Marvel’s The Avengers
Directed by Joss Whedon
Written by Joss Whedon; Story by Joss Whedon and Zak Penn
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, and Samuel L. Jackson
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference.
Running Time of 143 Minutes
As the superhero film genre has evolved over the past 15 years, like the comic pages from whence they came, each film has created its own unique tone or identity. This has allowed the genre, which has become immensely popular, to stay fresh and exciting (for the most part) when it could have become incredibly overdone and stale. As such, the world Marvel has created since Iron Man in 2008 is almost the antithesis of something like Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. That doesn’t make one thing better or worse; it simply makes them different. For fans, this works out well, particularly as far as The Avengers is concerned. From a logistical standpoint, this film must have been a nightmare. When we look back at film history, nothing quite like this has ever been attempted before. Sure: there have been team-up movies, but not one in which each of the main players had their own successful and enjoyable film leading up to the main event. That Kevin Feige (producer) and Marvel Studios have been able to deliver on this promise is nothing short of a minor miracle. That The Avengers is a massively enjoyable piece of pop art speaks to the sheer verve and talent of writer/director Joss Whedon, a man I have long been a huge fan of. The Avengers is one wild, hilarious, joyous ride.
From a narrative standpoint, the film is admittedly a bit thin. In this case, though, that never becomes an issue. This isn’t a film about narrative; it is about characters and dynamics, and the forming of a cohesive unit. Effectively the first half of the film plays like a “getting the gang together” film, wherein we travel around the world being quickly reintroduced to our superheroes, checking in on their lives, with S.H.I.E.L.D. attempting to bring them all together. The clever trick that this film pays off is that although we already know these characters, Whedon is so knowledgeable and familiar with them that he is able to nail their personality and motivation in one quick scene. This allows for an exciting, globe trotting pace in the first half all leading up to the moment when these titans finally meet that serves as the film’s exposition and sets up the stakes. In these scenes it is Tom Hiddleston as Loki who shines; mischievous, determined, his huge grin covering his entire face. Hiddleston’s Loki is a formidable and charismatic foe.
Once the team finally starts to get together, however, the film enters another plane of existence altogether. One of Whedon’s greatest talents has always been his ability to successfully balance an ensemble that are teaming up to face a singular enemy. It is easy to imagine a version of The Avengers in which Tony Stark or Steve Rogers is the main character, with everyone else serving as mere support. That’s not the case here. Each and every one of our heroes, right down to those without superpowers (Black Widow, Hawkeye, the wonderful Agent Coulson portrayed by Clark Gregg) are given fair and noble treatment, and it is the energy and dynamics that devolve from their interactions that make this film so special. These characters bicker, fight (literally), and attempt to work together in order to take down Loki, but it is a bumpy road along the way. It is pure joy to see Stark and Rogers banter or Thor and Hulk punch the living daylights out of each other; this is what boyhood dreams are made of. This film delivers on some bizarre primal level of allowing us to finally see in good old fashioned live action cinema what it would be like if these characters fought each other. Even more than that, though, Whedon has gifted the characters with spectacularly funny and irreverent moments and dialogue that also lend a certain sense of gleeful self-awareness. This is one genuinely funny movie, with the humor coming from within the characters. Like the best of Joss Whedon’s work, it all feels completely fresh and natural, and he has the actors to deliver it, particularly Downey Jr. who is fantastic with a quip and Chris Evans who is the perfect noble hero. Whedon also takes time to delve into the characters, and this allows for some potent emotional material, particularly where Black Widow and Thor are concerned. Somehow, Thor has become the heart of this film as his love for Loki is his driving force and Hemsworth is terrific. On the flip-side, whereas Natasha Romanoff was utterly dull in her first film appearance, here she is given strong material and her relationship with Hawkeye is fascinating and one I hope we see more of in future Marvel films. Scarlett really delivers in these scenes, and like he always does Joss has delivered an incredibly strong female character that plays with the best of the big boys. Perhaps best of all, though, and miraculously the film’s MVP is Bruce Banner. In Mark Ruffalo, Whedon found the perfect Banner. He is a bundle of anger and neurosis, humorous and brainy, and perfectly performed and written. That Ruffalo did the MoCap work and Hulk looks exactly like him is even better. Hulk smash indeed.
The humor and spot-on characterizations would all be for naught, though, if the climax didn’t deliver. Strangely, this is the biggest issue the Marvel Studios films have had: the endings fall flat from an action standpoint. This almost serves as an answer to that, as the climax of The Avengers is some of the best large scale action I have seen in some time. The destruction is massive, of course, but Whedon is a surprisingly deft choreographer of action and he shoots it with a firm, steady hand. The wide shots look fantastic, and there is a tracking shot that is breathtaking in its construction. Even better than that, though, the action here serves the characters, and the audience genuinely cares. Each character is given moments to shine and kick ass, and it is simply spectacular. This is an audience movie if there ever was one, and there are many times where you will want to cheer and applaud. The last 40 minutes of the film is a breathless barrage of joyous and exciting action, complete with clear stakes, motivation, and strategy.
What is most remarkable about this film is that Whedon makes it all seem so easy. From the deft balancing of the characters, to the great humor and the absolutely flat-out awesome action, this film is a marvel of pop culture. It delivers on the pure fun and thrills that comic books have for decades, with style and great wit. It is a blast in the purest sense of the word and one hell of a way to kick off the summer. Joss Whedon, welcome to the big leagues. As a long time fan, I’m very proud indeed.