The Avengers is the curb stomp to the void left by numerous “spectacle” filmmakers in the last decade, including guys like Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, and even one of the architects of the impending franchise, Jon Favreau. It’s what happens when you insert a little thing called “character development” in between your explosions, judo chops, and mass vehicular carnage. It’s the answer to the mecca of fanboys and fangirls around the world who have longed to see these iconic characters break out of the comic panel and onto the big screen in a fashion that doesn’t relate to unfit cosplayers at Comic Con running a role play scenario on the steps of a convention center.
No, this is the real deal. This is the stuff that we die hard geeks dream about; a true representation of the characters we’ve grown up with on the printed page, now bigger than life on a theater screen. If you’ve never read a comic book and have no intention of doing so, fear not, for if you watch director Joss Whedon’s opus to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, then you have just “read” a solid event storyline from The Avengers. Ha! Gotcha, comic haters!
And that’s what The Avengers feels like from start to finish. It feels like a movie that is not only unashamed of what it is, but wears it like a boss, never compromising on anything that it stands for. There are no back-story retreads that drag the film down, no lengthy explanations for the “non-fans” to make you look for a snooze button. No, Whedon is very clear with his script, co-authored with Zak Penn. They don’t give a fuck if you don’t know what a cosmic cube/tessaract is, or how Loki, the famed villain (and Thor’s brother) from last year’s Thor is magically in cahoots with an alien race to attack Earth and rule humanity.Whedon doesn’t care if you can’t grasp the concept of a super soldier serum, gamma radiation, or a flying helicarrier. With that, The Avengers is not just risky in terms of an ensemble superhero flick, it’s risky because it simply does not cater to the weakest link of its audience. And that, my friends, is one of the primary reasons why I absolutely loved The Avengers. This is a fan film that somehow slipped through the cracks. It never should’ve been made. There should’ve been meetings where idiotic studio execs assumed that audiences couldn’t handle the majority of the content, shifting to water it all down and have everyone wear black leather costumes and look more like soldiers than superheroes; do whatever they could to make it less like The Avengers and more like The Matrix.
But, holy shit, that didn’t happen. Whether it was producer Kevin Fiege steering the ship out of potentially troubled waters or Whedon’s insistence on making the film “his” way, The Avengers is nothing short of a miracle and I honestly believe that it will change the way superhero films are made from here on out. And that’s a great thing.
I have never been a Joss Whedon fan. His work on Buffy, Angel, and yes, even Firefly and Serenity, did nothing for me. However, I am able to see through the fog of my own discontent and recognize that Whedon has a knack for balancing multiple characters with big personalities. And for that reason alone, I stood by the choice of Whedon as the captain of The Avengers ship. And, he did not disappoint. He fucking delivered in spades and smacked me across the mouth, shouting, “Don’t you ever doubt me again, boy!”
And I shan’t, Mr. Whedon, I shan’t.
The Avengers picks up where the previous franchise films left off, having been orchestrated by the masterminds at Marvel as wonderfully as they weave their monthly comics, with every character, including Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Hawkeye all converging onto the scene without any true need to give us a mountain of exposition of who they are and why they’re there. If you don’t know then you’re in the wrong theater. Think Like A Man is a few doors down.
Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston has returned from outer space (where we last saw him in last summer’s Thor), having recruited an army called the Chitari, a bad ass alien race that means to assist the wayward Asgardian in conquering Earth and ruling it. The problem, of course, is a group of mis-matched superheroes and a secretive government agency (S.H.I.E.L.D.) that steps in to thwart him.
What ensues is a break-neck paced superhero extravaganza, filled with jaw-dropping action scenes, hilarious character interactions, scene-chewing dialogue, and the type of banter that ensues on the printed page on a weekly basis at your local comic shop. The screen crackles with energy as we witness one toothy-grin moment at a time; Thor vs. Iron Man, Thor vs. Hulk, Captain America shooting a rifle at the bad guys, Hawkeye vs. Black Widow, Hulk vs. Loki, etc. The match ups seem never ending with one throw down after another to quench your fanboy thirst.
As much as I loved the predecessors to this film (Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, Iron Man 1&2, The Incredible Hulk), The Avengers delivers more action in the first 45 minutes than any of the aforementioned films combined. The Avengers is all of those movies after doing P90X and drinking nothing but protein shakes for months on end. It’s lean as shit, even at 2.5 hours in running time, which is so sorely needed at this stage in the game.
Whedon realized that everyone had already done the backstory part of The Avengers. There’s no need to retread things that can be summed up in seconds. Rather, Whedon got-the-fuck-on-with-it. Finally, we can see these characters advance (mostly), rather than spin their wheels in origin hell. And it’s a Goddamned beautiful thing, like cherry blossoms blooming in the Spring or when Phoebe Cates shows her tits in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. No more fucking around, just down to business, STORY PROGRESSION.
