Directed by Joss Whedon
When I was a kid, I had a small collection of comic books that was predominantly Captain America issues. I began collecting comics when I was 5, and sort of fell out of it when I was around ten or eleven. My parents quit buying them, and, to be honest, the comic book medium has never engaged me as much as it has some of my friends. I do enjoy a graphic novel now and again, but in general, I don’t go out of my way to read or read about them. But the movies? Oh, I go to the movies. I don’t think I’ve missed a single Marvel Studios movie yet at the big screen, and generally, I haven’t been disappointed.
So I’ve been around to see Marvel Studios President Kevin Fiege and his companions weave the Avengers together with subtle references and post-credits teasers. It’s been a long time coming, The Avengers, and it’s a wonder that it ever happened at all. Considering that the last superhero movie I can think of that had more than one superhero and one super villain in it was X-Men 3: Rise of the Backlog References, I didn’t expect it to ever happen again. But here we are, with Joss Whedon at the helm, Fiege as a producer, and an all-star cast including Robert Downey Jr, Samuel MF Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Johnny Storm, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson. And despite having that much talent on screen, it almost always feels natural and indeed almost logical that these beautiful people would come together to kick the ass of some to-be-disclosed villain(s).
Actually, that last bit of snarky was serious—the Avengers, Tony Stark tells his partner Pepper Pots in the first act of the movie, was an initiative of talented individuals put together by Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. to protect the earth against super-powered threats. But it’s dead. When the movie begins, the Avengers Initiative has been shut down by government leaders as a waste of time and a misguided program. Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D. has focused its efforts on the development of Hydra-based weapons ala the Captain America movie. But they’ve kept tabs on the Avengers themselves, so when Loki shows up after the Cosmic Cube stargates him out onto a dais, Fury can quickly assemble the team.
The nature of Loki’s plan is never very clearly developed—he will lead an alien army to Earth and let them run rampant, and then somehow become king of the Earth. This deal is shown in some shady scenes with “the Other,” who looks like something that stop-motion crawled out of a Guillermo Del Toro movie. They’re interesting scenes, but astronomically don’t make any sense, which bothered me. But that’s OK. I don’t think Loki really knew what was going on, either, and so when Thor pile-drives him into the ground and criticizes his lack of foresight, it makes total sense. Loki is the demented, anxious, and ambitious little brother/frost-giant adoptee of the God of Thunder. When would he have time to plan?
In any case, while Loki traipses the world with the Cube and a mysterious scepter that allows him to project illusions, cast lighting, and brain-wash people, the Avengers assemble and chase him in an absolutely breathtaking rendition of the Helicarrier. While it’s in the air, the Avengers are cooped up together, which makes for some great dialogue (and arguments), as well as a long lead-up to Ruffalo losing it and hulking out.
I didn’t think it would be true, but it turns out that Ruffalo might be the best hulk I’ve ever seen. Where Bana was a bit cross-eyed and pensive and Norton was too… Norton*, Ruffalo makes for an excellent banner with a handsome-but-real look, awkward, nerdy smiles and jokes that feel authentic, and a bit of a recovering-alcoholic air about him that totally begs to be messed with. This, of course, happens, by none other than Tony Stark. Throughout the first act, Stark shocks, pokes, prods, mocks, and teases Banner (to Captain America’s ire) in an attempt to get him to “let the big guy out.” In fact, one of the movie’s best lines comes out of this banter, when Stark says, “Bruce, you’ve been tip-toeing around all these years. I think it’s time to strut,” which evokes some sultry and strange images of an eight foot green behemoth walking like Scarlett Johansson…
… who does an incredible job as the Black Widow. Whedon opted to not play up her attributes, and let her act rather than show off. She does a great job as a believably dangerous, but still very human woman who is terrified of the hulk, but in control of most every other situation. The hulk/widow dynamic is perhaps my favorite scene in the film, and needs to be experienced on the big screen. It’s incredible. And after that, there is a palpable change in the Widow’s character, for the good, and I wonder how many other actresses could have pulled it off without relying on their butts or bodies to sell the performance.
That’s true of the majority of the movie, too. Even though the characters are all wearing their iconic outfits (minor variations may apply), it isn’t the bodies that sell any of their performances—it’s the way they’re played. Even though it’s full of eye candy, awesome props, and a damn solid story, The Avengers works because the people on screen are clearly loving every moment of what they’re doing, and putting their all into the performances, be it the sarcastic joy Downey imbues Stark, or the confused dissociation that Evans plays the Captain with, and especially the self-doubting caution that Ruffalo breathes into Banner. It needs to be seen—and if you haven’t already, go today. You’ll leave with a head full of some of the best one-liners in recent memory.
Whedon has taken something that I admit believing was impossible, and turning it into one of the greatest (if not the greatest) superhero movie ever made, and his cast makes it look so easy that after this, any super movie that stumbles is going to look like the work of a total fool. After all, Whedon culminated five other movies into a cresting, climaxing sixth, with a massive cast and huge stakes, and pulled it off with flare. There’s no excuse anymore.
And no excuse not to see this movie. DO IT!