The idea was simple, but ambitious. In many ways the idea is born directly out of the material the story is based on: assemble the world’s greatest (characters from) super heroes (movies). Give them an incredibly badass leader (Joss Whedon) then shake – not stir – and voila: instant blockbuster. Of course, it wasn’t that simple. A series of films were produced, introducing the characters and building out the Marvel universe. All roads have been leading to Marvel’s The Avengers, and the film delivers on the myriad promises made on its behalf.
The Avengers aren’t exactly assembled from the most likely of candidates. Captain America (Chris Evans) is five minutes removed from World War II and is still dealing with the emotional aftermath of combat. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Ed Norton) is hiding from the world while trying to keep his inner beast in check. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is trying to solve the world’s energy crisis – and build a meaningful relationship with his new girlfriend. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) isn’t even from around here. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) have their own complicated pasts. And as badass as (on-screen) leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is, he is keeping secrets.
Loki (Tom Hiddleston) plays the primary antagonist. He was the biggest surprise of the film for me, because I was not particularly impressed with his turn in Thor. He is given a lot to carry in this film and he shines in the role. Loki is the type of villain that comes at his foes sideways, and it is fascinating to watch him try to undermine each of the heroes.
I’ve read comments that Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk is the star of the movie. I won’t argue with that opinion, because he really is that great. But for my money, the star of this film is writer/director Joss Whedon. There are few people talented enough to craft a story with so many characters without giving any short shrift. Everyone gets their moment to shine, even newcomer Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders – as much as I love Smulders on How I Met Your Mother and she was great, I couldn’t help but wondering how awesome Amy Acker would have been in the role). The film is funny, much more so than you would expect it to be. On more than one occasion I missed several pieces of dialogue because the audience – including myself – was laughing too hard to hear. The Hulk in particular has two moments during the final action sequence that were hilarious. You’ll know both the minute they occur.
But The Avengers is not all fun and games. The movie had heart; just about every character has their own individual emotional journey. There’s joy, to be sure, but there is also sadness and loss (yes, loss … you do the math there). Cap spent the last couple years hating Tony’s father, so you can imagine how much he enjoys Howard Stark’s son. Thor is burdened by the devastation that his world is visiting on Earth (again). The Hulk is … well, the Hulk. Life for these people is not neat and clean.
Whedon also proved that he’s got an incredible eye for “grand” action. The final action sequence is art in and of itself, like Michael Bay – with better writing. It is hard to describe exactly how good the sequence was. It was epic – eighteen things going on at once, each member of the team with a specific role and all remarkably easy to follow. There’s one shot, a oner – or as much of a long take can be when it is primarily CGI – that pulls together the entire team as they fight across Manhattan that was jaw-droppingly good.
The cast, from top to bottom, was great. There were so many recognizable actors in tertiary roles. There were at least four of Whedon’s “Dolls” – one of whom I’m a big fan from other Whedonesque roles and frankly ashamed I didn’t recognize his voice — but folks like Harry Dean Stanton and Powers Booth also make an appearance.
As good as Marvel’s The Avengers is, it is likely going to be compared to Dark Knight Rises all summer long. I truly hope this isn’t the case, as the flicks are very different. I read a comment recently, saying that The Dark Knight was, at its fabric, a crime movie and not a comic book flick. After seeing Avengers, I couldn’t agree more: it was a much better comic book movie than any of Christopher Nolan’s Batman flicks could ever hope to be. That’s not a knock on Nolan’s brilliant series, but a testament to just how good of a genre movie Avengers is.