Finally, I got to see Captain America, played to perfection by Chris Evans, in all his acrobatic bad-ass glory, kicking and punching (and shooting) the shit out of the bad guys. And he did it all as the character would in his monthly book, the man out of time, a Soldier, leading his troops.
The same can be said for Iron Man/Tony Stark, who remains ever the comic relief and the conflicted genius who can’t decide what’s more important; his own self interests or that of the world? He takes a large step forward by the end of the film and it’s a tremendous one for the character, which Robert Downey Jr. continues to straight up slay in his portrayal.
I was leery of Mark Ruffalo filling the tattered pants of the Hulk/Bruce Banner, but he brings a clever, aloof wit to the character and by the end he steps into the green-skinned monster with relative ease. “The truth is, I’m always angry,” he says as he Hulks out and jumps into action. It’s moments like that, which bring characters full circle with a single line of dialogue that bridge the gap between half-assed spectacle and fully-realized development.
Scarlett Johansson as the assassin known as Black Widow is given way more screen time than I imagined she’d have, but then you have to look to ol’ Joss for that one; He created one of the most recognizable heroines in pop culture with Buffy the Vampire Slayer so we all know he has a soft spot for female bad asses. Fortunately, Black Widow is given more to do than just look smoking hot (Seriously. That. Ass.) and whip the shit out of everyone in dizzying arrays of combatery (new word I just invented). Her past is teased and hinted at, giving us a peek into a vast back-story for the Russian spy.
Renner is well suited as Hawkeye, but his jokester antics from the comics are mostly absent here. Aside from some outstanding action sequences, Hawkeye is still kind of window dressing and, along with Thor and Nick Fury, gets the least amount of character development in the film.
Chris Hemsworth is excellent as Thor, but his conflict is very much a carry over from his own film, which is finding and containing his evil brother. Still, he has some grandiose action moments, including the placement of his famed hammer upside Hulk’s skull.
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is played very much in the same tone as in his previous appearances, which is fine, but nothing Earth shattering. Having been bestowed the role by artist Bryan Hitch in his rendering of the character as the actual actor, Jackson has had an easy ride with the character, but doesn’t bring anything significant to the role. By contrast, his right-hand man, Agent Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, is full of character and quirk, making him a fan favorite of the franchise.
The newly added Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill is great casting for the hard-nosed agent who graces the comic page, although she isn’t given a mountain of work to do. However, what she lacks in character development she more than makes up for in the skintight S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform which does more justice than the death of Bin Laden. She is a beauty to behold and I hope to see more of her in future films.The comedic beats are spot on throughout the entire film. It really is funny and chock full of gags that happen at the most inopportune moments, leaving you reeling with laughter. The timing is spot on and there are many moments where you will find yourself laughing aloud even as you’re marveling at the epic show before you.
The last 40 minutes of The Avengers is pure, unadulterated spectacle on a superhuman level. It’s a Marvel event book brought to life, hitting every single beat that you’d expect to find in the source comic pages. For me, it was a revelation of epic proportions, finally being able to see just how awesome it could all be when transcended beyond a glossy comic. Whedon has created the ultimate homage film, like Dr. Frankenstein zapping a comic to life and sending it out into the world. It’s alive, indeed.
What sealed the deal for me (not like I needed much more) was the mid-credits sequence, which alluded to a famed villain from the comic pages. As I sat there, squealing with nerd delight (silently, of course) seeing this epic villain in his first ever onscreen reveal, I realized that this truly was a film made for comic fans. How did I know? Because the majority of people sitting around me had no idea of the significance of this character and his massive role in the Marvel Universe. Most of them are movie enthusiasts or just run-of-the-mill audience members and I felt a little special in my total nerdcoreness that this could be a bad ass moment for me, while others were scratching their heads.
It was, in my mind, Whedon’s way of saying, “Here, this is for you guys.” It doesn’t hinder the enjoyment of the film to the masses, but it makes it that much more special to those of us who thumb through the weekly floppies (monthly comics to the non-geek versed) and have remained vigilant fans since childhood.The Avengers will be THE movie to beat this year. It is not only a landmark achievement for superhero films, but stands as a spire of hope for the spectacle film, letting the competition know that it’s okay to have fun and character when making your movie full of unbelievable stuff. With The Avengers you don’t have to check your brain at the door. You bring it with you and soak up all the benevolent greatness that is a true summer popcorn film and a testament to the power of an event movie done right.
Assemble. Like a muthafucka.