The crowd that exited Wednesday's 8.30pm 3D screening of Thor: The Dark World did so in excitement. The movie had surpassed everyone's expectations. Well, everyone bar the Batman T-shirt wearing chap, presumably a DC fan and angrily thinking 'how dare a superhero movie have sense of humour - WE'RE MEANT TO BE TAKING THIS SERIOUSLY NOW, DAMMIT.'
But everyone - even the devoted fans - seemed to be asking the same thing:
Where were The Avengers?
They didn't ask in an angry way. The sense of enjoyment far overrode the dissension. It was more in a ‘I’ve noticed a fundamental flaw in the movie all by myself, so I’m going to keep banging on about it’ way.
In truth, The Avengers' non-existence in standalone films like Thor: The Dark World is a huge flaw. A gaping flaw. A flaw so big and entwined in the shared Marvel Universe that…it strangely doesn’t matter.
Imagine a building is to be demolished. Explosives are wired around the foundations, charges are set, and the big red 'detonate' button is pressed. But the structure doesn't collapse in on itself, because all the exploded debris and misshapen girders have fallen in a way that creates a stable construction, holding the rest of the building up. That's what the question 'Where are The Avengers?' is. A very delicate, but simultaneously necessary, flaw.
First, the surface-level arguments.
The post-Avengers films thus far have all made an effort to at least address the superhero team's absence. Iron Man 3 claimed the Mandarin terrorist was a 'domestic' threat, and therefore not within S.H.I.E.L.D.'s remit. Thor: The Dark World had Darcy (Kat Dennings) call S.H.I.E.L.D. about the impending end of the Universe, but they didn't believe her. And the television spin-off Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. follows a department so secret that the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. aren't aware they exist (which 'explains' Agent Coulson's [Clark Gregg] return-from-the-dead, but doesn't make it any clearer why their branding is over EVERYTHING. Seriously. Even their water bottles have 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' logos on them).
So the movies do explain The Avengers' absence. Even if it is a tad flimsy.
Secondly, the practical arguments.
Any acknowledgement of the Avengers' existence beyond the above lip-service would simply clog up the script and dialogue. The screenwriters would be forced to remind us before every huge action set-piece why S.H.I.E.L.D. and their poster boys (and girl) aren't parachuting/flying/using-a-mythical-hamm
Also, the main cast cost a lot of money (especially Robert Downey Jr.) and Marvel are a notoriously tight studio. Sure, Avengers characters appear in cameos or post-credit sequences once in a while, but never all of them together at a movie's climax. The coinage would be extortionate and the scheduling headaches a nightmare.
Thirdly, the use-your-imagination argument.
Maybe - just maybe - the other Avengers actually have their own lives to lead. Like [SPOILER START] Tony Stark giving up being Iron Man at the end of Iron Man 3 [SPOILER END], or Bruce Banner laying low for a while, trying to regain control of his extra-large, super-green anger management issue.
'Where are The Avengers?' is a question Marvel actors have been asked so often, that they've recently begun to make-up their own reasons.
"I don't know, they were probably having pancakes at IHOP or something," Jaimie Alexander (Sif).
"Captain America is doing some shopping, Iron Man is fixing his suit, and Hulk was... I think he was on a holiday somewhere?" Chris Hemsworth (Thor).
"They have a 'no going to London' policy," Kevin Feige (Marvel Studios' head honcho).
Or perhaps they're busy fighting their own End of the World battles. They're superheroes, after all. Use your imagination.
Finally, the deep-rooted, real argument which addresses the nature of comic book continuity.
Comic books are a medium that has created countless (sometimes literally infinite) continuities to optimise their sales. You have multi-character titles like Avengers, X-Men and the Justice League; sometimes you have duos, like Superman/Batman; and you have plenty of standalone books. Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America, Deadpool, Doc Savage, Hawkeye. All existing in one publisher's continuity.
But wait, there's more!
Of all those standalone and different combination books, the most popular characters also have multiple titles to their name. Spider-Man, for instance, has had Superior Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man, Astonishing Spider-Man, Spider-Man & Wolverine, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Peter Parker: Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man and his Pet Spider, Transvestite Spider-Man and a whole Wikipedia page more. There are no fewer than 489 different monthly Batman titles, 76 Thor ones and minus 11 Booster Golds. All mostly happening within the same Universe and timeframe as the other gazillion-odd titles a publisher has. It's confusing.
Having multiple books on the same character is almost as impenetrable as the decades of continuity when one first 'gets into' comics. How can Spider-Man be getting into so many scuffles at the same time? Does that mean some are more important than others? As a fan, you have to let these things slide. Disbelief has to be suspended.
Continuity is a wonderful thing. There are few experiences more satisfying than when plot points click together, and back-referencing and retconning are two of the most beautiful acts on this Earth. But when stories are so large, with hundreds of characters over 50 different books, continuity has to be fluid. You have to give it more leeway.
Where are The Avengers? They're doing something else. They're busy. They're on the run after a benevolent tech organisation turned out to be bent on world domination.
It doesn't matter where they are. It's a redundant question. What matters is that these standalone movies are given a chance to work by themselves.
And that they promote the next big team-up event.
Money, money, money.