The Avengers (2012)
After all that hype, it kinda had to be good.
The Avengers begins with that mega-jerk Loki dropping in on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s underground HQ, jacking the Cosmic Cube right out from under ’em, and brainwashing a couple key players to do his bidding along the way. When it hits Nick Fury that Loki’s on a mission to open an inter-dimensional portal that’ll open the doors for an alien army to enslave mankind, he starts making some calls. Before he knows it, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, Natalia Romanova, and freakin’ Thor himself are kickin’ it in a tricked-out aircraft carrier, settling their own differences while scheming up ways to stop that god of mischief before he takes them all down with the rest of us mortals.
Well talk about a long time coming. With the exception of X-Men: First Class, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a Marvel movie that wasn’t teasing the shit out of this thing like it was the second coming and we’d be crazy not to be there. But after the disappointments of Iron Man 2 and Thor (yes, I am still the only guy alive who didn’t like Thor), my excitement for The Avengers has waned pretty heavily over the years. Just too much focus on a movie that wouldn’t be out for years, not enough focus on making solid movies for the heroes involved, the movies I’ve been dropping dime on to see on opening night for how many Summers now. As a result, I learned from my mistakes, kept my expectations low, and kept my inner fanboy on his leash while everyone else was counting down the days.
But even now, as I look at that poster, think of how those two-and-a-half hours flew by, feel my grip loosen on that leash…
As much as I’d like to say otherwise and save myself from sounding like a kid who just turned thirteen on May 4th, it is pretty effing awesome that this movie exists. It’s a nerd’s wet dream, it’s ambitious as sin, and for a long time, it seemed like nothing more than a wet dream. Thank God this superhero thing caught on like it did. Downplay it all you want, the appeal is there and the money don’t lie. But by the same token, I wouldn’t be saying any of this if The Avengers sucked, ’cause this movie really could have sucked.
I’m still convinced that the reason Spider-Man 3 didn’t work (aside from Peter Parker’s emo phase, of course) is that there were too many villains and just too many side-plots to do them all justice. Get rid of Sandman, have Thomas Haden Church play Venom instead of Topher Grace, I think Spider-Man 4 would be coming out this Summer instead. Same problem with Iron Man 2, only too many heroes. Not to say those were the only problems with those movies, but I think I’m on to something and it’s the same reason I’ve been so nervous about The Dark Knight Rises. Yet here we are with six A-list superheroes with the egos to match, one up-and-coming supervillain with a whole lot of backup, and Samuel L. Jackson shouting and shooting in an eyepatch and a trench coat.
Even without Sam Jackson and his outside voice, they were just asking for it with this one. This was tailor-made to crash and burn in that same ways these movies always crash and burn. But I guess that’s why they brought in Joss Whedon.
I’ll get to the cast in a minute, but the best/weirdest thing about this whole movie for me is how Whedon steals the show from all of ’em. Most importantly is how well he balances out the screen-time amongst these characters to the point where all of them are constantly present and involved without overshadowing one another. I mean, on the one end are Black Widow and Hawkeye: two characters who I could have cared less about, seemed totally unnecessary from the outset, and whose powers are pretty damn lacking in comparison to the rest of the gang. And on the other end are Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain America: four guys who do not eff around, totally deserve their spots in the lineup, and could probably kill Black Widow and Hawkeye with the same effort it takes me to wiggle my ears.
But they all represent, they all kick an inordinate amount of ass, and they all have a slew of great scenes that make specific use their specific powers so that they feel truly integral to the story as a whole. Granted, some of the bad guys they face off against look like fish in a barrel at points, but that was a huge accomplishment. If you’ve ever seen Firefly or Serenity, you already know that Whedon can handle a big cast, and needless to say, he handles this one like a seasoned pro. These guys all have their own histories and hangups, they all have their own distinct personalities and values to bring to the table, and I love the way Whedon makes this movie canon by continually referencing their past cinematic adventures. They feel like humans (or gods) as much as they do superhumans, and that could have easily gotten lost in the epic circumstances surrounding them.
The first thing you and your friends’ll do when you walk out of the theater is start talking about who your favorite Avenger was, and thanks to that balance I’m talking about, you’ll all come up with someone different. A thing of beauty right there.
But aside from the nuances of Whedon’s script, I couldn’t believe how funny this movie was, nor was I expecting all the cheer-worthy moments either. The thing is, it’s still your archetypal hero story: Earth is in danger, heroes rise to the occasion, heroes falter, heroes get back up again, heroes save the day. Stay tuned next time, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel. You’ve heard it all before, it’s just the way it’s told that makes all the difference. It’s just a blast that keeps on getting better. It’s superhero story from a guy who loves superhero stories, and it doesn’t take much to see why he got the job.
Whedon, more than anyone else, is why this movie’s as fantastic as it is…but the cast ain’t too shabby either.
If there’s any one Avenger who does kinda steal the show, it’s Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark. There is just so much to like about Downey and Stark in this movie that we’ve always liked about Downey as Stark. The endless supply of one-liners, the simple truth that Iron Man is only getting more badass with time, and the attitude to spare make it pretty clear why he’s in front on the poster. But like I said, it’s hard to steal the show when everyone else is stealing it too. Sam Jackson does a great Sam Jackson as Nick Fury; Mark Ruffalo is solid as Bruce Banner, even though The Hulk blows him out of the water; I liked Chris Hemsworth a whole lot more in this than I did in Thor; Tom Hiddleston was the best part of Thor and is still great here as Loki; Jeremy Renner is cool as Hawkeye; Scarlett Johansson is surprisingly awesome as Black Widow and does a bang-up job of making it known that she’s not just here for the eye candy; and Chris Evans is great as Cap, my only complaint being that they could have fleshed out his character more in terms of where he was at the end of his own movie, but hopefully they’re saving that for Captain America 2. Aside from The Hulk who just can’t catch a break with his franchise, Cap’s easily got the most interesting character arc of the bunch.
There are some things that need to be taken with a grain of salt, like how Bruce Banner magically gets in tune with his greener half and how Tony Stark defies the laws of gravity at a certain point, but if you get hung up on that nonsense, you’re missing all the fun. And let me tell ya’, there’s a lot of fun to be had. So many incredible scenes, total insanity what goes down here.
Yes, it’s a monster of a movie that’s got Hollywood written all over it, but if there’s one thing Joss Whedon has proven as a film maker this year, it’s his ability to exceed the hell out of expectations. I was tired of horror movies, and then along came The Cabin in the Woods, arguably the most significant horror movie of the past decade. I was tired of superhero movies, and then along comes The Avengers, arguably the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight. I, for one, definitely wasn’t expecting that, and I still can’t stop raving about this thing. So what if the formula’s old hat? For a genre that was starting to feel like an assembly line, this feels like a wake up call. It’s a reminder of why we love the formula to begin with and why we keep going to these movies year after year. For the first time in a while, I can’t wait to see a superhero movie, and until The Avengers 2 comes out, the competition’s got a new bar to reach for.