The Avengers – Directed by Joss Whedon
Since the build to this comic mediagasm has been so gradual (it started four years ago with Iron Man, a blockbuster that at the time seemed unlikely, but now seems to have seeped into every part of our summer movie experience), it’s worth taking a second to stop and consider just how unlikely it is that this movie even exists.
Pretty frickin’ unlikely in fact. Marvel went for the long con here, building up interest over four years for a franchise that quite frankly most non-comic fans hadn’t even heard of before a year ago. Even if you’re just judging this on technical points, the sheer hutzpah that it took to get this culmination of a 5 movie endeavour done is absolutely staggering. I would send Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel a congratulatory note, but I think at this point they would just rather have a new wheelbarrow to cart their huge brass balls around.
Our story: Someone called “Loki” has taken a minute from having snake venom poured into his eyes for all eternity (No, not that Loki? Oh, he is that Loki? Just a little different? And Stan Lee gets a producer credit because of it? Yeah, that’s fair. Screw you Jack Kirby!) so that he can use a cube that’s somewhat cosmic in origins to bring an extra-dimensional army to earth to take over and force everyone to listen to his stories about how Thor stole his date to the Asgardian prom.
Samuel Jackson (he of the influential Jackson v. Snakes decision of 2006) is offended by Loki’s attempts to weaponize cosmic technology as it somewhat gets in the way of HIS attempts at weaponizing cosmic technology. He puts together a team that features 2 assassins, a jaundiced, juiced up Mel Gibson, a mechanized Richard Branson, the American version of Captain Canuck, and Jeff Spicoli. They (spoiler alert) fight the bad guys.
So what did I like?
- The dialogue. For those of you still holding out hope that Firefly is going to get renewed, I can report that the Whedonisms fly fast and often here. If there was a record for quips per minute in an action movie, I daresay that the Avengers would win. There’s plenty of funny moments here; in fact, a case could be argued that the sheer volume of bon mots threaten to derail the gravitas of the situation.
- Everybody gets a turn. This might sound like common sense, but it’s something that very few people currently writing for superhero comics remember to do. If you’re going to have 6 people on your team, give each of them a reason to be there.
- Characterization. Whedon absolutely nails most of his lead characters here. Hawkeye is probably the only exception to this, but it’s hard to say if it’s the script, or simply the cold, dead eyes of Jeremy Renner that are responsible. Everyone else is given scenes that not only play to their strengths both as characters and actors, but also attempt to develop their onscreen relationships to each other.
- A strong villain. Though Loki’s motivations are a little simple for my taste, Tom Hiddleston cements his reputation as the best comic book movie villain since Heath Ledger.
- Marvel finally spent some money. One of my critiques of the Marvel movies is how cheap they look. Thor’s CGI was barely one step up from the photoshop guy on the Rachel Maddow Show, which is a problem if your movies are loaded with special effects. Marvel actually opened up the pockets for this one, and it shows. Great final battle.
- It’s a FUCKING AVENGERS MOVIE! You have no idea. I have been imagining this movie in my head since I was 12 years old, and I still can’t quite believe I just saw it. Whedon recognizes my fanboy cravings, and goes out of his way to ensure that every single thing that someone who has been waiting for this movie for 25 years could possibly want, is on the screen. And so we get Thor Vs. Iron Man. Cap Vs. Iron Man. Cap Vs. Thor. Thor Vs. Hulk. I REPEAT: THOR VS. HULK. IN A MOVIE. SHUT YOUR EXCELSIOR CAKED PIE HOLE. No Jonah James Vs. Willie Lumpkin, but I’m sure they’re saving that for the sequel.
- It’s a solid story. It’s not perfect, and we’ll get to that in a bit. But Whedon really tried to give every person in this movie a reason for being there, which is pretty integral to this type of thing.
What didn’t I like?
- The story. As discussed, it’s serviceable. But Whedon leaves just enough loose ends in his plotting to leave a bitter taste in my eye. Exactly what did Loki need to accomplish on the helicarrier (Wait, did I mention that there’s a GODDAMN HELICARRIER IN A GODDAMN AVENGERS MOVIE! There is.) that he couldn’t have done from outside? Why exactly would battle-hardened soldiers care so much about the (Spoiler Alert) death of someone they barely knew, and didn’t even seem to like? How exactly is the Hulk an uncontrollable beast in the first half of the film, and taking orders and fighting whomever Captain America points at in the second? These are quibbles, but quibbles worth discussing.
- Emotional impact. Whedon did try, but the film was missing any sense of feeling of real danger (something that Dark Knight pulled off really well). Despite the scope of the movie, there isn’t a second where we feel that our heroes are really in trouble, and the one serious moment was a little anti-climactic considering how important that scene should have been.
- Marvel’s caving to the pro-Shawarma lobby.
Again, these are small things. But they’re big enough for me to downgrade this from being a capital G great film, to “just” an absolutely entertaining spectacle movie. The only real question we should be asking, is “Is this as good an Avengers movie as is possible to make”. I would say that the answer to that is “Make Mine Marvel.”
Now write Jack Kirby’s family and Gary Friedrich a check, you cheapskates.
P.S. BEST. CREDITS. SCENE. EVER.