Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon (screenplay), Zak Penn and Joss Whedon (story)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner
Well, here we are. The ambitious plan set in motion by Marvel Studios four years ago with the release of Iron Man has finally reached its inevitable zenith, with all of their superheroes coming together in one mega-blockbuster to rule all blockbusters. Despite the fact that this movie is a fanboy’s wet dream on paper, in reality, it probably shouldn’t work. All of this star power and all of these disparate characters vying for screen time had the potential to result in an incoherent mess. And yet somehow, not only does Joss Whedon pull it off, but he also makes it look easy.
I came into this movie with without any real expectations or built-in affinity for the characters, feeling that Marvel’s track record on the big screen had been somewhat hit and miss. However, despite the fact that I’m not really a hardcore comic book geek or a Joss Whedon devotee, it became clear to me that he has captured the essence of superhero comics and translated them to the big screen in a way that is almost pitch perfect. Is this the best comic book movie ever made? That depends what you want out of your comic book movies, but I will go so far as to say that The Avengers is hands down the best Marvel production to date.
The story wastes no time getting straight to the action, opening at a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. compound where they are housing the Tesseract, a cosmic cube of immense power that previously appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger. The cube opens a portal in space, allowing Thor’s brother Loki to suddenly materialize on Earth where he steals the cube and escapes into the night, bringing a few captives with him. It is revealed that he has an agreement with a mysterious alien being who promises him an army to help enslave humanity in exchange for the Tesseract. Nick Fury is left with no choice but to enact the Avengers Initiative, bringing together all of Earth’s mightiest heroes in order to combat their most formidable foe to date.
There are no origin stories here, not even for the villain, which enables a quick start and assumes immediate investment in the proceedings. In place of the usual humdrum first act of superpower discovery, we get to see the team being assembled, which is a lot of fun in and of itself. As the heroes start to come together, it becomes clear that the thing that will make this movie memorable is not the special effects, but rather, the performances. There is no shortage of chemistry and charisma on display, and it is a joy to see all of these different personalities finally able to bounce off of each other instead of remaining within their self-contained movie franchises.
Whedon’s writing is a lot more crucial to this movie than his directorial skill. His script has a fantastic sense of humour and it winks at fans without feeling forced. It’s clear that he is a comic book fan himself, and anyone familiar with his Astonishing X-Men comics knows that he has a firm grasp of team dynamics. There is a long stretch in the middle of the film where we are subjected to scene after scene of group conversations, but it never gets boring because it’s so well written. Unlike the majority of recent blockbusters, which seem to endure endless rewrites by multiple creative teams, one of the main reasons why The Avengers succeeds is the fact that Whedon was allowed to write the script on his own with a minimum of meddling.
It’s no wonder fanboys are drooling over this movie: almost every member of the team is compelling and each one gets an appropriate chance to shine. The plot is pretty forgettable, but there is a sense that you could watch these characters doing their laundry and it would still be enjoyable. Seeing Robert Downey Jr. ease into his fast-talking schtick as Tony Stark, I was reminded why I really enjoyed the first Iron Man film (as opposed to the bland sequel), and both Thor and Captain America provide plenty of fish out of water jokes without being corny. Whedon even manages to make Hawkeye and Black Widow seem useful, but it is the Hulk who arguably steals the show. Not only do we get to see him in action like never before, but he also consistently provides unexpected comic relief.
If there is a weakness in The Avengers, it might be the lack of a strong villain. While I like Tom Hiddleston as Loki, he feels somewhat overshadowed by most of the other actors. Of course, you could say that he isn’t the real villain of the piece, but the aliens are also somewhat forgettable CG creations. Fortunately, the movie makes up for this by generating a lot of the conflict from within the group and we get to see various heroes square off against each other in dream match-ups. We can finally settle such longtime geek debates as “Would Thor’s hammer break Captain America’s shield?” and “Can the Hulk lift Thor’s hammer?”. There is a lot of enjoyment that comes just from seeing their limits tested.
There is a well-balanced progression of action sequences featuring different combinations of heroes that all build up to a massive half hour finale involving the entire team. Although this extended action sequence reeks of mindless Michael Bay-style destruction, once again it is the character moments that anchor it and provide true thrills. That’s not to say that the action is inferior, however. Despite the overload of CG and sketchy compositing, there are also some impressive continual shots where the camera swoops and dives around the city showcasing each of the team members kicking ass.
If Christopher Nolan proved that comic book movies could be taken seriously with The Dark Knight, The Avengers excels at the exact opposite end of the spectrum — it is colourful, cartoony and ridiculously fun. At almost two and a half hours, the movie is a bit of a beast, but I think the large cast more than justifies its running time. I will admit that the movie has some disposable elements and could potentially fade over time, but I can honestly say that this is the first Marvel movie that I’ve wanted to go back and watch all over again as soon as it ended. One thing’s for sure: now that the Avengers are assembled, this is going to be one hell of a tough act to follow. — Sean
Recommended If You Like: Iron Man, X2: X-Men United, Serenity