You know the saying, “size doesn’t matter”? Well, that’s just nonsense because it sure as hell does – especially in the realm of superheroes and sequels. “Bigger, louder, and faster” is their blueprint and based on that definition, The Avengers may be the biggest, loudest, and most ambitious blockbuster of them all! So ambitious that five movies have served as elaborate trailers for it.
That said, molding a supersized blockbuster featuring seven superheroes (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury) is no easy task, especially since Marvel’s road to “The Avengers” hasn’t exactly been something that inspires my confidence. Barring Iron Man none of the films have been outright homeruns. The Incredible Hulk was an improvement over its predecessor but its legacy was tarnished by the very messy divorce between studio head Kevin Feige and star Edward Norton; Thor, while a good coin-generator was hardly what I’d describe as Shakespearean; and Captain America – the best of the lot – in hindsight, lacked punch. Oh, and I’m not even going dwell on Iron Man 2. Still, with writer-director extraordinaire Joss Whedon in the driver’s seat, I had some reason to be optimistic – even if it came sprinkled with a hint of caution.
I’m glad I retained that speck because while The Avengers isn’t the best comic-book movie ever made (talk about hyperbole), it’s easily the best thing that’s come out of the Marvel cannon. It’s fun, smart, and laden with moments that’ll get you fist-pumping like a sweaty Guido hoping to get lucky on a Saturday night! This isn’t to say the movie doesn’t have its flaws (far from it) but considering the near-Herculean task at hand i.e. juggling eight to nine major characters, giving each one of them a unique character arc and enough to do during the events of the film without making us feel as if their screen time is perfunctory – it’s quite the coup.
Whedon’s sharp script picks up right off the bat with banished Asgardian God Loki (Tom Hiddleston – first seen in Thor) immediately making his presence felt on Earth by stealing the Tesseract – an unlimited power source first introduced in last summer’s Captain America – and then laying waste to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. Loki, it seems, plans to trade the cubic power source to an alien race (probably related to the guys from “Independence Day”) in exchange for absolute rule over Earth. Left with no choice, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) re-opens the “Avengers initiative,” assigning team members Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Coulson (Clark Gregg) to recruit superheroes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to thwart Loki’s plans and re-acquire the Tesseract.
But assembling heroes is easier than getting them to actually work as a team so it isn’t long before Earth’s mightiest superhero boy band are butting heads (or destroying everything around them to be specific). Marvel fans who’ve been foaming at the mouth to catch a glimpse of their heroes going at it will get more than enough to quench their sweltering libidos – we have Iron Man vs. Thor, Captain America vs. Iron Man, Black Widow vs. Hawkeye, Hulk vs. Black Widow, and the best-in-show Hulk vs. Thor fight. With all of these “hero vs. hero” battles, you’d think they’d leave room for the bad guys to have a little fun of their own, no? The majority of these fights take place during a sensational set-piece aboard a flying aircraft carrier where everything goes to hell but if you think that’s something, wait until you get a load of the film’s climax – a sprawling half-hour-long battle in Midtown Manhattan that rivals the ending of Transformers: Dark of the Moon in terms of sheer scale, violence and insanity. If you’re one of those people who take offence at the sight of New York skyscrapers being pancaked, you’ll be better off skipping this one.
Explosions and grandiose set-pieces aside, the film never feels as if it’s halting to a stop when it shifts from action scenes to plot-driven scenes. Shit, some of the movie’s best scenes – the aforementioned flying aircraft carrier scene – double both as character-builders and show-stoppers. Whedon, who has dealt with multiple characters on his TV shows “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” keeps the energy flowing consistently – even allowing time for plenty of humorous moments. In fact, the first thing you’ll notice about The Avengers, other than it being a supremely produced, top-notch action movie, is how funny it is. For those familiar with Whedon’s work (including last month’s The Cabin in the Woods), this should come as no surprise as witty, self-referential, pop-culture-infused humor is his bread-and-butter – and those witticisms flow like fine wine when delivered by Downey Jr.’s motor-mouthed, smart-aleck Tony Stark.
Downey, no surprise, is fantastic as Stark/Iron Man and gets all the funniest moments (everyone gets a Stark-penned nickname: Thor – “Point Break,” Loki – “Rock of Ages,” Hawkeye – “Legolas”). But apart from the humor, he also gets to share a couple of very strong quieter scenes with Ruffalo – who almost made me forget that he’s the third actor to inherit the role. It’s in these quieter scenes that the dynamic between the two actors really shines and it made me, a non-comic book fan, yearn for an Iron Man-Hulk buddy movie. Anyone weary about Ruffalo’s casting should rest easy because the actor’s understated laid-back delivery vibes effortlessly with the character he inherits. Though it’s debatable whether Ruffalo takes best in show, his “other guy” – the Hulk – without doubt steals the picture. Then again, it only makes sense that in a big, loud expensive movie like “The Avengers,” the most memorable aspect would be an enormous green, loud rage monster!
Hemsworth and Evans, both good in their origin films, continue to impress as Thor and Captain America respectively while Johansson adds a surprising dose of gravitas to her otherwise eye-candy role. Only Renner and Jackson get shafted by the screenplay which offers them nothing other than delivering bad-ass glares and expository dialogues. Some naysayers may complain about the film’s lack of surprise or shock value, and how too much time is spent building up to nothing – to them I say bullocks! This is a big, loud fun blockbuster that respects its audience and wears its heart on its sleeve. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a visually dazzling ride but it also doesn’t insult your intelligence and numb your cranium the way the “Transformers” movies do.
In closing, I’ll re-iterate that while Chris Nolan’s Batman films still (and probably will for the near future) remain the benchmark in the pantheon of superhero movies, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is a dazzling blockbuster that’s good enough to claim place alongside The Incredibles, Spider-Man 2, X2, Iron Man and X-Men: First Class as one of the best in the genre. Doubling as a visually-rich and rousing, razzle-dazzle superhero blockbuster and an incredibly witty and whip-smart ensemble picture, it’s the rare studio blockbuster that lives up to the stratospheric expectations set for it – and then some.
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference)