Avengers assemble! Marvel has been building toward The Avengers at least since Iron Man in 2008. While the individual films along the way – Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America – were a mixed bag, Joss Whedon finally puts all the pieces together and he’s delivered the most entertaining of the bunch. The Avengers won’t do anything to convert the unconverted, but it’s a fun payoff for anyone who at least liked those stand-alone films. While it doesn’t have the gravity of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, it’s also mercifully free of the brooding pretension. It doesn’t have the semi-auteurist stamp of Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films either, but Whedon gets in enough of his personal voice to make it his own without getting in the way of what we like about the comics in the first place. In short, The Avengers is a funny, action-packed, personality-driven blockbuster and a promising start to the summer popcorn movie season. If only all comic book films could be this light on their feet and this much fun.
The story is basically just another world-in-peril device but one dangerous enough that it can’t be handled by a single superhero. Enter S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his “Avengers Initiative” to form a super team made up of Earth’s mightiest heroes. Together they have the power to save the world, but can they overcome their various personality differences in order to form a cohesive unit? The good news is that all the characters have already been introduced so we’re spared yet another tedious superhero origin story, the bad news is that at nearly 2 1/2 hours long, The Avengers still takes its sweet time getting going. First the risk to the world has to be set up, then the individual members of the team have to be brought together and then they have to have fight one another before finally getting their shit together which is where the real fun finally begins. Really, there’s enough material here for two movies, but had they gone that route, the first one wouldn’t have been very good so it’s just as well they put them together.
To Whedon’s credit, he does his best to keep the slower opening relatively light and entertaining with plenty of snappy, in-character superhero patter. All the while, he’s setting up each character is set up uniquely so that when the inevitable team up occurs, they remain distinct and interesting. The enjoyable crap finally starts hitting the entertaining fan and The Avengers finally fully capitalizes on the ground work laid by Whedon and the makers of the previous stand alone movies. The characters are OK by themselves, but they’re essentially one-note. Put them altogether however, and they’re a melody of action fun. Even the lesser known characters Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) have their moments in the spotlight.
We already know what to expect from Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and even bad guy Loki (Tom Hiddleston) because all of them were clearly defined in their respective films. They’re all terrific (especially Hiddleston) if somewhat familiar. The Hulk on the other hand was a bit of a wild card. After rebooting the character with Ed Norton in Louis Leterrier’s 2008 The Incredible Hulk, Marvel went back to the drawing board once again, this time with Mark Ruffalo. As you’d expect from an actor of Ruffalo’s caliber, his scenes as Dr. David Banner are excellent, but the big surprise is how much fun The Hulk himself is. As a special effect, the CGI still looks more like rubber than flesh, but it’s good enough to not be distracting. Wisely, Whedon keeps a lid on the monster for most of the film. We already know what The Hulk is capable of, but instead of laying all the cards on the table, Hulk is held in reserve and he kind of hangs over the film as an element of unpredictable danger. When he’s finally unleashed and he commences wrecking stuff, it’s scary at first, but when that rage is focused on the task at hand, it becomes a cathartic and climactic joy to behold. Iron Man might get all the best dialogue, but Hulk smash and it good.
While the Hulk was my personal favorite individually, the movie really shines in the interplay between the different characters. Personality and dialogue play right into Whedon’s strengths so he’s a natural fit for this type of thing. He gets the characters, he loves them and he lets each one be great alone and in different combinations with the others.
We know Whedon can do character, but a big question is how he handle large-scale action and I’m happy to report that the action finale is a doozy. This type of carnage can be numbing and dull (see: Bay, Michael [Career]) but here The Avengers benefits from its variety of characters. Just as each hero has his or her own distinct personality, each also has his or her own clear fighting style and Whedon makes the most of all of them, jumping from one to the next with skill and confidence as the epic chaos unfolds while never losing track of the bigger picture. Each character is given a sequence or two to do what they do best in the way they prefer to do it. Here, all the smaller, more intimate moments Whedon developed in the quieter early going are finally allowed to pay off and they do so in most spectacular fashion.
Thankfully, no one is trying to reinvent the superhero wheel with The Avengers. Drawn in broad strokes and filled in with bright, primary colors, it’s simply an attempt to make the most entertaining superhero team movie possible and it’s pulled it off beautifully. For once, more really is more as The Avengers team proves to be a far more interesting and entertaining entity than any of the members are by themselves.
Filed under: Review