Someday I will move beyond my knee-jerk reaction to any and all superhero movies as being frivolous and campy and realize that they have not only become completely mainstream, but are now quite good. I had that attitude going in to see Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America… and each time I walked out of the theater shocked at how much I enjoyed the movie. Even stranger is the fact that I don’t have the same misgivings when it comes to Batman (the current incarnation at least) or Spider-man.
My attitude towards The Avengers was even worse. Although I enjoyed the individual parts, even the two failed Hulk films, I was concerned that there would be too much of a good thing… or as was the case with Spider-man 3 and Iron Man 2, simply too much. I could not conceive of how they could cram all the ego present in each character, all the individual story arcs, and all of the exposition necessary to pull something like this off into something that could be entertaining, intelligent, and not a completely muddled mess. Joss Whedon has done something miraculous… he pulled it off.
Joss Whedon has managed to combine six different superhero stories into one cohesive plot without sacrificing any of the character elements which has made each of the previous Marvel films work so well. Instead of bringing us into a story of heroes banding together to save the day, he gave us a tale of six individuals coming to grips with the fact that they must work together in order to defeat a common threat, regardless of what assholes they consider everyone else to be.
Chief among the assholes must be Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). After two Iron Man films, his cocky arrogance is now familiar to us and is an absolute pleasure to see him talk down to people who may or may not be truly “super” in ways that he never could be… other than being a genius billionaire. Next, we have the demigod Thor (Chris Hemsworth)… substantially more humble this time around, yet still Odin’s son and now with a personal interest in helping humanity and Earth thanks to his brother Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) devious plans to gain power by helping an alien species conquer our planet in order for Loki to rule… and his human girlfriend who is referenced quickly.
Steve Roger’s (Chris Evans) Captain America doesn’t really fit into the asshole category. Last week he was kicking Nazi ass in the middle of World War II, this week he is in modern New York and being asked to join with a group of super humans… and one very angry gamma radiation scientist, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). I can’t imagine how difficult stepping into the role of Hulk must have been for Ruffalo. Two previous films with two previous Bruce Banners, yet dissatisfaction from everyone for both. Fortunately, Ruffalo’s Hulk seems to have struck a chord with audiences and he comes out of this film with a fresh green glow and has some of the best lines and moments of the film.
Rounding out this super-team are the two that had my scratching my head every time I saw a trailer and/or advertisement… Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)… an assassin and an archer respectively. They look good, but can they deliver the goods? And can they be relevant when surrounded by actual super heroes? The answer is, yes and yes. Their characters are given a decent amount of depth as well as a number of fantastic set pieces to demonstrate why they deserve to be in this powerful mix of ego.
Since Marvel’s debut of Iron Man and the closing credits extra bit introducing us to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the idea of The Avengers, Marvel has been cobbling together what may be the longest running ad for a future film by setting up a series of films in order to achieve this one team. What Joss Whedon managed to do is spectacular, combining all of these stories into a tight narrative that in the end, makes sense. He manages to pace the film in such a way that we get a sense of each character’s positive points as well as negative while also moving the story forward when it seems to be going backwards. For every contradiction, there is a balancing story element that points to how well constructed this arc truly is.
I must admit, I have not seen much (or any) of Joss Whedon’s other work. From what everyone has told me over the years, I would love what he does… and I now have a better of what exactly that is. He knows how to write good banter in a group dynamic. Fortunately, these characters have, more or less, been fleshed out… Whedon uses what we know about these individuals for some fantastic back and forths. Downey Jr. in particular gets some of the greatest lines sprinkled throughout. Key to what he has done with the script is that every word seems perfectly suited to each character. Even Ruffalo, who went back to the Bill Bixby Bruce Banner, nails that pent up aggression mixed with total calm that seems to evade everyone who has attempted to fit into the shredded purple pants (and no, he doesn’t wear purple pants).
How could a person like Tony Stark ever work well with others? How could Thor possibly listen to a guy in a 1940’s era wool costume with a shield? Why would anyone give a rat’s ass about a guy with a fancy bow and quiver? They don’t, and that’s what works so well in this film. There is no Justice League of America cheesery going on here, these are six volatile individuals, one of whom is literally out of control when angered, who must find some common ground and something to fight for beyond any existential threat to humanity. Hell, one of them isn’t human, another would like to die, and yet another is displaced in time… yet, after a great deal of infighting and plot development (something we don’t get too often in super-hero movies that spend so much time with character development… which the previous films fortunately took care of), events occur that eventually bind our heroes and give cause to work together. Also, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) finally gets some more to do and has his moment to shine in the story.
Giving away any of the plot beyond the fact that Loki is behind an alien invasion would be horrible. Although I knew a few details, going into the theater and allowing this well constructed Rubik’s Cube of a tale to wash over me was the greatest way to see this. I also had the great pleasure of watching it with Mrs. Blahg and both of my girls (that doesn’t happen enough) in a sold out theater on opening night. The crowd was eager to see the film and in a great mood. The moment the film began with the word “Marvel” appearing, the crowd cheered and applauded. As each Avenger appeared individually in Seven Samurai fashion, the crowd would cheer and applaud. The energy in that theater was palpable, and it made for the perfect summer film experience.
When the movie was done… and we stayed for the first post-credit extra scene, not knowing at the time that there is a second post-credit extra… the first thing Mrs. Blahg said was, “I want to see it again. I love Hulk!” A movie that appeals to young and old, male and female… that may be the greatest success of The Avengers… that, and the $207M+ opening weekend. I’m already looking forward to Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2, The Avengers 2, and hopefully Hulk will be able to finally find his footing and smash into theaters on his own again. And maybe next time I won’t go in with such low expectations.
Do yourself a favor… see this one in a crowded theater. Remind yourself of what the movie-going experience can be. It really can be fun again… regardless of age.
Gweneth Paltrow doesn’t not ruin this movie,
Cornelius J. Blahg