Superhero movies sure have come a long way since the day’s of Tim Burton’s odd Batman movies in a time when superheroes were still treated like they were taken right out of the comic strips; they were campy, goofy, and overly colorful. But in recent years, Hollywood has wizened up and realized that translating these superheroes to the silver screen can be an easy blockbuster win if taken seriously. I mean come on, all the compelling, intricate stories are already there in comic book form waiting to be adapted! While “Spiderman” was arguably the first to do it well, Christopher Nolan took a different kind of severity and artistic vision when crafting “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”, the latter of which is hailed by many as the best superhero movie ever: dark, ambitious, compelling, dramatic, and a thematic masterpiece.
But there’s been a mainstream series of somewhat lighter films over the last eight years or so starring Marvel Comics’ greatest heroes: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk. And for years, it had been a dream of Marvel Studios to have them team up on the big screen. As S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury might say, “There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could.” And fight they do.
A genius in an iron suit. A god of thunder. A green rage monster. A true blue American super-soldier. Oh, along with a hot Russian spy and a male archer with Katniss-like precision. When you stop and look at each individual hero, their differences seem so overwhelmingly extreme that you could never think of them as a functioning team, right? One of them isn’t even from our world. One of them is quite literally a relic from the past. Hulk’s power is to lose all control. Tony Stark arrogantly utilizes his uber-technological superpowered suit, and Thor wields a magical hammer and can command lightning. Advanced technology alongside magic? What is this, some “Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” hybrid? (Hey! Now there’s a thought!) It just seems like this team could never clique. It’s made even more interesting by the inclusion of Hawkeye and Black Widow, both of whom are little more than highly-skilled, otherwise normal humans. My biggest concern going in was that any semblance of a balance was going to be impossible, made even more difficult by the inclusion of these two mere humans.
When you look at this trailer (which highlights a lot of the conflict I mentioned above), there’s a shot at around 0:12 where we see the full team circling up. Iron Man is hovering down to meet them, Thor tightens his grip on his mighty hammer, Hulk is flexing his devastating muscles, and Captain America brandishes his indestructible trademark shield. And Hawkeye pulls back on his drawstring? Black Widow cocks her pistol? Seriously?
Thankfully, director Joss Whedon knows what he is doing. No single character really steals the show in Avengers, and no one is left out. The group develops a really interesting dynamic and each character - even the likes of Hawkeye, Black Widow, and to some extent, Captain America (I mean you have to admit he kind of stinks next to the other three main heroes) - gets their fair share of character development, action, and screen time. It’s quite a feat to juggle six-ish main characters, and Whedon pulls it off. Each character plays to their strengths, however small they may seem. Black Widow’s gymnastics and Hawkeye’s ability to hit a moving target dozens of hards away in the eye are certainly impressive. But it’s the relationships that develop that are even more impressive. Whether it’s the palpable, mutual genius-infused bromance between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, the almost-there romance between Hawkeye and Black Widow, or the comical competition of who’s stronger between Thor and Hulk, the chemistry between them all is charming, effective, and damn enjoyable to watch.
All that being said, it’s really interesting how the story and characters at play in “The Avengers” reach all the way back through the previous movies. Through cameos and post-credit scenes, the Avengers or at the very least S.H.I.E.L.D. was mentioned in every single previous movie, even the first “Iron Man” and the more loosely affiliated “The Incredible Hulk” (the one starring Edward Norton). While they all don’t mesh perfectly well together, all of these movies together feel more like a series than independent films. It’s for that reason that characters in “The Avengers” don’t need much introduction or development. Every hero has already been established in his own movie, and we know enough about Nick Fury and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. through their prevalence in movies like “Iron Man 2” and “Thor” to make it work. But by the time we actually make it to “The Avengers”, it’s easy to see how much the movie relies on its predecessors, particularly because our villain is Thor’s brother Loki who somehow returns from apparent death in “Thor” to use the Cosmic Cube (the object that nearly ended WWII in a bad way in “Captain America”) to allow a race of robot-aliens from across the galaxy to destroy and/or enslave mankind. So if you missed “Thor” or “Captain America”, you might have no idea what’s going on here. Heck, I’m still not entirely clear on what was going on!
I could go on and on about how great “The Avengers” was. It was funny, enjoyable, action-packed; pure entertainment all around. And where it lacks the gravity of a film like “The Dark Knight”, it makes up for it in classic heart and Starky comedy (I’m coining the term here and now: Starky - characterized by the unique brand of snarky humor as mastered by the character of Tony Stark). There are basically two Acts in “The Avengers”. In the first, the team assembles and doesn’t mesh well. In the aftermath of a battle of sorts, they are all separated and defeated. In one of the more touching moments of the film - which I’d imagine some might call a tacky cheap shot - Agent Phil Coulson winds up getting killed by Loki.
Coulson is a character that has been, along with Nick Fury, representing the face of S.H.I.E.L.D. in all these movies. He even had a couple little short films to himself where his badassery and likability are prevalently shown. In Act 1 of “The Avengers”, he display a bit of innocence in his gushing over the presence of Captain America, who is Coulson’s long-time hero (after all Cap was the first superhero back in the time of WWII). Coulson mentions to Cap that he has some trading cards that he’d like signed and about how much of an honor it is just to meet him. People even tease Coulson a bit. But then he dies, and with his last words he tells Nick Fury what an honor it has been, and that the Avengers initiative never would have worked unless…they had something to avenge. To rub it in, Fury smears some blood on the trading cards to give the team the extra “push”. It seemed unfair in a lot of ways, but it was subtle and underemphasized. And it made me wonder if they invented Coulson - a character absent from any Avengers story except for the films - for the sole purpose of that one dramatic moment where his death would be the easy catalyst for the Avengers to finally, truly Assemble! Regardless of whether or not my hogwash theory is correct, Coulson’s death does the trick. All they needed was a little push.
Act 2 is features the team working together with a new, epic sense of purpose. Old rivalries fizzle out when the world is at stake, and they are determined to Avenge it. The final battle sequence of them all working together to close a gateway to the opposite end of the galaxy while battling the alien forces streaming through is one of the most epic scenes I’ve seen in recent history. There’s very little to say about it other than gush over the fact that it was simply awesome. Everybody plays their part in the epic conclusion.
Everybody and everything really delivers in “The Avengers”. If you like action and if you like superheroes than see this movie!
PS. For fun, here’s a pic of me dressed up as casual Tony Stark for the midnight premiere!