Avengers 5: Secret Invasion
Justin Hammer is doing a walk and talk, West Wing style, as he passes through the laboratories of his latest acquisition, AIM. He's been buying up research companies in the hopes of putting himself back on the map and back in the game. AIM is only the latest in a long line, following on from Roxxon and many others. He's there to see what progress top scientist George Tarleton (John Noble) is making. The lab is state of the art, Tarleton pushing from desk to worktable on a high tech hover chair, it's Apple meets Isis. With salvaged Ultron drones, the exo suit and robotics projects have accelerated toward completion and things are looking good. However when he goes to see the global surveillance operations team, using their own tech and piggybacking Stark's, they reveal a startling discovery: coded messages across the planet, seemingly alarming behavioural patterns between normally average members of the public belying covert activity and the presence of a cloaked vessel in orbit. That are not just being watched, they've been infiltrated. And nobody seems to know. Hammer prevents the data from relaying back to Stark to keep it that way: knowledge is, after all, power... and this is the biggest news of several centuries.
Tony Stark is busy. Maybe more than ever. No longer Iron Man, he now funds and makes public appearances on behalf of the Avengers while trying to steer Stark Industries in a bold new direction as the company that will bring renewable energy to the planet, sustainable crop farms to the third world and better smart phones to everyone else. The Avengers too are struggling to be accepted now the team is a drastically different one again. The team is now led in the field by Captain Marvel, a woman struggling with flashbacks to her imprisonment and torture at the hand of alien foes, trying to come to terms with her new role as leader, backed up by unofficial second-in-command Sam Wilson, a soldier struggling to accept the suitability and authority of the new leader who is successor to his best friend. Beside these two the team now the Black Panther, whose royal bearing is played for comedy, having assumed he would take command, frequently questioning if Danvers is sure in her choices and stating what he would do differently. In addition are the unlikely lovers, Scarlet Witch and the Vision, who try daily to wrestle with remaining as Avengers and the desire for peace at last, and the size shifting duo of Ant-Man and the Wasp, continually arguing amongst themselves as to whether this team is the best use of their skill set, though urged to remain by their mentor Hank Pym. The team is rounded off by trainer, mentor, elder statesmen and occasional field operative, Clint Barton.
During a routine mission the team infiltrate what they believe is simply an office block carrying out unlicensed superhuman enhancement research. What they find is far more sinister: floors full of alien technology. And not Chitauri tech either. What's more the only office worker not to escape by the concealed, then automatically destructed teleportation devices, one crushed under debris, has a corpse that quickly becomes green with pointed ears and ridged chin. The sight of it drives Carol into a momentary panic, requiring Sam to take the lead.
The team keep the knowledge quiet, explaining the cell as being a rogue Hydra base, not wanting to cause panic until they know more. Danvers brings the news to Stark. He tells her trust her instincts, use her initiative and all that good stuff. It's what Rogers would have done. They begin the hunt for more cells.
Meanwhile Justin Hammer is at AIM, talking with Tarleton. He shows his latest creation, the One Man Avenger. Looking somewhat like an Iron Legion unit, the unit is programmed with fighting styles of the original Avengers (a demonstration proving it knows Black Widow's classic leg choke and flip). In addition the six glowing disks on its chest crackle with electricity which spark and funnel into the repulsors in its hands and its central unibeam. The power source also creates a glowing energy variation of Cap's shield on its left arm. It has the strength of the Hulk, can fly and is an expert marksman. 'What about arrows?' Hammer asks. 'Arrows?' 'Sure. Like other other guy. The hawk guy.' 'All due respect, we've designed a state of the art personal task force and you are asking if it can play cowboys and Indians.' 'I'm sensing an Achilles heel here, George.' 'So you think there might be a situation in which all its other abilities are compronised and all it would need to do would be to fire an arrow to win the day?' 'Make it fire arrows. And call it something fun. Marketable. The Super Adaptoid.' 'Any other pointlessly archaic weapons you want me to build while you're here boss? A techno slingshot? Or a laser sword maybe?' 'A laser sword sounds good. Keep me posted.' As Tarleton roles his eyes Hammer gets into a helicopter and is off.
Hammer is recruiting...from the Raft. A silent, long haired and bearded, muscle bound bruiser (Joe Manganiello) who Hammer asks if he truly is the 'son of Zues' or if he's just crazy, a blonde femme fatal named Yelena Belova (Ana Ularu) the only other remaining daughter of the Red Room programme, the all too human former special forces operative Emil Blonsky, who will do whatever it takes to be strong again and a two bit crook, Eric O'Grady (Giovanni Ribisi) former associate of Scott Lang, who is in the Raft for posing as a SHEILD agent, stealing and selling on secrets. Finally he approaches a mystery figure whose face is never seen but whom Hammer has big plans for- he will be Hammer's finest agent, his new Captain America.
There are forces at work, forces keen to take over an ever more hostile planet and one that still belongs to the Empire. In shadows Queen Veranke of the Skrull plans. From the shadows they shall rule. Soon it will be time to walk in the light.
The Avengers have found what they need, leads, signs, communication channels, clues. They are ready to unmask what they believe to be a relatively small invasion force. Justin Hammer is ready too. Ready to deceive them all. Based on Stark sat readouts the Avengers burst into another cell, this time a church, cautious but prepared to use maximum force to stop their physically superior foes. The congregation seem both panicked and pleasantly surprised by an Avengers appearance. All but the pastor. He takes something small and square and black from his pocket. Meanwhile as Stark remotely takes an interest in the information for the first time, monitoring their activity, he finds the sub routines that were hidden, feeding false information.
Clint, in a rare public appearance, faces off with the pastor, urging him to drop what he's holding. The pastor is calm, attempting to dissuade the archer from rash action, still tightly clinging to what is in his hand.
Stark warns them to leave now, that it's a trap. But at that moment their is a mighty shockwave as something crashes to the ground outside. The shock causes Clint to lose his bow string and the pastor goes down, a pocket Bible held tightly between his fingers.
Chaos and screaming ensue, elsewhere Stark suits up while into the church come a group demanding that the Avengers surrender, in the name of the United States government, in compliance with the Sakovia Accords. The Iron Patriot, US Agent, Hercules, Abomination, Black Widow, Yellow Jacket and the Super Adaptoid. The Iron Patriot's helmet is unveiled to show a victorious Justin Hammer. They are the Thunderbolts. The Avengers realise no fight could end well, not here, not with civilians, not after they burst into a church and killed a pastor. Carol bids them all to leave quietly. They are being taken away when Iron Man arrives. He says he will expose Hammer, he will show the world how Hammer sat on the truth of an alien invasion force and used that information to get back at Tony. Hammer retorts 'they're your satellites Tony. Seems to me you knew all about this but told no one. A real American would have to ask where your loyalties really lie.' In a final act of defiance Tony fires at Abomination and Hercules as they lead the Avengers away in shackles; allowing his old team to flee. Tony himself is not as fortunate. It seems Hammer finally perfected his own Iron Man armour after all. He takes out Stark and the Thunderbolts are applauded by their onlookers.
In the coming months Justin Hammer has become the face of American security, he launches press announce that show the world the new face of heroism and introduce his team. Hammer is now Tony Stark and Nick Fury rolled into one and also leader of the beloved and trusted Thunderbolts. Everyone knows his name and each child has a new favourite hero from his team's ranks. Directly liaising with Everett Ross and the Joint Counter Terrorism task force, Hammer is something of a national hero while Tony Stark is a traitor, left to rot in the Raft. All of his dreams have come true. He says what he thinks, acts on his whims and is making America great again. All it has taken is to occasionally take out the odd Skrull cell and, when they got better at hiding, to set up fake stings to maintain public trust.
