Alternate Title: Let’s Overanalyze A Joke!
Superhero movies, but not exclusively so, often have what I like to call the “Hey, This Is Like A Comic Book! Moment.” It’s usually when a character says or does something that calls attention to the fact that you’re watching a movie based on a comic book (or line of toys, or cartoon, or whatever). It’s hard to explicitly define, but it’s easy to spot when it happens. Think of Bruce Wayne putting on his Batman costume one piece at a time, with pauses to let you marvel at the logo on his chest or the spikes on his forearms. Think of the kid in Iron Man 2, wearing the same plastic Iron Man helmet you can buy in stores, trying to blast a rogue robot with a toy hand laser. Or the kids in The Dark Knight, pretending to shoot at cars that Batman then blows up, which they obviously think is really cool. There’s no reason for Batman to put on his suit like that. There’s no reason for that kid to use real-life Iron Man toys. There’s no reason for anything like that to happen, other than for the movie to wink at its source material.
However, one such moment in The Avengers isn’t just a playful nudge to the audience, it’s actually a clever bit of characterization that uses the trope in a way that actually makes sense for possibly the first time ever.
First, let me set the stage a little bit. Early in the movie, Captain America is talking with Agent Coulson, and Coulson tells him they’ve upgraded his superhero uniform from how it looked in World War II.
Captain America: The uniform? Aren’t the stars and stripes a little…old-fashioned?
Coulson: With everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned.
This conversation obviously strikes a chord with Cap, who is probably feeling a little insecure about being stuck in a block of ice for a few decades. He knows the world has moved on without him, and he doesn’t know how to catch up. Later on, after Loki has killed Coulson and dealt a major psychological blow to the soon-to-be Avengers, Nick Fury tries to not-so-subtley push them into action.
Nick Fury: 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. Well, it’s a good old-fashioned notion.
Cap and Tony Stark have a conversation that basically boils down to “You know what? Screw Fury. Let’s make a superhero team called The Avengers and go save the world!” even though that’s exactly what he wanted. As Stark begins buffing out the scratches on his Iron Man helmet, Cap goes to fetch Black Widow and Hawkeye, who has recently been freed from Loki’s mind control.
Captain America: Time to go.
Black Widow: Go where?
Captain America: I’ll tell you on the way. Can you fly one of those jets?
Hawkeye: I can.
Captain America: …Have you got a suit?
Captain America: Then suit up.
Did you catch it? Cap has realized the Coulson was right. The world needs a little old-fashioned. And what’s more old-fashioned than a superhero using superhero clichés? A superhero telling another superhero to grab his superhero suit and suit up? Hey, that’s like something out of a comic book!
The thing is, if any other character had said this, it would’ve been silly. If Iron Man had said “suit up” before jumping into a fancy new set of armor, it would’ve been the sort of thing you’ve seen in the trailers for a million superhero movies, but we’ve already established Cap’s justification for saying it. He’s going to dress up in a costume and be a superhero, and you better also have a costume if you want to join him because superheroes wear costumes and say things like “Suit up!” when they put their costumes on. It’s a cliché, but the movie knows it’s a cliché and is using it to illustrate Cap’s mindset going into the big battle. He’s a superhero, and he’s gonna do what superheroes do: Save the world.
Captain America’s “suit up” is a delightfully clever line, whether or not the people behind The Avengers actually put as much thought into it as I have. I’m probably just a crazy person, because this happens near the end of the movie:
Stan Lee: Superheroes in New York? Give me a break!
Stan Lee, of course, co-created The Avengers, making this the exact sort of “Hey, this is like a comic book!” moment that the Captain America scene was a clever twist on…except this is just a gag, no clever twist. So what do I know?