It has finally been assembled. Marvel’s decision to make “The Avengers” might seem like the superhero equivalent of the ensemble movie “Valentine’s Day,” or the theory that stuffing multiple popular actors into one movie is an adequate substitute for storytelling and makes it so marketable that no one could pass it up.
While that’s not necessarily not true of Marvel’s super plan five years in the making, “The Avengers” means something more to comic and superhero fans; it is a culmination of a lifetime of anticipation that does in fact have a historical precedent set by Marvel Comics. Essentially, this movie is a collective nerd-gasm, but whether you’re part of it or not, there’s plenty to love about how geek godfather Joss Whedon tackles this gargantuan task.
Still, it’s pretty amazing what bundling seven or so of the most beloved comic characters of all time into one package can do when it comes to creating an entertaining diversion. Many folks will nitpick at “The Avengers” script from now until eternity, but something needs to be said for the experience of being so awe-stricken that you couldn’t care about those things if you tried. There’s no shame in covering up “flaws” with entertainment, especially when you deliver that entertainment with a level of quality rivaled by few blockbusters of this scale.
“The Avengers” is a near-perfect execution of giving the people what they want. If you had to make a list of what you wanted from an “Avengers” movie, Whedon and Marvel would appear to have read your mind. The action sequences blow every previous superhero film out of the air, land and sea, the wit and humor come from more than just a series of punchlines or catch phrases, and all the characters get a chance to shine from an action and development perspective.
Story is secondary to achieving those goals. Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) power-obsessed brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has made a deal with an alien race known as the Chitauri to destroy Earth so he can rule it. He breaks into a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility and steals the Tesseract, an object at the center of “Captain America: The First Avenger” that has the power to open a gateway through which the Chitauri can invade. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), realizing Earth is about to be at war with an unstoppable force, summons Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), a displaced Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor in hopes they can place nice and band together to stop Loki.
So you have high stakes (global destruction), and a force powerful enough to justifiably bring all these heroes together. That’s all you really need. The script properly gives each hero reasons to fight and a personal journey, something to overcome. All this for seven characters in a 140-minute runtime. Even though we’re building up to yet another movie climax that involves the destruction of a major American city by hostile alien forces, it’s still this unique grouping of characters that changes the whole game.
As someone who seems to specialize in creating projects that develop cult followings, Whedon was really a perfect choice to write and direct. Despite what one would assume to be a lot of pressure, you never get the sense that “The Avengers” is trying too hard. The balancing act of all these characters might have seemed too tall an order for any one man, yet with actors really dedicated to the souls of their characters, Whedon and the cast pack in so much into even the smallest of exchanges.
One character the movie excels at in particular is The Hulk. Ruffalo commands the role of Banner as if he was the one who played him in the first two “Hulk” features. The script paints him as the team’s secret weapon, but also as the most volatile link in the chain. Some fear the green monster, others (Tony Stark) try to provoke him. Either way, despite sharing screen time, this Hulk is both more brutal and emotionally accessible than ever before. More than any other character, you’ll end up most curious about what Marvel might do with him next.
In general, the lack of time needing to be spent on plot development gets rationed off to all the characters, allowing the third-act action to pay off in more terms than simply eye candy. Each hero has a personal story arc or obstacle to overcome, whether its Tony Stark proving he can set aside his ego or Captain American understanding that he can be relevant in the 21st Century.
With so many heroes in one film, Hiddleston had to bear a ton of weight as Loki, creating a presence that could balance out all these good guys. Although not much of a physical threat, his The Joker-like move to allow himself to be imprisoned gives him the fuel to be cunning and unpredictable in performance and in actuality.
From a pure entertainment perspective, “The Avengers” should be considered king of all superhero movies. What it lacks in thematic and character depth it makes up for with action and humor. Whedon writes so expertly around cliches and identifies ways to make the film naturally funny, and the way the action scenes are edited together, there’s no confusion in regard to what’s going on despite the chaos of the Chitauri invasion scene.
Marvel deserves all the credit in the world for building to this point and delivering precisely what fans wanted. Although anyone can enjoy this romp, not just those who saw both “Iron Man” films, “Thor” and “Captain America,” there’s no doubt the legwork in those films makes it so much easier to enjoy the entire dynamic of “The Avengers.” What a momentous achievement from a business, filmmaking and audience perspective.
Directed by Joss Whedon
Written by Joss Whedon, Zak Penn, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (characters)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Renner