Okay, Hollywood, you can stop making superhero movies now. I’ve already seen Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers”, and honestly, I don’t know how anyone is going to top it. Maybe Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” will make a dent in the sheer fanboy awesomeness that is “The Avengers”, but I can’t possibly see how a movie with one superhero can even come close to making me forget about a movie featuring four of the do-gooders (or six, if you really want to get technical about it). So the question is: Does Whedon’s “The Avengers” live up to the hype? You’re damn skippy it does. And then some.
“The Avengers” opens with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his SHIELD boys and girls (with the assistance of Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Thor’s pal from, well, “Thor”) working on unlocking the secrets of the tesseract, aka that glowing square doohickey of unimaginable power from “Captain America: The First Avenger”. Before you know it, the mischievous Asgardian God Loki (Tom Hiddleston), last seen getting his ass handed to him by Thor and thought dead, resurfaces, very much alive and looking to do some damage. Loki trashes the SHIELD facility, turns ace SHIELD bowman Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) into a zombie henchman, and absconds with the tesseract. What’s a super secret International spy agency to do? Nick Fury decides to call in the big guns.
Naturally, up first is Captain America (Chris Evans), still trying to make sense of the present day, and not entirely succeeding. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) also gets the call, but Stark is reluctant, or perhaps just playing hard to get. He is a narcissistic billionaire playboy philanthropist, after all. (Stark’s business partner/love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is now firmly his love interest, in case you were wondering.) Elsewhere, former Russian spy turned American SHIELD agent/the dreams of fanboys everywhere Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) gets the biggest assignment of them all — bringing in Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. Banner is now played by Mark Ruffalo, taking over the role from Ed Norton, who took over the role from Eric Bana. I suspect that by the time an “Avengers 3” lands in theaters, the role will have gone through two or more actors. How amusing would that be?
And where there is Loki, there is of course Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who soon shows up determined to thwart his evil brother’s plans. And what is Loki’s deal, exactly? Well, like all good Bond villains, ol Loki just wants to rule the world. (Cue Tears for Fears.) That’s pretty much it. I’ll grant you that that’s not much of a motivation, but then again, Loki is a simple God, with simple needs. In order to make his dream come true, the villainous Asgardian plans to use the tesseract’s power to open a gateway to some alien world and summon forth an alien race called the Chitauri. A bellicose bunch, the Chitauri are essentially faceless, generic alien invaders. Heck, they even resemble the invading alien robots of Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”, complete with huge, slithering/flying beast-like “leviathan” creatures. And oh yeah, there are a LOT of them.
As usually happens in the comic books from which they are based, the superheroes of “The Avengers” don’t always get along in the beginning. Co-written by Whedon (with Zak Penn), the film takes its cue from the source material, and before the boys (and girl) can become friends, they must first test each other’s mettle. There are a lot of banter, bickering, and accusations. But you also get some groovy superpowered battles — Thor vs. Iron Man, The Hulk vs. Thor, and even Black Widow vs. Hawkeye. But eventually the team come together, thanks to a character’s sacrifice. Just in time, too, because Loki and his Chitauri allies have just launched a full-scale invasion of Manhattan, leading to what is essentially a 30-minute battle sequence chock full of some of the most ridiculously jaw-dropping superhero action to ever be put on celluloid.
If you were to take all the Marvel movies and edited out all the talky stuff and just kept the superhero action, I’m not sure they would rival what Joss Whedon and company have given us in one endless 30 minute finale. In a particularly noteworthy moment during the Third Act, there is a lengthy tracking shot where we follow one superhero, only to end up with another hero battling somewhere else in the battleground. The transition from one battle to the next is seamless, and Whedon earns all the praise in the world for orchestrating the brilliant mayhem. I can honestly say I had no idea the man had it in him. I don’t know how much Marvel/Disney gave Whedon to play with, but without a shadow of a doubt, he put every single penny on the screen. One of the movie’s biggest set piece is the SHIELD Helicarrier, which doesn’t just make an appearance, but becomes a major location for much of the film’s middle.
With Whedon at the helm, it’s a given that “The Avengers” will be funny. There are lots of chuckle-worthy moments and some downright hilarious ones. Even tragedy has a tinge of humor. If you’re looking for grim and gritty, forget it, that’s not Whedon’s mission, and thank God. Of all the superheroes, the Green Goliath takes his time showing up, but when he does, he doesn’t disappoint. With two hours-plus of running time to play with, Whedon gets the time he needs to bring these very disparate personalities together, watch them clash, before finally emerging as a believable team. Robert Downey Jr. continues his winning streak as Tony Stark, and Mark Ruffalo will make you forget all about Norton and Bana. He’s that good as the (barely) in-control Banner. Hawkeye and Black Widow’s relationship is explored, and ubiquitous SHIELD agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) gets his most extensive role in a Marvel movie yet. Watching the usually very staid Coulson geek out around Captain America is an absolute blast.
Do yourself a favor, and see “The Avengers” when you get the chance. Hell, see it twice, if just to thank Marvel for finally, finally managing to accomplish what no one else has been able to. Nay, have had the balls to. To fully understand the monumental task Marvel had in front of them as they pulled this all together, you only need look at the mess that is the D.C. comic book movie properties, and just what a miserable time Warner had trying to make a Justice League film happen. Marvel succeeded where others failed, and they’ve cranked out one of the best movies of the Summer in the process. You don’t have to have read comics as a kid to fully “get” just what a seminal piece of work “The Avengers” is, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
Your turn, Christopher Nolan. Let’s see what ya got…
Joss Whedon (director) / Joss Whedon, Zak Penn (screenplay), Jack Kirby, Stan Lee (comic book)
CAST: Robert Downey Jr. … Tony Stark / Iron Man
Chris Evans … Steve Rogers / Captain America
Mark Ruffalo … Bruce Banner / The Hulk
Chris Hemsworth … Thor
Scarlett Johansson … Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Jeremy Renner … Clint Barton / Hawkeye
Tom Hiddleston … Loki
Clark Gregg … Agent Phil Coulson
Cobie Smulders … Agent Maria Hill
Stellan Skarsgård … Selvig
Samuel L. Jackson … Nick Fury