Directed By: Joss Whedon
Written By: Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson
They did it. They finally did it. The film that many of us have been eagerly anticipating ever since that now iconic scene at the end of Iron Man is finally here. The sheer concept of The Avengers is like something we have never seen before. Sure we have had sequels, prequels, and spin offs, but having four film franchises merging into once epic adventure was quite a unique challenge. It is like having James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt come together for one all encompassing spy thriller. That challenge and extreme build up has made The Avengers the most highly anticipated movie since Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. With so much hype built upon it there would be little surprise if the film folded into a huddle mess. Luckily that was not the case. With an all star cast behind him writer/director Joss Whedon seemed to do the impossible and surpass my highly inflated expectations. While the film isn’t perfect by any means I can say with absolutely certainty that watching The Avengers was some of the most fun I had in the theatres in years. Instead of whimpering with the responsibility it was given it took advantage of its situation to create one hell of a good time. We have seen certain adaptations that fair so poorly; people feel their mere existence becomes a beacon of despair that blocks any fond memories of the original material from resurfacing. The Avengers on the other hand was like watching the living embodiment of many of my childhood fantasies come to life.
The Avengers story picks up about a year after the events of Thor and the end of Captain America. Interesting enough the plot for The Avengers is rather thin. The basic premise is that Loki is attempting to take over the world through the use of his newly formed army. He wishes to use the Cosmic Cube to transport his Army to Earth to finally get the thrown he so richly deserves. In order to stop him Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempt to enlist the help of the world’s mightiest heroes. Typically a paper thin plot would be huge cause for concern and have the writings of a Michael Bay ‘masterpiece’ written all over it. The reason it works here is Whedon’s ability to focus on the characters and their relationships towards one another. Plus it doesn’t hurt having a lot of these stories already established in the previous Marvel films. If you walk into The Avengers blind without the background knowledge of films like Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man you are surely going to get lost rather quickly. There’s no Marvel front page giving you a rundown of everything that has happened up to this point. So I would defiantly advise watching them before stepping into an Avengers screening. There are a millions things to juggle and one slip up could bring the entire thing down. The narrative here is very strategic and economical. The dialogue is crisp and effective at establishing relationships through nuance and ingenuity instead of unneeded exposition. The endless supply of jokes and quips kept the mood light and easy to get behind. That is important because the first half does take some time to find its footing. As the team is attempting to get established so is the arc of the story. There were times when the film felt unfocused and not exactly sure where it wanted to go. Events came off as very fragmented and forcibly put upon one another. It wanted to bring these forces together in a natural way which made the pacing meander at times. Once we get a nice little action set piece in Germany the film really begins to take shape. We finally get to see how these characters will play off of one another. The clash of personalities is what made this more than a simple mindless action film. The brash sarcastic attitude of a Tony Stark matched against the straight forward seriousness of a Steve Rogers is a volatile mixture. Watching that mixture get made was a joy onto itself.
When Joss Whedon was announced as director for The Avengers many labeled it a safe choice for Marvel to make. Whedon has his fans as well as his critics but most would agree his ability to handled complex teams makes him a suitable fit. In the end I feel that fit really worked. I wasn’t sure how he would be able to bring the multitude of elements together into one story that was both coherent and enjoyable. What he did was give us moments that would not only move the story forward but also provide us insight to these characters. A Black Widow integration provided us a peak into her past and her internal makeup while at the same time giving us vital information about the overall story. The film is littered with moments similar to that one where you have a plethora of things happening even though people are just simplyhaving conversations. That resourceful story telling allowed each character to feel important to the story. Even smaller characters like Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Agent Coulson got their time shine. Perhaps the biggest star(s) to come out of this was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and the Hulk as a whole. We have had three hulks within the last ten years and Ruffalo was the best yet. While I enjoyed Ed Norton’s Hulk I preferred what Ruffalo did with the character. He portrayed Bruce Banner as this neurotic nerd with a severely dry wit. He took what could easily have been a thankless job and stoodtoe to toe with the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans. His counterpart wasn’t half bad as well. The Hulk stole the show as he had a multitude of crowd pleasing moments that had my crowd cheering at levels that are typically reserved for sporting events. It was the first time in movie form that the Hulk rightfully deserved the moniker of Incredible. Not to be out done where the ‘big three’ of Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Tony Stark), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Everything they brought to their characters in their origin films was only heightened in this. Their jabs at one another, both verbal and physical, were straight out of the comics.
I wondered how they would stack all these characters into one action set piece and make it not seem ridiculous. When you have a god fighting alongside a guy with a bow and arrow it could easily feel out of place, but it strangely worked here. No character felt head and shoulders above the next. A nice little Avengers brawl in the first act was one big reason why. The plot at times did come off as a comic book geek’s checklist of necessary moments. When those moments occurred it was never jarring as they flowed naturally within the plot. More importantly those moments were a delight to watch. There were some inventive ways each character used their powers which stopped the action from becoming repetitive and even though the majority of it was CGI heavy it was quite easy to follow. Last year when watching X-Men: First Class’s final action sequence I felt for the first time I was watching a comic book battle come to life. The final climax in The Avengers topped that with ease. Not only did it provide some great eye candy it also took the opportunity to expand on the characters. You got to see why exactly Captain America is look upon as such a great leader, why Hawkeye is dangerous just with a bow and arrow, and of course how exactly Avengers earned the title of Earth’s mightiest heroes.
Comic book films have gotten to the point where they no longer have to hide the fact they are based on comics. What I mean by that is these are not comic book characters placed into an action movie. The way this movie plays out is exactly like a comic book. With that does come some issues like a villainous army that is nothing more than cannon fodder, but that cannon fodder allows for an epic showcase of sheer awesomeness. A comic book film like The Dark Knight transcended the genre with its cinematic take on its material. You can take out the Batman elements to The Dark Knight and it still works as a great movie. The themes that run through it are so universal and well they require no justification. The Avengers doesn’t have that mastery of filmmaking but what it does have is a deep appreciation and unabashed love for the source material. The Avengers doesn’t transcend the genre it celebrates it and I couldn’t help but join in. While it didn’t have the emotional reminisce of First Class or Dark Knight the sheer magnitude of what it accomplished was awe inspiring. When writing a review it best to attempt to be unbiased as possible, but I find that nearly impossible here. I’ll freely admit there are issue and problems with the overall story that I easily ignored. Try as I may I cannot shed my inner fandom and find any potent issues that bugged me. Bottom line is this is the endlessly engaging. This had me thinking about the sheer reason for movies. Cinema can be the greatest of all the art forms or it can simply be one heck of a good time. I would be hesitant to call The Avengers a cinematic form of art, but inclined to call it the personification of pure amusement.