Written & Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
MPAA: PG-13 – For Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence & Action Throughout, and a Mild Drug Reference]
There’s never really been a project quite like The Avengers. On paper, it would seem like just another business-as-usual superhero film, except as a superhero team-up movie a la X-Men or Fantastic Four rather than the usual solo job. The big twist, of course, is that it’s a bunch of comic book characters each from their own separate and pre-existing storylines, mythologies, etc. all coming together rather than just a cast of original characters. It’s something that’s relatively simple to do on paper as a comic series, especially since comics are generally all about sprawling continuity and shared universes that allow characters to jump into other people’s stories and whatnot, but it’s almost impossible to do in a medium like, say, film.
Well guess what, friends. Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios proved us all wrong on that one. The thing that makes the Marvel Studios superhero films so unique is how they went out to take the usual superhero films, but then transcribed that comic-book sensibility of shared continuity into the cinematic medium. You can watch Iron Man and Thor and appreciate them as stand-alone movies, but there’s also a bigger picture of how those two movies exist in a shared universe. And while the quality of the Marvel films are definitely sporadic and inconsistent as they range from really good (Iron Man) to totally forgettable (The Incredible Hulk), the promise that each of these movies would all culminate into a big team-up movie was an enticing one indeed.
And god damn, The Avengers absolutely lives up to that enticing promise. Not only is it one of the most fun summer blockbuster movies you’ll see in a long time, it also pays off incredibly well with the shared mythologies and characters all coming together. While the prospect of taking up close to 10 characters from previously established films with pre-determined characteristics is daunting, the screenplay works gang-busters when it comes to making each group member feel important on some level and having them interact in fun and amusing ways. Why does it work this well? Two words, ladies and gents: Joss Whedon.
Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and cult-favorite Firefly is pretty much a master at developing large casts of unique and interesting characters and giving them all interesting group dynamics that pay off to each character’s specific traits. The choice of having him as the director for The Avengers is an inspired one indeed, and it’s a choice that pays off immensely well. All of the characters feel consistent to their previously defined films, but they interact in ways that are fresh allowing the film to showoff some interesting dynamics between its characters. For example: Tony Stark and Bruce Banner make surprisingly good partners, Loki reveals some depths we would’ve never otherwise gotten out of Black Widow, Thor shows that he can be the serious one of the group, and even Agent Coulson shows off an interesting side of himself that involves an affinity for Captain America. As short as each arc is, they all feel satisfying in their own way, and each character is given enough time to develop so that even if they aren’t deep or complex, they are very likeable.
Another thing that works about the group dynamic is that each character feels important to the story in some way, and none of them are wasted. Bruce Banner/Hulk especially has the most crowd-pleasing moments that are sure to have packed audiences cheering at the screen, but he’s also given a solid enough reason to be recruited for the Avengers in the first place due to his background in gamma radiation, which is somewhat integral to the plot. Tony Stark, of course, is a big tech wiz; Captain America is literally the first superhero to ever exist having literally leapt in time from the 1940s; Black Widow is good at gathering enemy intel; Thor is the brother of our main villain Loki; you get the drill. The only character of almost no importance is actually Hawkeye, except he gets so many badass moments and is played by the generally badass actor Jeremy Renner so well that you don’t even care.
But of course these characters wouldn’t be doing anything if they didn’t have a plot to get things moving, and it is definitely of the most basic superhero plots. There’s a magical macguffin that allows for powerful energy, bad guy wants magic macguffin to open portal so more bad guys can help him TAKE OVER THE WORLD (OF COURSE), and Samuel L. Jackson has to get a bunch of heroes to defeat the bad guy and his army of bad guys from taking over the world, explosions, chase scenes, you get the drill. If anything, the simplicity is a good thing for this sort of movie. Considering there are so many converging narratives and universes coming together for this movie, it’s best not to over-complicate things so that it works both as a culmination of all those other movies and as its own standalone film.
Of course, this poses the problem that the plot doesn’t really have any depth or nuance. And that isn’t really too much to ask right? Even fun, simple, action-blockbuster plots can have moments of insight, even if they are aggressively simple. All of the Indiana Jones films have their own morals and lessons by the end of them. Spielberg’s rendition of War of the Worlds was thrilling and exciting, but it also worked as an evocative mood-piece in a post-9/11 society and really harped on those personal fears of terrorism and mass destruction using sci-fi tropes. Even Die Hard (Which is personally my favorite action movie ever) worked as a character study as John McClane’s wits and skills truly felt tested because he was an ordinary guy placed in a larger-than-life situation. The Avengers never really goes so up to that level. It’s merely just a really fun, exceptionally well-crafted comic book movie. It doesn’t transcend the genre like The Dark Knight did, and it doesn’t have really moving emotional beats like Spider-Man 2 did.
Another thing that doesn’t really work about The Avengers is that while the first half of the film has its moment, it’s infinitely inferior to the final hour or so and has a few notable scenes that really don’t work. The opening scene especially felt too rushed and unfocused for my tastes. This is a movie that doesn’t really begin with a bang, but instead builds up to a really, really big bang.
And speaking of really big bangs, one major thing that The Avengers does so well that so few blockbusters these days seem to do well is spectacle. The final hour or so of The Avengers is a non-stop action riot with huge set-pieces, epic scope, large explosions in all directions, cars flying everywhere, and buildings toppling over each other. You know what other movie had a similar non-stop final-hour set-piece? Transformers: Dark of the Moon did. Except while that movie had all those very things, it remained boring and trite because 1.) none of the characters were interesting or likeable, 2.) the action was poorly edited, and 3.) you didn’t get a good sense of the ebb and flow of the struggle, i.e. who was winning, who was losing, and which god damn characters were which since you couldn’t tell one ugly hunk of metal over another.
The Avengers does the exact opposite of Transformers 3. We like each of the characters, all of the action is well-shot and coherently edited, and you have a good sense of the battlefield as each character looks and feels distinguishable. I may not be able to tell Optimus Prime apart from another big ugly robot; but when I see the Hulk slamming onto dudes in maximum rage, I can definitely tell who is Hulk and who is just the cannon-fodder.
All in all, my review doesn’t really matter to you all. Everyone and their grandmother is seeing this movie this weekend and I can’t really blame any of them. The Avengers is simply put, an insanely fun blockbuster. Is it a masterpiece of its genre? Not really. Is it awesome to see the Hulk pounding a man within an inch of his life? Hell yeah it is.
Final Verdict: The Avengers is likely going to be the most fun movie of the summer movie season. It’s filled with fun and memorable characters with great dialogue, incredible action set-pieces, and plenty of humor to spare. It may be too simple to rank among the all-time masterpieces of superhero films like The Dark Knight but when it comes to pure spectacle and badassery, The Avengers can not be beat. So go and assemble yourselves to the theater now! Get it? Get it, guys?! Guys?…guys?…..guys…
That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by reading more of this blog as well as following me on the Twitter-machine @Enigma6667 to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what’s going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.
See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to think up some more terrible puns involving the word “assemble”. Hey, if the movie isn’t doing it, who else will?