“People might just need a little old fashioned.”
It goes back to the 1960’s and 1970’s, considered by many to be the Second Golden Age of Comics. That’s when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby joined forces to make Marvel the dominating face in comic books. They did it by making their heroes people we could identify with. These superheroes were often flawed and in conflict with themselves and each other. But they still always got the bad guy and saved the day. I was one of those kids. Comics were a huge part of my life, and they delivered excitement and escapism long before there were video games and home theaters. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that kind of excitement. For two and a half hours, The Avengers made me feel like that all over again. This review isn’t being written by the adult who usually writes in these pages. Today I’m a 15-year-old boy who isn’t thinking about bad economies or cutthroat politics. Today I’m just smiling, and Joss Whedon and The Avengers is the reason.
“This was monsters and magic.”
In 1978 Richard Donner convinced me that a man could fly and created the first comic book movie that made a serious impact on the box office. While there was still plenty of camp, Donner created something unique in the fantasy world that has seldom been equaled. The Dark Knight franchise broke box office records. But, it was the Marvel franchise that set the bar for the better part of the last decade. It started with the X-Men and Spider-Man films. And then Marvel took a huge gamble. The idea was to use several movies to create momentum and buzz for a superhero mash-up. We all know the history here. Two Iron Man films, Captain America, and Thor. I’m pretty much leaving out The Hulk films here. Each film had the unenviable task of creating an origin story and also becoming a crucial piece to an even bigger story. All the while they each needed to stand on their own and be entertaining films in their own right. With some clever casting and incredible effects, the films not only entertained. They remained true to those comics we read years ago, and Marvel was rewarded with some quite large box office takes. All the while we were reminded throughout that the big score was yet to come. And now it’s here.
“We prepared for this.”
Joss Whedon was not my first choice to write and direct The Avengers. In honesty he wasn’t in my top ten. Don’t get me wrong. He has done an incredible job with Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. I just didn’t think he was ready for such a big-budget film with almost impossible expectations. I thought he would easily be bullied and manipulated by so many inflated egos. Man, was I full of crap. I underestimated his experience with ensemble casts, and I shouldn’t have. That’s why I’m here writing about the film and not hiring the director. The powers that be saw better things in Whedon, and they were spot on.
To stay clear of spoilers, I’m going to only offer the most vague synopsis of the film. All of this information is pretty widely known already, and part of the fun here is watching it all happen for the first time.
The film begins with Nick Fury (Jackson) and his SHIELD agents guarding the Tesseract from the Captain America film. Loki (Hiddleston) arrives to steal the device as part of a larger plan to allow an alien race to invade Earth. Of course, he expects to preside over the aftermath as ruler of the planet. With such a threat hanging over the planet, Fury has no choice but to activate his long-contemplated Avengers Initiative. Soon the team is assembled from their various lives. The team consists of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey, Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson). The team is also joined, mid-flight, so to speak by Loki’s brother, Thor (Hemsworth) who has his own issue with Loki and intends to dish out his own justice. Eventually, they must come together along with Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) in order to save the world.
The beginning of the film is necessarily the slowest. The team has to be assembled, and that is going to take a little time with very little action or drama. But Whedon never lets the pace drag even here. He gets to the point as quickly as he can, and while we’re waiting for the team to assemble we have the brilliant performance of Tom Hiddleston to keep us entertained. Look, a superhero film is only as good as the supervillian. We have to believe that this guy can be such a danger that only this massive force of heroes can stop him. Hiddleston plays the part perfectly. From the first moment we see him on screen he wears the most deliciously sinister grin you can imagine. There is a force behind that face that spells certain doom for anyone careless enough to get in his way. If you thought he was good in Thor, you’re going to be quite surprised to find that he’s so much stronger and better here. He might well deliver the best performance of the film, and that’s saying something.
Another element of the comics was always the tension and conflict between the heroes themselves. It just wouldn’t be realistic to bring this team together and expect that team to click. You can’t just bring in the high-priced dominate players and expect it to automatically work as a team. Just ask the Miami Heat or the Philadelphia Eagles. There has to be conflict, and Whedon brings it out perfectly. The heroes are forced to work out their issues before they can come together, and that happens here in spectacular splash page form. You’ll see images here that appear ripped directly from those massive issues of the past. Remember the heroes colliding in mid-air in those marvelously colorful splash pages? It’s all here.
Once the conflicts are settled, although never completely resolved, the players fall into place and a 40-minute non-stop action battle for the survival of the planet begins. Think Transformers meets the best superhero action you’ve ever seen. That’s what you get for the climax. Just when you think you can take a short breath, that it just couldn’t go on any longer, it does and you’re eating up every second of it. By the time it’s finished, the only thing you can say is WOW! Yes, the movie is a visual spectacular from start to finish. In IMAX it towers over you with stunning images that will get that adrenaline pumping from start to finish.
Whedon delivered the big special effects scenes. The film cost a hefty bit of cash, but it’s all on the screen. Perhaps the biggest contribution Whedon made, however, was with the cast. There were some genuine concerns going in. Could each character be given enough spotlight? Could the egos manage to get along? You’ll be happy to know that the answer here is a resounding Yes. The chemistry between them was wonderful. As much as I loved Edward Norton’s portrayal of Banner, Ruffalo does an outstanding job here and is likely the closest to the comic character yet. Even the renditions of The Hulk himself are far better than anything you’ve seen in the two Hulk films. It turns out that The Avengers is the best Hulk film to date. In fact, Marvel has done a 180. Just days after saying there were no plans for a future Hulk film, there is an announcement that he will return in some form in the next couple of years. Ruffalo and Robert Downey, Jr. have some terrific egghead moments. The relationships provide for some truly laugh-out-loud moments. Yes, this film is quite funny in places. But, the jokes are so natural and not a one feels like it was a reach or comes at the expense of the film’s pacing or plot. The humor is the product of the relationships built here, just like it was when Stan Lee was zinging us in the old days. It’s never contrived or phony. I guess the best thing I can say here is that this film was the easiest film I’ve ever seen to suspend belief. You begin to accept these characters as very real. These relationships actually add a dimension to each character that simply wasn’t possible in their individual films. As much as I’m looking forward to their continuing stories, I’m really stoked about seeing them together again. Not one actor appeared to flex their star muscles. I was particularly worried that Robert Downey, Jr. like his Tony Stark would have a hard time playing well with others. Well….he does, but it’s all Stark and no Downey.
Richard Donner truly did make me believe, once, that a man could fly. Joss Whedon has made me believe that I can really be a kid again. Living in Florida, one is always on the look-out for that fabled Fountain of Youth. Who’d have thought that I’d find it on a movie screen, of all places? If you don’t walk out of this movie feeling like a young teen again, check your pulse. You’re already dead. Thanks, Joss.
Don’t even think about leaving your seat as the final credits begin to roll. First there is a mid-credit scene that reveals a long-rumored enemy to set up the next Avengers film. There is also an end-credit scene that our advance audience did not get to see. You paid your money, and this one is worth it. I saw it in a dynamic IMAX 3D presentation, and it’s worth the extra few bucks to see it in that format. Few films today are worth the hefty theater ticket prices these days. This one’s worth seeing more than once. How about that for an idea, giving the folks value for their money. “Well…It’s an old fashioned notion.”