The Avengers is the pinnacle of Phase I of Marvel Studios’ master plan. The story is heavily inspired by The Ultimates graphic novel by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, modernizing the Avengers to a new audience–as well as re-imagining Nick Fury’s appearance as if he were played by Samuel L. Jackson. So when Iron Man hit the screens in 2008, fans were delighted to see in a post-credit scene featuring Jackson, the first hint of what to expect. Marvel wasn’t just aiming at making a successful film. They wanted to make an entire universe that existed on the big screen. One by one, the pieces fell into place, the history was established, and the scope was expanded to several realms. Four years later The Avengers lives and thrives on the big screen.
Director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Serenity) wrote the screenplay and story and nailed every character trait. (Whedon told GQ that he threw out a script written by Zak Penn (Alphas) and started from scratch, Penn still received a co-credit). From Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) self-indulgence, to Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) overconfidence, Captain America’s (Chris Evans) loyal soldier, to Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) reluctance to get involved, their reappearance in this joint venture was seamless.
You already know their histories having seen their individual films and we begin to see who the players are in the enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. namely Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hakweye (Jeremy Renner), Nick Fury (Jackson), Agents Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Until now they’ve appeared in brief post-credit scenes and in the background of Thor and Iron Man 2. They’re not enough to carry an entire film but they manage to fasten hold the scenes starring the heroes.
No way could characters so large congeal so quickly and function in a team unit, like the Avengers comics so often showed. These cats don’t get along; they bicker, they disagree and have fundamental differences in the methods at getting the job done. Add in the god of mischief and you have an unstable chemical reaction.
Whedon’s fans will recognize his uncanny talent for crowd management. Check his track record, there’s no one better at spreading the wealth. No one is given too much or too little camera time; we have a memorable–and funny–script and a plausible plot existing within this Marvel universe. I’m sure Marvel Studios’ Creative Committee deserves some credit as well. But Whedon was a hero in his own right, to get the egos in the same room (actors and characters) to form an ensemble that doesn’t mesh in the beginning and that dissonance plays perfectly in Loki’s plan. And speaking of Loki, he may have played the misunderstood character in Thor, but there is no confusion here, Tom Hiddleston is absolutely villainous and nefarious as Thor’s adopted brother.
Oh and one other important thing, the Hulk finally works on film. He reeeaaally works!
It’s often difficult for those savvy comic readers to describe the wondrous feeling of a blockbuster superhero read and its everlasting impression. Whether it is a giant crossover with dozens of characters or a yearlong epic, these stories become events, permanent fixtures on the timeline at which fanboys reference throughout the years. Filled with action and “Oh sh–” moments that leave you breathless–they’re why men (and women) of this country, especially, have been unable to let the superhero genre of comics go for so many decades. For the first time on film, those feelings are translated with The Avengers–a comic I might add, where those larger-than-life moments were a monthly occurrence in its most memorable runs in the 1970’s, with several other significant eras in the decades that followed.
There are too many to single out from The Avengers but for those who have experienced both, (comics and this film) will know exactly the point in the film I am talking about that transcends the super hero film. It’s not when the Avengers assemble (a proud moment for geeks abroad), it’s when they are kicking alien ass, and taking everything that Loki can throw at them.
I sat proudly back in my seat, taking it all in. This is what I’ve been trying to explain to those who think I’m crazy for spending money on comics every week. It’s an invigorating moment that any viewer can attest will be one of the most memorable sequences in superhero films and it’s made that much more triumphant knowing what the characters battle through in the first half. Yes, non-comics readers, that kind of satisfaction, that kind of thrill is found on a weekly basis in some of the best comics on the racks. Readers don’t have to wait once a year to experience it.
Not since Iron Man has that surge of excitement been so successfully adapted and I’ll use another high bar, Christopher Nolan’s Batman films to explain. They are a much different animal, delving into the depths of a dark character study, the investigation of the insane, ideals of the few, and reality of the criminal and vigilante that seeks justice. Marvel Studios aims for something much different–not less–with their films. They make stories that are less serious, less psychological, and by doing so, allow other characters such as Thor to reach the big screen and be equal to Iron Man. Warner Brothers is finding out the challenge in trying to achieve the same outcome with Superman and Green Lantern that Nolan has sought for with Batman.
The Avengers film works because it doesn’t need reach to reach the levels that The Dark Knight travels. It merely has to meet Iron Man and push past it. And it exceeds every expectation on every level–not easy for something that’s been building for six years (Iron Man began pre-production in 2006). Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America all sacrificed quality (some more than others) in laying down the groundwork for what would become The Avengers, so much that they felt more like prequels than satisfying stand-alone films. It’s a criticism that’s easy to see with the critical eye, as that Iron Man quality was well out of reach despite admirable though still enjoyable efforts.
So given all of that hype, that incredible build up, The Avengers resolves everything that was unfinished coming in and manages to set up the next phase wonderfully in a pre-credits sequence. All of you non-comics readers consult your local comic shop afterwards to read what’s coming next. But there’s so much new brought to the table too seeing these personalities attempt to coexist together, and yes, there is a satisfyingly apt scene after the credits too that encapsulates the shared trauma.
Allow me to make a quick plea to urge viewers to avoid 3D. Not only was it unnecessary, but a great deal of the film is shot in night and low lit scenes and the 3D glasses make these scenes even more difficult to make out the detail. I don’t understand why we would want to watch a film, shot in high definition only to muddy up the details with these glasses. Avoid it at all costs.
The Avengers is a blockbuster that kicks off the summer season in a big way, and will be that rare film that audiences will gladly pay again and again to see. I believe all of the early free screenings across the country is evidence of that confidence. Does Whedon establish himself as a star director here? No, he’s always been one by those who don’t fear genre television. But he’s never had as big a stage as The Avengers and the Marvel fanboys and casual superhero moviegoer will be applauding his efforts in creating the Ultimate superhero experience in unison. Let’s all hope he’ll be around to assemble the Avengers again someday.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, and Clark Gregg.
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Screenplay by: Joss Whedon and Zak Penn
Studio: Walt Disney, Marvel Studios, Paramount
Release Date: May 4, 2012