From the moment Marvel announced that Joss Whedon would write and direct the big-screen version of The Avengers, I knew I’d be there opening weekend. I’ve been a fan of all things Whedon since the early days of Buffy, season two* and have eagerly given anything he’s involved with a chance.
*I still take pride that I jumped on board early and pushed so many friends to watch it. I loved it every time someone would say, “You’re right about Buffy.”
And while I know that Whedon has been involved with some big-screen projects in the past, I couldn’t help but salivate at the idea of Joss finally having a virtually unlimited budget to bring his words to life on the silver screen . Needless to say, The Avengers finally gave me an idea of just what Joss could do and it didn’t disappoint me in the least.
And while Whedon isn’t re-inventing the comic book movie like Christopher Nolan has done with the Batman franchise, The Avengers is a solid entry into genre. The movie could easily have collapsed under the burden of the number of characters in the film or the fact that we’ve had five movies building up to this tentpole event. But instead of buckling to the pressure, Whedon uses it as a chance to shine.
In many ways, The Avengers isn’t much more than your average season of Buffy compressed into two and a half hours. There’s a big bad (Loki), who the group has to band together to fight, but before they can do that, there’s a lot of group conflict and self-interest to overcome. There’s a moment that inspires the group to set aside their personal agendas and grievances and to work together for the greater good. But that doesn’t mean said big bad doesn’t go down without a huge fight and some potential consequences for the group.
While the first twenty or so minutes are given the heavy-lifting of establishing the threat facing the world, it’s the last hundred and twenty minutes that simply fly by. Once the work of assembling the Avengers begins, the movie hits a higher gear and never really looks back. Whedon juggles the entire cast of this film with deft ease, giving each character his or her moment to shine and bounce off other cast members. And yet it never feels like the movie is stopping for an obligatory “gee, isn’t it fun to see Captain America and Iron Man argue” scene. A lot of the best lines go to Robert Downey, Jr as Tony Stark aka Iron Man, but the biggest laugh comes at the hands of the Hulk and his reaction to Loki’s pontificating.
From this point onward, I’m going to get fairly specific about things in the film, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know, I’d recommend turning back now…
All of the trademarks of Whedon are present. Good dialogue, solid characters and the death of a major player. Fair or not, Whedon has a reputation for killing off characters who have become audience favorites. But as with most other Whedon deaths, it’s not an arbitrary one. The death of Agent Colson, the thread in all the Marvel Studios movies leading up to this one, serves not only as an emotional punch to the characters and audience, but as the catalyst for our heroes finally becoming the team they need to be in order to defeat Loki and the coming invasion.
And while the film is full of great performances, there are a couple of stand-outs. Tom Huddleston as Loki nearly steals the show. And then there’s Mark Ruffalo who make the perfect Bruce Banner for the film. While I enjoyed the first Hulk and really liked the reboot, the idea of another Hulk film with Ruffalo in the lead role is something I’d be interested in, if done right. I love the idea that the way Banner controls the Hulk is he stays mad all the time. And the sheer joy that comes when he finally has a good use for the green goliath lurking inside him is among the highlights of the film’s final act.**
**To go all geeky, seeing Ruffalo as the Hulk/Banner in a movie based on Peter David’s take on the character would be AWESOME.
The Avengers is easily the most confident Marvel movie since the original Iron Man and it may be among the best super hero movies of all time.*** I’m eager for it to come home on Blu-Ray so I can watch it a couple of more times and let it all sink in.
*** Also on that list, Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight and the Donner cut of Superman II.