The Avengers is the best comic book movie ever made.
Sure, that sounds like hyperbole up there but I mean it. That isn’t to say it is the best movie ever made based on a comic book but in terms of having the feel of a comic and staying true to the spirit of the source material, it is absolutely without equal. The Avengers is the epitome of the great popcorn movie and is easily the most fun I have had at the movies in quite some time.
In a ridiculously difficult task, Writer/Director Joss Whedon wrangles four movie franchises together for a huge cross over between six super heroes. For the uninitiated, the Avengers is a super hero group made up of a ton of different heroes, many with their own separate series (at one time or another), who come together to fight global threats that one or two heroes couldn’t handle on their own. The film focuses on six Avengers: Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) brought together by S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) to take on Thor’s adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who is taking his grudge against Asgard and Thor out on the Earth by way of a massive alien invasion. In order to bring the army from the reaches of space to downtown Manhattan, Loki has to get a hold of the Tesseract (that is the Cosmic Cube to comic readers), a cube of unlimited power that can open doorways between worlds.
It would be easy to write all this off as a mindless action movie if you were just watching the trailer which pretty much sticks to scenes from the film’s climax, but the meat of the movie really follows the Avengers as they try to assemble and get along with each other long enough to function as a team. Given the personalities we are dealing with here, it takes awhile and has a lot of ups and downs, some of which are very violent.
The plot itself is woven together from threads from the individual character films for the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor and everything fits pretty nicely together to form the narrative for the Avengers. In this way, the film skirts origin stories and just jumps right into the good stuff, a move satisfying for series fans but that might leave those who haven’t seen all the other films a bit in the dark. Even still, the are touched on enough that a new viewer should be able to follow what is going on well enough.
It is also here in the interwoven plots that the movie feels the most like a true comic book. One of the fun things about comics is how often comics cross over with one another even if it is just Spider-man swinging by Four Freedoms Plaza or interacting with Daredevil or something but with movies, mostly due to rights issues, we don’t get to have that. Heroes are stuck in their own lonely world populated by only main characters in their own series. The Avengers changes all that and we finally have heroes getting to interact with each other in a world that feels wide open and limitless. This helps the movie to feel pretty much like you are reading a comic book mini-series or special event…or just an Avengers arc with really great writing.
An undertaking like this is pretty huge and there were a lot of people who thought it couldn’t be pulled off. Being a fan of literally everything else the man has done, as soon as I heard Joss Whedon’s name for the writer and director, I knew we were in good hands. Whedon brings his considerable experience at handling large ensemble casts and his eye for tightly choreographed action to bear on the Avengers and proves that he is not just a TV director but a master capable of handling huge budgets and huge stars. Whedon’s hand is very sure here and everything fits together like a perfect puzzle. With huge action set pieces in the movie, one worries that characters will be lost in the shuffle and given the short shrift but that doesn’t happen here. Regardless of whether you are talking about the action or the storytelling, none of the characters get left behind and all of them get due screen time. I am amazed to say that there wasn’t really anyone that felt at all short changed here.
As good as the effects, action and logistics of the film are, the real selling point is the dialogue and performances. Whedon proved time and time again on everything from Buffy to Firefly that he knows how to write incredible dialogue that can be funny and dramatic all at once. The Avengers is a masterstroke with crackling dialogue that is in turns hilarious and heartfelt with just the right balance of both. His characterizations of the heroes and villains are spot on and there was never a sour note or a moment where the audience says ‘Cap would never say that…’ This is maintained in both scenes in which the characters are getting along and when they aren’t which keeps the movie even throughout.
All the writing and special effects in the world couldn’t save the film if the performances weren’t there and thankfully the performances in the Avengers deliver in spades. This is another area that could have gone massively off the rails if egos and diva behavior had come into play. As it is, the entire cast is firing on all cylinders and does what the film needs them to do, which of course makes them all look good in the long run.
One performance I was worried about going in was Mark Ruffalo taking over as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. I was worried not so much because of Ruffalo as an actor, whom I like very much, but rather just that he is the third actor to portray the character since Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003 and it is weird to settle into yet another guy taking a shot at the character. This worry was very misplaced. Ruffalo owns the role and brings out a quality to Banner that we have yet to see on film. He isn’t melodramatic nor does he underplay the tension. He is a man who has accepted what he is and what is inside him but is still tormented by the danger that poses. His performance is subtle and layered and he is a huge standout. This is the first time it feels like Banner has been gotten right.
If Banner has been gotten right, so too has the Hulk who is completely unrestrained here when he is let loose. More than that, the destruction he unleashes is fun to watch and his power is evident. His rampages in past films feel mindless and boring compared to what he does here and it is a lot of fun. The Hulk really steals the show in the Avengers which is pretty crazy given how much awesome is crammed in.
Tom Hiddleston again turns in a great performance as Loki and he is pitch perfect as a villain that you can believe is capable of threatening this many heroes this effectively. Clark Gregg again appears as Agent Coulson and manages to distinguish himself amongst a cast of gods, monsters and marvels. Relative newcomer Jeremy Renner is pretty awesome as Hawkeye and delivers on the incredible task of convincing us that a dude who is really good at archery has a place on the front lines against an alien invasion. The rest of the cast proves why they won their jobs in the other films and turn it up to 11 in this film.
Conclusion [10 out of 10]
I recommend this pretty much wholeheartedly. If you don’t like fun or special effects extravaganzas then you might not dig it. Also, if you haven’t seen the movies leading in to this one it may be a little more difficult to follow. Other than that, this is absolutely fantastic. It is exciting, well written and just a huge amount of fun. I have seen it twice already and can’t wait to see it again. It is just that good.