As would be expected, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, or more correctly Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s The Avengers, is a tasting plate of blockbuster superhero adventure. However, unlike the foundation films in the Avengers franchise, The Avengers exceeds all expectations and provides a glimmer of hope that blockbuster superhero flicks (that aren’t Dark Knight related) can actually be very good movies.
Basically, The Avengers is Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) teaming up to save the world from Thor’s evil brother (ok, adopted brother), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who has stolen the Tesseract – a magic energy source thing. It actually doesn’t matter what the plot is. The very point that these super pals are teaming up is the point of the film – it’s the reason it got made, it’s the reason we went to watch it, and it is to Joss Whedon’s writing credit, that it becomes the most significant aspect of the film.
The Avengers could have so easily been a novelty ensemble cast picture – like a superhero version of something like Valentine’s Day (2010) or New Year’s Eve (2011) – and in the opening half hour as the Avengers are assembled it almost seemed that’s what was being lined up. One by one, the Avengers answer the call of S.H.I.E.L.D, revealing a little of their backstory along the way. Many of the superhero pieces that have come before this, even the Avengers’ foundation films themselves, with the exception of Iron Man (2008), were flat. The heroes had their powers, beat the bad guy and saved the world and Nick Fury showed up. In The Avengers the bad guy saving the world thing is all there too, but the focus of the film and indeed the most engaging aspect of the whole movie is the relationships in the group.
There are tensions between the characters, personality clashes and all sorts of disagreements, and cool fight scenes – if you’ve ever wondered who might win in a three way fight between Captain America, Thor and Iron Man, have a look here. But there are also resolutions, some of them begrudging at first but all of them solid. There’s emotion in this film and it’s that interplay between characters which stops The Avengers from being just another superhero action blockbuster. And that credit goes exclusively to the scriptwriter and director.
The Avengers has Joss Whedon written all over it – supporting characters are developed and given little stellar moments, dialogue is sharp and funny (the whole thing with Captain America trading cards was just golden), but there’s also real emotional depth. Well, it’s emotional depth for a glossy superhero flick. There’s also plenty of super-tough women (or just one really) kicking as much ass as the boys. Should we expect to see Cobie Smulders groomed into Whedon’s growing array of hot warrior women in coming films?
That’s not to say that it was a perfect film all over. Was Samuel L. Jackson even trying to put any effort into that role or did he just show up and be cool and hope for the best? There was also a bit of paradoxical characterisation with The Hulk who at first was a mindless and uncontrollable force but later is emotional and responsive – and there’s still no answer on the eternal mystery of physics that is Hulk pants. Chris Evans however is as dry and insipid as Captain America as he was in the foundation film, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).
The film could have also been subtitled Iron Man 3, as Iron Man is the main player here. Perhaps that’s just down to Robert Downey Jr working a whole lot better on screen than the rest of the super pals, and it has to be wondered if a lot of the character dynamics would have been so interesting had Stark not been at their centre. That said however, Mark Ruffalo made an exceptionally good Bruce Banner and it’s nice to see him be able to get some big time Hollywood exposure after so many years flying under the radar with such obvious talent. After the last two attempts of giving The Hulk the movie treatment, the big green guy is finally redeemed.
It is also pleasing to see a major blockbuster, jam packed with digital effects that does not look like a mashed together video game. All of the effects are well done and more importantly, not over done. The S.H.I.E.L.D ship is impressive but the Chitauri ships are just too cool and defy explanation. There may be lots of high-tech gadgetry falling over the New York skyline but the climax of the The Avengers has none of the dry predictability or too-much-happening-on-screen-at-once of the Transformers franchise, to which The Avengers is often and unfairly compared.
Overall, for superhero blockbusters, The Avengers might not have raised the bar of quality but it has definitely returned it to the heights of the first Iron Man and makes it just a little forgivable that its foundational films were all so weak. It’s a fun film to watch. It shouldn’t disappoint fans and doesn’t alienate new-comers. In the inevitable sequels that follow, it can only be hoped that Whedon will remain at the helm and that anyone else looking to put together a superhero film, take note of why this movie was just so good. Will DC’s in production Justice League ensemble picture deliver to the same standards? Unless there’s a Joss Whedon and a Robert Downey Jr. on board, then it’s probably unlikely.