, stay out of the way, tourist.
The disagreement here isn't so much whether Loki should face justice, but who should do the justice-ing. It's basically a jurisdictional issue, which is why these two super-sized egos can't get out of each other's way. (At least Cap is smart enough to keep it humble.)
STEVE ROGERS: Now, I don't know what you plan on doing here.
THOR: I've come here to put an end to Loki's schemes!
STEVE ROGERS: Then prove it! Put the hammer down.
TONY STARK: Um, yeah, no! Bad call! He loves his hammer!
He really does. Again, Cap is the one calling for justice, while Thor—though his heart is in the right place—insists that only he can deliver real justice to his brother. That's the ego talking, not the need to follow a higher principle.
BLACK WIDOW: So, Banner... that's your play.
BLACK WIDOW: Loki means to unleash the Hulk. Keep Banner in the lab, I'm on my way. Send Thor as well. [to Loki.] Thank you... for your cooperation.
We really, really like this moment a lot: when Loki the player gets played by a woman he referred to as a "mewling quim." In its own way, the Black Widow's rebuke is a sharper form of justice than simply locking him up. She beat the bad guy at his own game.
TONY STARK: There's no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top. Maybe your army comes and maybe it's too much for us but it's all on you. Because if we can't protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we'll avenge it!
Part of administering justice is knowing where responsibility for the crime lies. Iron Man took a while to get with the program, but it's pretty clear who he—and the rest of the Avengers—are pointing their fingers at for this one.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: You think you can hold them off?
HAWKEYE: Captain, it would be my genuine pleasure.
Hawkeye has reasons to stick it to Loki, but he sets it aside for the bigger picture. That's the difference between justice and revenge: justice is about fairness and protecting people, while revenge is all about personal satisfaction. Freed from Loki's mind-blender, Hawkeye has no doubts about where he stands.
THOR: I have unfinished business with Loki.
HAWKEYE: Yeah? Well, get in line.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: Save it!
Okay, so they'll all pretty cranky at this point. It's a reminder that the Avengers still haven't quite gotten their selfish notions of revenge out of their head. Luckily, Cap is there to once again set them straight.
BRUCE BANNER: So... this all seems horrible.
BLACK WIDOW: I've seen worse.
BRUCE BANNER: Sorry.
BLACK WIDOW: No, we could...use...a little worse.
The Hulk is a troublesome asset at best, but in this case, Dr. Banner is looking to bring a little justice to his green alter-ego: atoning for some of the damage the Hulk has done by sticking it to something much bigger and scarier.
LOKI: If it's all the same to you, I'll have that drink now.
We gotta hand it to Loki: he may be a power-mad demigod who compares humanity to ants beneath a boot, but at least he has the good sense to admit defeat graciously. There's always something to be said for a good sport…
COUNCILMAN: So you let him take it and the war criminal, Loki, who should be answering for his crimes?
NICK FURY: Oh, I think he will be.
Fury, it seems, doesn't much care who delivers justice to Loki, just so long as Loki gets it. No more squabbling over whether Earth of Asgard gets to lock him up. He's confident that justice will be served up hot and steaming by the space Vikings.
LOKI: Kneel before me. I said, kneel. Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It's the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.
OLD MAN: Not to men like you.
LOKI: There are no men like me.
OLD MEN: There are always men like you.
This is a subtle way of reminding us that not all power-mad dictators wore bright-colored spandex. If you look through Loki's larger-than-life trappings, you might be reminded of some powerful human figures—like, say, Hitler—that tried to accomplish the same basic thing.
LOKI: The humans slaughter each other in droves, while you idly threat. I mean to rule them. And why should I not?
THOR: You think yourself above them?
LOKI: Well, yes.
THOR: Then you miss the truth of ruling, brother. A throne would suit you ill.
Thor gets it. Power can be a good thing, but it needs to be used wisely. You don't use power to lord over the people you rule, but to help make their lives better.
BLACK WIDOW: These guys come from legend. They're basically gods.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: There's only one God, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure He doesn't dress like that.
It's a funny line, but it also says something important. Thor, Loki and the Asgardians have amazing abilities, but they're not infallible. Even their power has limits.
TONY STARK: You know, I've got a cluster of shrapnel, trying every second to crawl its way into my heart. This stops it. This little circle of light. It's part of me now, not just armor. It's a... terrible privilege.
BRUCE BANNER: But you can control it.
TONY STARK: Because I learned how.
BRUCE BANNER: It's different.
Both of these guys are talking about control, and the ability to control their power is seen as a way of doing good with it. Obviously, Dr. Banner has a few more issues to deal with on that front than Tony, but…
NICK FURY: You ever been in a war, Councilman? In a firefight? Did you feel an over-abundance of control?
Another important point on the limits of control. You may be as powerful as a god, but when lots of folks get together and start shooting at each other (or throwing each other through walls or what have you), things can get out of hand very quickly.
NICK FURY: Last year, Earth had a visit from another planet that had a grudge match that leveled a small town. We learned that not only are we not alone, but we are hopelessly, hilariously outgunned.
You think you're the 600 lb. gorilla on the block, and then a pagan god starts smacking around a sentient suit of armor in New Mexico, and suddenly you get a proper sense of scale. Fury's actions are largely governed by the fact that he feels absolutely powerless before the alien forces elsewhere in the universe, and he's looking for a way to even the odds. Sadly, it doesn't go quite the way he expects…
BLACK WIDOW: Nick Fury seems to trust you. But now I need you to come in.
BRUCE BANNER: What if I said no?
BLACK WIDOW: I'll persuade you.
BRUCE BANNER: And what if the... other guy says no?