Behind closed doors it is harder to manage a hard drinking former psychiatric patient who thinks he's a god and wield an indestructible mace, a special forces behemoth who is absolutely terrifying, an equally terrifying Soviet Assassin who could literally stab you in the back at any moment, a size shifting peeping Tom who keeps creating potential PR scandals, and a silent and taciturn masked operative. The only person Hammer can turn to is the naive and childlike Super Adaptoid who limited understanding of communications often means his response to Hammer's heartfelt confessions is a Siri esque 'I'm sorry, I did not understand your question.' It's good to be God but sometimes it's lonely.
Secretly however, Hammer has been in conjuncture with Veranke the entire time. It is she who has allowed his rise to power. But Justin Hammer, for all his bombast and bluster, is no idiot. He is plotting
The Avengers now operate from the shadows. More specifically from the apartment Scott Lang shares with his ex-con compatriots. It feels like the Sakovia Accords all over again. Though this time they are not hiding. They still fight the good fight but get away before Hammer's agents confront them. And they are the only ones left truly investigating the Skrull's secret invasion. Amongst themselves things have changed. Scott and Hope take more active roles, devising strategies as others struggle to cope with the new status quo. Scarlet Witch and the Vision plan to retire after the next mission, Hawkeye has not been seen and is presumed to have gone into hiding with his family. Meanwhile the relationship between Carol and Sam has shifting, first into respect then into something else. Hostility has grown into a confused blend of emotions. Carol is worried it will affect her leadership. Sam thinks being people, being happy, is all they have left.
In the end though things escalate to all out war. Hammer is summoned to meet Veranke, a routine update. But he has taken precautions and brought a device to their meeting. He scans her and in doing so the device is able to read the bio sign of any Skrull. His agents can now track them all. Betrayed, Veranke says the time for deception is over. The invasion is over, their dark reign has come. And with that, the Skrull sleeper agents reveal themselves. Politicians, business magnates, Romonda, mother of T'Challa, Hank Pym, Everett Ross. Aunt May. When the world implodes and every hundredth person is a Skrull operative, the Thunderbolts cannot cope. The Avengers, guided by Sam, suit up in the apartment, ready for battle. However it is at that moment Carol returns and urges them all to lay low. They cannot risk exposing themselves and cannot hope to win. They must stand down. Sam is shocked and appalled and tries to confront her. Then she attacks him, slowly shifting to a shade of light green and assuming her true form as Veranke, Queen of the Skrulls. She's been holding them back every turn. Now she's going to put an end to them.
The Avengers battle but in the end she escapes. Soon it is up to the Avengers and Thunderbolts combined to rid the planet of the invaders, battling the newly revealed Super Skrull shock troops. The Thunderbolts suit up, equip tech, strap on guns and, in Hercules case, shave off his beard and hair.
The battle leads them to the Washington DC where Veranke is meeting with advisors and generals. War comes to the White House. During conflict the sobre Hercules begins to laugh raucously, revelling in the destruction, drunk on violence. He presses a lever on his mace and a blade emerges, revealing the weapon is in fact an axe. He defies Hammer who, when he commands the god to fall into line, is told 'You asked if I was Zues' son. It is you who called me by the bastard's name. I am not some mongrel born of your kind. I am Area, god of war. And I am home.' He proceeded to lay waste. As the USAgent battleD Skrull after Skrull, finally all his weapons destroyed, he pulls out a 'laser sword' and is a force to be reckoned with. A true warrior. Not a mere soldier but a super solider. It is Veranke herself who bests him and in doing so unmasks him, revealing none other than Helmut Zemo. A flashback to the Raft reveals Hammer offering him an IV of brilliant blue liquid and the chance to undo what the Avengers built. She then blasts his face with her Danvers like powers.
