The Avengers Cements Joss Whedon as a Blockbuster Filmmaker
To say that I’ve been looking forward to The Avengers is perhaps the understatement of the evening. Well, maybe the second, with the first being the declaration that PF Chang’s lettuce taco thingies are effing awesome. But that’s another story, and I’m not nearly boring enough to sit around writing about food, so let’s get to the good stuff shall we? For those who haven’t seen it yet, fear not: I’ll stay spoiler-free.
If you, like Mr. Clay Cane of BET, believe that character development is irrelevant, you’ll be mildly disappointed, because The Avengers has a fair amount of it. If you’re one of those people, you’ll have the misfortune of being treated to characters who have a little more depth than the typical cardboard cutouts of, say, anything by Michael Bay, ever. But if you think that–oh, I dunno, people have rational (and irrational) reasons for the things they do and say, you’re in for a rare treat: a superhero film whose characters have a bit of complexity. Not a lot, mind you–this isn’t a deeply philosophical film by any means. It does, however, find the humanity within its spectacle, and that’s worth a look.
For the action buff, there’s more than plenty to go around. Loki’s arrival heralds, no surprise, chaos, in what might be the earliest inciting incident I’ve ever seen in a movie. Soon enough Nick Fury–who seems a little sad and weary throughout the film–and friends are bending over backwards to assemble a team of “Earth’s mightiest heroes,” a task that happens with surprising ease. The problem is, these are folks who see the world, themselves, and each other in very different ways. From Robert Downey Jr’s immeasurably cocky Tony Stark/Iron Man to Chris Evans’ stoically patriotic Steve Rogers/Captain America and Mark Ruffalo’s “Dude I just want to relax and not kill everyone” Hulk, the tension is so thick I’m pretty sure it shops at Lane Bryant. For the sensitive out there, let me clarify: I love the Lane Bryant catalog. Add in a dash of Thor (whose presence on Earth is, at least in my mind, never really adequately explained, given the destruction of the Rainbow Road in his own movie. EDIT: Yes, I realize there was a throwaway line about Odin using “Dark energy” to send Thor to Earth; that doesn’t make it a good explanation, but it’s a minor issue I’m willing to overlook) and the gorgeous-yet-deadly Scarlet Johansen/Black Widow, and Loki almost wins simply because this “team” can barely stand each other.
Suffice to say, violence ensues, heroes treat each other like assholes and a bad situation becomes worse. The Avengers works on a few levels, with the intra-team hero conflicts being among the more interesting. Unfortunately, the major “threat”–some alien race who want to wipe out humankind, evidently–are woefully underdeveloped. Why have they offered their resources to Loki? Why have they helped him get to Earth? Did they save him from his evident death in his brother’s movie? Those are questions without answers, though I say that with the stipulation that the audience was often so loud it was impossible to catch all the dialog, so these may not be true mysteries. If they were explained though, the explanation was brief.
Though none of the six minor storylines could likely carry a movie on its own, the interweaving–and collision–of these stories and characters ultimately makes the entire thing work surprisingly well. As many others have noted, the Hulk steals several scenes I’d really love to spoil for you, but I promised I wouldn’t. Just know this: no matter how bad-ass you think you are, choosing the Hulk as the guy you’re going to lecture is never a wise idea.
Though The Avengers could easily have devolved into a 90 minute balls-to-the-walls explode-a-thon in the hands of a less capable writer and director (yes, I’m looking at you, Michael Bay), Joss Whedon’s understanding of the value of character development lends an extra hour to the film that really strengthens the assemblage. Balancing so many superheroes, most of whom are usually stars of their own films, is no easy task, but Whedon handles it well and delivers a fun, enjoyable experience that even tickles those silly discussions every nerd has had: which superhero would win against another in a fist-fight? There are some caveats though, and one of them is a 2.5 hour running time. If you’re impatient or just have a tiny bladder, you might want to wait for the DVD/Bluray release.
Second, although the film delivers a surprising level of character development for an ensemble, if you haven’t seen the earlier films leading up this one–in particular, the Iron Man films, Thor and Captain America–you’d do yourself a favor to see them first for the extra back-story they provide. This is particularly true of Thor, which is actually very relevant to this film because it establishes the larger “pantheon” of heroes and villains in the Marvel universe. You can safely skip the Hulk films, although I’ll go on record and say I actually enjoyed the Edward Norton rendition. Still, while the Avengers clearly embraces its biggest named franchises’ histories, it seems clear that it also tries to distance itself a bit from the complicated and only marginally successful Incredible Hulk movie “series” (if you can call it that).
At the end of the day, though, if you’re at all a fan of heroic tales, or if you’ve enjoyed any of the Marvel comics movies from the last 5 years or so, you’ll probably find plenty to enjoy in the Avengers. If you’re not really a fan, well, you’ll still find plenty of laughs, and enough action for even the most jaded battle fan. To me it just seemed like a good “cap” to the movies that have come so far, the payoff for all those little scenes we had to wait through the end credits to see.
4 out of 5 opposable thumbs up!