BLACK WIDOW: You've been more than a year without an incident. I don't think you want to break that streak.
BRUCE BANNER: I don't get always what I want.
Look at this dialogue from the perspective of who has the power. As long as Dr. Banner stays Dr. Banner, the Black Widow is holding the cards. But he's got a big green ace in the hole, and while he may be bluffing with it, he warns her that he may not have a say in whether it gets played. Tread carefully, Ms. Romanoff.
STEVE ROGERS: Fury didn't tell me he was calling you in.
TONY STARK: Yeah, there's a lot of things Fury doesn't tell you.
We talked about how characters without power—or specific super powers—assert themselves. Nick Fury has a Helicarrier, but he's really just a man. So in order to keep a handle on the demi-gods and super soldiers, he collects information. Leverage is power…and Fury knows just how to use it.
LOKI: Please tell me you're going to appeal to my humanity.
TONY STARK: Uh, actually I'm planning to threaten you.
LOKI: You should have left your armor on for that.
TONY STARK: Yeah. It's seen a bit of mileage and you've got the Glow-stick of destiny. Would you like a drink?
LOKI: Stalling me won't change anything
TONY STARK: No, no no: threatening! No drink? You sure? I'm having one.
Again, while Tony has power, it doesn't match Loki's. And yet, he's moving in to assert control over the villain du jour: partly through sheer bluster, but also because he feels like he can leverage Loki by talking to him.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: Dr. Banner, now might be a good time for you to get angry.
BRUCE BANNER: That's my secret, Captain: I'm always angry.
Dr. Banner's big concern is keeping control over his alter-ego, since he tends to level cities when "the other guy" gets out of his pen. The big reveal here—and seriously, it's one of the coolest in the whole movie—confirms that Banner has more control over his power than he once did, and can start applying it in positive ways (like bashing rampaging monsters from outer space).
CAPTAIN AMERICA: Stark, we need a plan of attack!
IRON MAN: I have a plan: attack!
Here's our team in less-than-fighting form: each going their own way and some of them flat-out refusing to listen to what the others have to say. That's what they need to overcome to win this thing: an obstacle as big as Loki's whole army in some ways.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: Are we done here?
Cap, at least, is a team player from the beginning…and the sound of this line suggests he's pretty disappointed in the other heroes refusing to play nice with each other. Getting them on the same page is going to take some doing…
TONY STARK: No hard feelings, Point Break. You've got a mean swing.
Tony's a narcissistic jerk, but his kinder nature can come out to play sometimes. This line shows, for the first time, that this gang can become a team.
THOR: You speak of control, yet you court chaos.
BRUCE BANNER: It's his M.O., isn't it? I mean, what are we, a team? No, no, no. We're a chemical mixture that makes chaos. We're...we're a time-bomb.
We can't blame Dr. Banner for being a little pessimistic—he's had a rough road, after all—but his phrasing suggests that persistence needs to work more quickly than perhaps they'd like. The team is too volatile to handle a lot of getting-to-know you time.
TONY STARK: He made it personal.
STEVE ROGERS: That's not the point.
TONY STARK: That is the point. That's Loki's point! He hit us all right where we live. Why?
STEVE ROGERS: To tear us apart.
TONY STARK: Yeah, divide and conquer is great, but he knows he has to take us out to win, right? That's what he wants. He wants to beat us, he wants to be seen doing it. He wants an audience.
This is the point where the team—having gotten their butts kicked during Loki's escape—starts to figure it out. And it's Tony who does the most changing, taking his own hunger for the limelight and using it to figure out what the heck Loki's up to. Did someone say "assemble?"
LOKI: The Chitauri are coming. Nothing will change that. What have I to fear?
TONY STARK: The Avengers. That's what we call ourselves; we're sort of like a team. "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" type thing.
LOKI: Yes, I've met them.
TONY STARK: Yeah, takes us a while to get any traction, I'll give you that one. But let's do a head count here: your brother the demi-god; a super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breathtaking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins, and you, big fella, you've managed to piss off every single one of them.
Loki's happy to rub their noses in their failures, but Tony's finally on the team. In this case, persistence isn't just about forming a team, but giving Loki a chance to make them all hate him much more than being irritated at each other.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: Stark? We got him.
IRON MAN: Banner...?
CAPTAIN AMERICA: Just like you said.
IRON MAN: Then tell him to suit up... I'm bringing the party to you.
The Hulk is the last piece of the puzzle—the one hero left who hasn't joined the "party." Tony clearly figured he was going to show, even if Captain America had his doubts. Time to whoop some alien behind.
IRON MAN: Call it Captain.
This is the final sign—in this movie at least—that all that macho chest-beating is done. Tony's the Number Two in this equation, and Cap needs to take the lead: signaling that the Avengers have finally truly assembled.
IRON MAN: What else you got?
HAWKEYE: Well, Thor's taking on a squadron down on Sixth.
IRON MAN: And he didn't invite me...
Once they've accepted that Cap calls the shots and the rest of them need to function together, it all clicks. Tony's banter here is just a nice way of saying it.
IRON MAN: What just happened? Please tell me nobody kissed me.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: We won.
IRON MAN: Alright. Hey. Alright. Good job, guys. Let's just not come in tomorrow. Let's just take a day. Have you ever tried shawarma? There's a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don't know what it is, but I wanna try it.
And again, there's the jokes. But in this case it's very intimate. Tony basically risked his life on a suicide mission to A) get rid of a nuclear bomb and B) shut down the alien invaders for good. The jokes are a way of deflecting that intimacy (Tony has trouble in that department), which still signals that this team is good to go.