When the Skrull ships are revealed Hammer relents and has Tony Stark freed, only to 'order' him to lead his men to infiltrate the vessel and bring it down. Stark agrees and takes a small task force to disable the mothership. Inside they also find those who were captured and replaced by Skrulls, including an invaluable ally. On board the Super Adaptoid is left to usher the prisoners to escape pods when it is overwhelmed by Skrull guards. Battered and almost offline, if only it could plug into to the escape hatch controls it could lead the civilians to safety. In a last ditch effort a War Machine like turret emerges from its shoulder...armed with arrows. A tech heavy arrow calibrates itself to plug into the port, powers up and then... the entire turret explodes, killing the machine. It is then that the real Carol Danvers, now freed from her captivity, enters the fray. Defeating Skrulls with military precision and superpowered expertise, she gets the prisoners to safety while Stark sets the ship to fly into high orbit and self destruct. The heroes rejoin the action below and at long last the world sees what a real Captain Marvel let loose can do. Avengers battle Thunderbolts before converging on Hammer Stark tears away at Hammer. Blasting and tearing away at his armour the liquid like suits reforms and seems emerge from his pores. When an exposed hand fires a repulsor blast it becomes apparent this superior Iron Man is the result of Extremis and illegal genetic enhancement.
In the end the victory is secured, Hammer is exposed and Skrulls become an endangered species on planet Earth. The Avengers settle in to their old lodgings, things somewhat awkward between Sam and an unawares Carol, but other than that ready to save the world once more. This time however they are accurately aware they need to be more in touch with what's going on closer to the ground, they need to be in the world not apart from it. And so Tony provides them a vast mansion in the heart of the city once owned by his father and still technically Stark property. It needs doing up but will make a perfect Avengers Mansion. At the gates Vision and Wanda say farewell and T'Challa heads home to Wakanda to repair. Welcome home Carol, Sam, Scott, Hope, Luke, Stephen and Peter (now living and studying in the city.) The world will soon be safe again. The Thunderbolts who are not imprisoned are scattered and disbanded- somewhere Belova is undertaking political assassinations, a tiny O'Grady watches a woman shower, Zemo sits in the ruins of a sacked Sokovian castle, pulling a purple mask over this face. Things are getting back to normal. All that's left to do is take out Hammer's think tanks, starting with AIM.
In the final scene the new Avengers break into the AIM HQ while at the other end of the compound George Tarleton flees to the lab where the film began. Here he equips a jet pack and gloves and boots which are reminiscent of Tony's Mark II prototypes. He successfully unarms most of the team, in the conflict revealing much of his body is now cybernetic. He leaves only Scott with an experimental pistol. Hope urges him not to use it but Tartleon will not back down. The weapon is fired but the shrink ray is untested and instead a blast to the face sends Tarleton careening into a nearby hover chair as his head swells to immense proportions. Comically ridiculous and unable to support his own weight the madman spins and hovers and bumps, wildly swearing vengeance. Nobody can help laughing. The moment of levity is cut short when the ceiling is broken by dozens of Super Adaptoid drones dropping in. Everyone takes a fighting stance.
Hammer is sat in a cell once again. A guard comes to release him. He says 'they' want to see him. Hammer is clearly rattled but follows. He is taken to helipad, loaded into a helicopter where one of his own suits awaits him. He is flown to a secret location and abandoned beside a large compound. He walks the empty corridors alone before pausing at a vast door, steeling himself, and walking through. Within the darkly lit room is a round table with many shadowy figures encircling. They are disappointed. He is apologetic. It changes the time scale. Things must proceed. He ask what becomes of him. His services are no longer required. A bolt of energy hits him in the chest and he is vaporised. In the darkness the hulking shape of the mutated George Tarleton glows beneath the light of the laser on his forehead. In the other chairs sit the cranially deformed, green tinted Samuel Sterns, the Mandarin, Mordo, Hela and the Red Skull. Hammer was too eager. He did not follow the plan. The Cabal demand patience. For now, they wait.