So here it is. After five Marvel movies, thousands of comic books, and millions of film geek dreams, it has arrived: the world's first big-time superhero team-up movie.
Whether you grew up in love with Super Friends, Justice League, or simply a huge stack of colorful kid-friendly literature, you've been waiting for this movie. The stage was set with Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America (2011), all of which were big global hits. We've tweeted about Agent Coulson this and Nick Fury that and ooh, look, there's a little hidden item in the background of Tony Stark's lab! Suffice to say that Marvel has done its job -- and done it well -- on their first five in-house features.
After all that, is this massive movie (that arrives with equally massive expectations) worth all the time, wait, and effort?
Hell yes, it is. One could go as far as to say that Joss Whedon's rendition of Marvel's The Avengers instantly stands as one of the coolest, funniest, and most exciting superhero movies ever made. (My favorite will always be Richard Donner's Superman. Sorry, Joss!) It's not just the action, although this movie has some stunningly wild set-pieces, and it's certainly not just the novelty of seeing Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man, etc. sharing the big screen -- although that is pretty damn awesome -- but where The Avengers leaps from novelty to legitimately fantastic popcorn material is in the area of something that doesn't cost very much: it's in the writing.
Already I can hear your thoughts! "Oh, this guy is a hardcore Whedonite from years past, so of course he's going to kneel at the guy's feet," but that's not the case. I certainly do adore Firefly and its cinematic spin-off known as Serenity, but there's tons of Whedon-produced material that I've never seen. I simply admire the man for the simple reason that he's one of the world's finest creators of genre ... stuff. TV shows about vampire slayers, self-reflexive cabin-bound horror flicks, a sci-fi / western combo that somehow actually works as both. This is a guy who loves "comic book-style" storytelling, and (more importantly) he has the ability to bring weird heroes to life through sheer power of energy, wit, and childlike enthusiasm.
So clearly I'd agree that Joss Whedon is the perfect guy to write the screenplay (from a story credited to Zak Penn and himself) and direct a big-screen adventure starring the world's most beloved superhero squad.
The plot is not all that important, truth be told, plus you're definitely going to see this movie anyway, so here's the really short version. A harrowingly powerful "cosmic cube" is coveted by an evil sorcerer called Loki. He pops in from another dimension, steals the cube, brainwashes a heroic archer and a well-meaning scientist, and heads off for lord knows where. Good ol' Nick Fury survives Loki's explosive arrival, and he promptly sends out the call for The Avengers! You know them as Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye, and The Incredible Hulk, and although it does take a decent amount of enjoyable prodding to get the whole team working together, the simple truth is that The Avengers is more fun during its quiet moments than most superhero movies are during their best action scenes.
Everybody wants that cosmic cube. It's that simple. And since this is a superhero flick (and then some), you can pretty much guess how everything turns out. But in between the action scenes (including a third act that puts similar adventures to shame) we have some typically Whedonian interplay, and I mean that as a compliment. Banner, for example, is on the team because of his knowledge of the gamma radiation emitted by the cosmic cube, which gives Whedon (and an excellent Mark Ruffalo) some great moments to contemplate the nature of rage, how it's controlled, and what happens when you push a man too far.
Similarly cool character moments occur between Black Widow (the cool, commanding and curvy Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (the effortlessly bad-ass Jeremy Renner); the noble Captain America and the wily Iron Man (Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., a fantastic odd couple of sorts here); and the nearly-immortal fraternal fighters known as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). For all their fantastic powers, the heroes are also presented with a welcome sense of low-key humanity, and every member of the ensemble manages to elevate the other as the flick chugs merrily along. (One of the best side effects of the five films preceding The Avengers is that most of the actors, save Ruffalo, had a chance to get comfortable in their roles, and it definitely shows, especially when two or three of them share a scene together.) Series regulars Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, and Clark Gregg, as well as newcomer Cobie Smulders, add some solid support and essential character moments, but The Avengers is at its best when it's being crazy.
And, man, does this movie get crazy.
There are dozens of specific aspects one could stop and appreciate, notably Alan Silvestri's playful score, some crisp and lovely cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, the consistently compelling editorial style that simply never stays in one place too long (especially in the action scenes!), the jaw-dropping special effects, the look and sound, the design of the suits and the "heli-carrier" (!), and the overall air of careful quality that went into this particular superhero movie. The Avengers really is what this young but vibrant sub-genre should be all about. It's honest and loyal enough for the hardcore fans, yet smooth, slick, and easily accessible for the general moviegoer. Plus, it's really funny, in a way that respects its beloved characters. That helps a lot.
This movie was a long time coming. It was handed to a man who used to have trouble keeping sci-fi shows on the air. It could have turned into a big clunky mess that made everyone angry. Happily for all involved, The Avengers is a big fat juicy kiss / home run of a superhero block party. If you don't have fun with this movie, you need to find a new hobby.
The Avengers is now playing in multiple territories worldwide. It opens in North America on Friday, May 4.