With The Avengers, director Joss Whedon has given us a summer box-office spectacle with both brain and brawn.
What happens when you combine a techie, a Russian combat artist, a demigod, a 1940’s military super-soldier, a marksman, and a guy with a really bad temper? Ordinarily I’d say you’d get one gigantic fustercluck of a movie, but then again, Marvel’s The Avengers is no ordinary movie. It is the first-of-its-kind opportunity to bring together some of the more recognizable superheroes currently in the mainstream, many of whom already have their own feature films, and when something is so fresh and bold and new, you don’t just go screwing it up.
Suffice it to say, writer-director Joss Whedon (“Firefly”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) didn’t screw this one up. The Avengers is a big-time summer blockbuster spectacle that has both brain and brawn.
Whedon starts us off in a remote research facility, which houses the Tesseract, an energy source of unlimited potential that we came to know at the end of last year’s Thor. The Tesseract has opened up a portal to space through which Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s exiled Norse god brother and the chief baddie in The Avengers, steps down onto Earth. Using his power-wielding scepter, Loki takes the Tesseract and wrecks havoc throughout the facility, killing and wounding dozens and turning agent Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner; otherwise known by Marvel-faithful as Hawkeye) and physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, from Thor) to his side. And with that, we understand exactly why these Avengers must assemble.
Following the attack, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) implements the Avengers Initiative, sending various agents off to locate his recruited team of superheroes. Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), or the Black Widow, as she is so eloquently known, sets off to find Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, as The Hulk); agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) asks Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., as Iron Man) to look over Dr. Selvig’s research; and Nick Fury himself goes out to find Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, as Captain America). Serving as separate steps to the entire assembly of the Avengers, these side-job recruitments are wholly entertaining, as the humanity of Whedon’s script is realized and is allowed to come to life, operating almost as single episodes of a Joss Whedon TV series.
Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Widow travel to Germany, where Loki is “hiding,” to apprehend him and hopefully retrieve the Tesseract. Upon Loki’s capture, we see Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finally enter the picture, as he tries to free Loki and reason with him. Iron Man and Thor are at odds with one another, battling and beating the wits out of each other until Cap brings their fighting to an end. When they are finally done, Loki is re-captured and locked up in a Hulk-proof cell inside Fury’s big, high-tech, flying aircraft carrier. But when Loki’s forces attack the carrier, the war is officially on.
The Avengers has a lot of strengths, primarily in its surprisingly humorous script, its superb ensemble cast, and its excellent balance of action, drama, and comedy.
Joss Whedon is known for his magnificent screenwriting, be it on TV, the big screen, or the internet (“Buffy”, Toy Story, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”), and The Avengers is no different. There is a very surprising amount of wit and humor fitted into this film, both as dialogue and as situational comedy and setup. Whether it’s Tony Stark rimming one-liners, Phil Coulson’s obsession with Cap, or Hulk’s overkill smashing, The Avengers is very entertaining and funny.
As my friend and I waited in line in the early afternoon for the midnight premiere, we discussed our concern with how this mish-mash of superheroes would fit together. Would Iron Man, the most recognizable of the Avengers’ tentpoles, be the driving force of it all? Or would he take a backseat to his other superhero friends? And if he did, would it work? Thankfully, the answers to those questions, respectively, are: No, Yes, Yes.
While Iron Man is certainly featured a great deal in the film, I’d estimate that each of the “core four” (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor), as they’ve been called, have pretty equal screen time. And the film is better off because of that. My biggest quip with Thor and even Captain America: The First Avenger, to an extent, was that the characters couldn’t necessarily drive their own 2+ hour film. Cap certainly did so better than Thor, but when you see The Avengers, you begin to realize that, despite their differences and their sometimes-unwillingness to work together, the Team really is greater than the sum of its parts.
Hawkeye and Black Widow take a bit of backseat here, as Hawk is off helping Loki early on and Widow was always more of a secondary character anyway, but this is no issue for the film. Add in Coulson, Fury, and S.H.I.E.L.D. uber-hottie Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, of my favorite TV show “How I Met Your Mother”), and you have an extremely talented supporting cast to play with the core four. I must say, too, that the addition of Smulders to the film was a great choice, as she adds another layer of humanity to the film. Oh, and she’s gorgeous, too.
Joss Whedon is able to strike a fantastic balance of action and drama in The Avengers, which is a welcome break from too many other summer blockbusters. While most big-budget films choose to let the action drive the story, which typically results in a huge mess of a movie, Whedon has done the opposite, creating a compelling, if not a tad unbelievable, story involving a massive war against an alien race in order to save the world. The Avengers is a blockbuster spectacle that you can actually enjoy on more than just a wow-that-was-a-huge-explosion level.
When it comes down to it, Joss Whedon has taken the best of each of the previous Marvel Studios’ Avengers installments — the story elements and drama of Iron Man, the fast-paced action of The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2, the comic book style of Captain America: The First Avenger, and the humor of Thor — and created a huge amalgam of a summer blockbuster.
While I still believe that Iron Man is the gold-standard when it comes to Marvel’s Avenger franchise, The Avengers is a vastly entertaining and ultimately great film, and an excellent kickstart to the summer movie season.
It is more Iron Man 2 than Iron Man, both in form and in substance, but that’s not to say that it falls prey to the same traps that — even if only a little — held back Jon Favreau’s 2010 sequel. As a piece of entertainment, The Avengers is exceptional, with loads of action, humor, and witty dialogue, and it serves as an excellent example of the strength found in an utterly phenomenal and truly balanced ensemble cast. Writer-director Joss Whedon has taken a daunting task and turned it into an overwhelming success.
The Avengers: A