…based on Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, written by Zak Penn, directed by Joss Whedon, starring Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).
By now, after Hulk-smashing 1st and 2nd week box office records, nearly everyone who reads this blog has seen Marvel’s The Avengers. It’s the greatest team super-hero movie of all time. After the last few years’ series of Avengers solo movies, starting with Iron Man up to last summer’s Thor and Captain America, the geeks of the planet have had this date circled. We’ve watched the short Nick Fury cut-scenes at the end of the movies. We’ve debated on the internets. We’ve all hoped it could somehow live up to expectations, seeing Earth’s mightiest heroes together on the big screen.
And Joss Whedon’s super-powered popcorn epic hits the mark.
Yes, the first act is a little slow and awkward at points, introducing the characters with their back stories from the other movies, while setting up Loki and his quest for the Cosmic Cube (the Tesseract in the movie, don’t know why they had to call it that). No, Black Widow doesn’t really belong on the team, and the Agent Coulson-uniting-the-team card is one Whedon has used over and over again. Yes, the Chitauri alien villains were pretty generic and definitely had some storm trooper factor. However…
Whedon has been lobbying to do super hero movies for years. At one point he was linked with an attempt to bring back Wonder Woman and he recently helped the Marvel Comic Astonishing X-Men refocus on that team’s roots. Beemsville has been a fan of Whedon going back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (still the superior teen-angst with monsters TV series), Angel, and Firefly. Other than the Firefly-spin-off movie, Serenity, a modest success, Whedon hasn’t directed a blockbuster type movie. Until now. He is, however, a lifelong comic fan; a guy who grew up with these characters, reading and re-reading their origins, marveling at the great cross-over four-color stories. He gets it – he understands the source material, the importance of certain interplays between characters and their symbolic moments. Contrast this movie to something like Batman and Robin – another big-budget ensemble with a director, Joel Schumacher, who certainly did not get it, and you gain even better appreciation.
Whedon has always been strong writing/creating the team dynamic, going back to Buffy and Firefly. But in those stories he had a strong central character to anchor the team, and that wasn’t the case here. Instead the combination of Nick Fury’s machinations and the impending threat of extra-terrestrial warfare were the hook. Where I thought this movie really succeeded on the team element was how the characters fought and argued, yet developed into a group that seemed to actually like each other by the end.
Respect for the Big Guy
There’s no doubt the Hulk gets some of the best moments in this film. This made me extremely happy. Having suffered through the Ang Lee debacle and then being somewhat rewarded by the underrated Incredible Hulk re-boot, fans of Mr. Green couldn’t help but be concerned with how he would factor on this team. Fortunately, Mark Ruffalo was excellent as an understated Bruce Banner. Fortunately, Whedon and Penn did not go down the duality-of-man-monster path once again.
Clever of them to have Tony Stark in the role of Hulk-fan, opining that the Hulk isn’t as separate from Banner as Bruce would like us to believe. Because of his volatility, Hulk is only really a reserve Avenger in the comics. He shows up to help when the truly fearsome villains threaten, but usually ends up fighting them. In this movie, we get to see progress towards Banner accepting what he has become, and this sets Hulk up to smash on behalf of the good guys.
Ask any kid their favorite part of the movie and it will probably involve the Hulk. That goes for grown-up kids as well. When you remember a simple truth – Hulk is the stongest one there is – and you put that in the movie, you’re on the right path.
Heroes fighting Heroes
A recurring theme of Marvel Comics is super-heroes squaring off against each other. Going back to the original Avengers run that has Hulk against everyone, on up to the recent Civil Wars epic, you can always count on a misunderstanding or old bad blood leading to some fighting. This movie gave us Thor vs. Iron Man (and Cap), the epic Hulk vs. Thor, and Hawkeye vs. Black Widow. Each of these face-offs had cool sequences echoing legendary battles from the comics. They also had their place in the plot, echoed by the big group argument on the Heli-Carrier before Loki busts loose.
Battle Royale Goodness
By the time the Avengers actually assemble, with the aliens coming through the portal to threaten Manhattan, you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, they’re going to fight as a team. This climatic battle sequence is simply one of the best of its kind. Many of us will buy the blu-ray/dvd when released just to watch this sequence over and over.
It wasn’t easy to get each hero the requisite face-time, have them teaming up, and give everyone a chance to beat on Loki. It wasn’t easy to capture the grand scale and danger of an alien attack without having it turn into slaughter the New Yorkers. Whedon pulls it off by drawing on a central truth of super-heroes: they always fight the bad guys with an eye on protecting innocent civilians.
He also captures a few of those iconic comics style framed shots (see above), working those in. Cap calling out the tactics and directed the NYPD. Hulk and Thor working on the beast-thing. Iron Man reflecting a blast off Cap’s shield. With the current green-screen special effects capabilities, filmmakers can pull off nearly anything; that doesn’t mean they can do it well. The finale of this movie showed how you can integrate battle-action, humor, character moments, and a climax without simply blowing stuff up and sending in bigger and crazier monsters (although we got that as well).
As long as Marvel can keep producing movies of this quality, they will continue to make their money. As long as they remain true to the characters and hire guys like Zak Penn and Joss Whedon, they will continue to satisfy the geeks and fanboys. With Thanos clearly waiting in the wings for the sequel, we can only hope the next Avengers movie can build on this one.
In terms of camaraderie and action, more please, but don’t be afraid to push the overall plot and story in different directions. Don’t be afraid to introduce a few more characters (even if only in minor roles). There are so many opportunities and different directions they can take the next movie. I only hope they don’t feel the need to copy the conventions and plot-points from this one too closely. Until then, as Stan Lee would say, make mine Marvel!