I think The Avengers best replicates the experience of being a kid and reading a comic book. And I mean comic book–the kind that sold for 25 cents and had ads for X-ray specs and sea monkeys in the back, not the more seriously considered graphic novels that are for adults. The Avengers is for kids, and the kid within us.
The key to the success of this film is Joss Whedon’s script, which is based on a story by he and Zak Penn. Even with six heroes (plus their leader, Nick Fury), Whedon manages to give each of them a story arc and a good scene or two or three. He even manages to give the formerly forever in the background character Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) some scenes to steal. While The Avengers may not have the gravitas of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
It helps if you’ve seen the films leading up to it (as they have been teased in post-credit scenes for years now). Loki, Thor’s brother back up in Asgard (Thor points out that Loki is adopted) has used a glowing blue cube (that was seen in Captain America) to open a portal to another world. He has recruited an army to come down and destroy the Earth. All of this makes little sense, but it’s perfectly in keeping with the comic books I used to read. Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson, finally cashing in on all those cameos from the other movies) pulls together “Earth’s mightiest heroes,” that includes Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), plus a couple of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Johansson then tracks down Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) doctoring the poor in India. For those who don’t remember, Banner has an anger management problem.
The first half-hour or so is slow going, as we get all these introductions. But when the group is finally together things kick in. First we get a lot of internecine squabbling, which among these folks can involve knocking down trees. We get a nice fight between Iron Man and Thor, and later Black Widow and Hawkeye will go toe to toe (Hawkeye falls under Loki’s spell). But everybody learns to play nice when ugly aliens start descending on New York City, leading to some pretty massive destruction. I’m still a little queasy about seeing buildings in New York blown up, and also wonder about how busy claims adjusters will be.
The pleasures of this film are many. The dialogue, as usual for old-style comic book movies, is full of witticisms, often even while people are slugging it out. Iron Man, of course, has most of the zingers, but Banner also has some great lines, and Ruffalo, in a mild-mannered yet simmering sort of way, is the first actor that makes the Hulk work (again, Whedon deserves much of the credit). Johansson also gives the Black Widow some life, giving hints of a backstory. I wouldn’t suggest she deserves her own movie, but I would like to see more of the character. Only Renner seems a little short-changed, but after all, he only shoots arrows.
The biggest surprise is probably Clark Gregg as Coulson. He has a few great scenes, including asking Captain America to sign his vintage Captain America trading cards, and then, in a face-off against Loki, tells the demigod, “You will lose. It’s in your nature.” Less interesting is Fury’s aid, played by Cobie Smulders. But maybe we’ll learn more about her. Her deal is to appear in nine films.
Speaking of which, we get another tease mid-credits for either a sequel or maybe to Thor 2, which is the next marvel film coming. I won’t say who the villain is that is revealed, but suffice it to say I read Marvel Comics for years and I didn’t know who he was until I Googled him.
Whedon, for a guy who has worked mostly in TV, also handles the massive action scenes well. In the climactic battle, there’s a lot to keep track of, but I never was disoriented or lost. A lot of the credit should go to editors Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek. Whedon also injects the film with a sense of wonderment. A small boy sitting in front of me perked up when Iron Man first appeared. “That’s Iron Man!” he told his dad. Later, when it looks like Iron Man is down for the count, he is revived (in a humorous fashion), and father and son shared a laugh together. That’s the kind of movie this is.
Seeing this film, which cost a quarter of a billion to make, rake in dough, keeps my hope alive that one day the most expensive film ever made may come to fruition: Marvel’s Secret Wars, which was a 12-issue series back in the 80s that saw The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Spider-Man, plus a gaggle of Marvel’s greatest villains all battling it out. It would be awesome.
My grade for The Avengers: A-.