Whedon assembles a great Avengers movie
Staying after the credits to see the recently-shot final moment of Joss Whedon and Marvel’s The Avengers gave me the opportunity to hear something that, frankly, I don’t get to very often in today’s movie-going age. When the theater employee quoted that customer service standard to ‘have a good day’ to a fellow patron of the cinema, her response stuck with me before I started writing this review. ‘How could I not, after seeing that? It was the best”, was the woman’s reply as we disposed of any leftover refreshments—popcorn that somehow survived throughout such unabashed blockbuster entertainment. With some lesser filmmakers and the films they produce, blockbuster is a four letter word in terms of film. But when someone knows how to handle somewhat outlandish comic book plots, quip-filled dialog, and the art of blowing a lot of shit up then they can make the kind of film that stands up with the very best of blockbuster entertainment.
The film gets straight into things as within the first half hour there’s a threat in place and the team is mostly assembled. However, the team being assembled is by no means a guarantee that they’ll all get along—at first they really don’t. Some of the best moments in the film are watching Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (TM) at each other’s throats. It makes sense really to recognize that if you put that many egos and all those skill-sets in a room together there’s bound to be some clashing. Some of the most compelling scenes in the comics involve said fights which can go from merely verbal to ultra-physical in moments –the movie is smart enough to know that these scenes need to happen to make the eventual team-up all the more worthwhile.
It helps that before the group scenes begin we get a few moments of time with each Avenger individually. These character-informing moments leave impressions of the personality and conflicts of each lead character—they even serve as somewhat of a reminder about the separate adventures each was a part of that brought them to this point. Though I have to say that going in fresh after having re-watched both Iron Man films, Thor, and Captain America was an excellent way to prep for this movie, (however, if you haven’t, the exposition that ties all those stories together is very well-handled). Because of the fact that these four films combined have been the perfect set-up for this film means that The Avengers is loaded with stakes—personal, emotional, and global stakes where everything is on the line if our heroes fail in their attempt to stave off Loki’s threat.
Every war has its fallen soldiers and Joss Whedon does not disappoint in this necessary element. There’s a death in The Avengers that may have been handled so badly under someone else’s direction. Instead when this death occurs it galvanizes the team and its effects reverberate throughout the movie like Thor’s hammer Mjolnir bashing against the Vibranium of Cap’s shield. For a ‘genre’ film that usually offs people left and right without care, it really stands out when the audience is compelled to root on the team that are trying to literally avenge on the behalf of one deeply-felt loss.
There are fans who bemoan Whedon’s propensity for casualties, but it’s plain to see that he dispatches characters with great purpose in the name of servicing the story. It’s always handled in a respectable fashion which shows that when a creator deeply cares about his creations enough so that no one forgets them when they’re gone then he’s using that loss to inspire the characters and move plot forward. Interestingly, when you feel the weight of the loss hit, it might not even be when this character dies exactly—instead it’s a simple moment after that could inspire some eyes to get a little bit misty. That’s because the truly great writers understand the significance of a single well-executed moment. If he’s done his job then nothing much to has to be said for the audience to be on board with the emotional truth on screen.
Another achievement of Whedon’s script is his version of Black Widow. She is tough, she is clever, and she is as much a member of the team as Tony Stark or Steve Rogers is. What works so well about Whedon’s Natasha Romanov is that she can hold her own and contribute to the overall efforts of the team in the final battle alongside the rest of the team—a full-fledged member throughout. She even gets some great stuff to play alongside Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye without it turning into some swooning and forced love story—there’s well-earned mutual respect between them both. Theirs is a tale that is worth revisiting in a future Marvel film.
There’s an energy among the actors that says they came to play and there’s little else a viewer could ask to feel when they watch a movie than to know that there’s a level of conviction involved in that commitment to telling this story the best they can. Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Clark Gregg are all just as fantastic as they’ve been in their other films, in fact you could argue that Evans’ performance is elevated that much more by getting to play off of Steve’s conflicts with Tony early and often. Hemsworth’s Thor actually doesn’t gel quite as well in some of the early group scenes—his strength in the film is found when the conflict hits home and he gets to reunite with his fellow Asgardian/former adopted brother , Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. As for Hiddleston, well people are going to enjoy what he does with his megalomaniacal character for years to come—he has a slightly unnervingly easy level of cruelty in his actions this time around as well as a natural gift for humor that Whedon uses wisely without leaving Loki coming off as anything less than the real threat he represents.
But the man who came onboard with everything to prove would be Mark Ruffalo, Marvel’s latest Bruce Banner/’the other guy’. First, his Bruce Banner is the best that we’ve yet seen on the big screen : a fragile man composed of twitchy anxious energy (and an undeniable driving force of anger at just about everything without going the easy route of simply making Bruce into an asshole to show that simmering rage beneath the surface) that could turn into a supreme Hulk-out at any moment. All of the characters know about him and it’s entertaining to watch them tip-toe around Bruce or, in Stark’s case, poke the bear in order to see him get mean and green. Now as for the Hulk, audiences will love him. He gets to break most all of the toys that Whedon’s playing with at some point, even his own fellow team members as fits the comics, in such a thrilling no holds barred fashion. His ‘fight’ with Loki will stick in your mind a very long time after you leave the theater, it’s the perfect example of this blend of pure physicality combined with a crowd-pleasing spirit of humor from the comics that make the Hulk work better than he ever has before.
As for the technical side of things, the CGI looks pretty convincing and that’s a hard sell when there are otherworldly creatures being flying around in modern-day cities. The wardrobe department is on-point as well with each costume acting as the perfect piece of iconography for its respective character. Cap’s new suit strikes that tricky mix of old-fashioned war-era nostalgia along with a sleek efficiency shared by even Black Widow’s suit. I can’t speak to how many other directors would have had Scarlett’s assets awkwardly on display throughout, but thankfully hers isn’t all that different from the suits that the average S.H.I.E.L.D. members wear during their average day.
Alan Silvestri’s original score (fun fact: he also did the score for Captain America) provides the perfect soundtrack to the action and hits the beats of every fight scene well. The theme playing over the end credits may make you leave the theater humming along to the drums. Speaking of the end of the movie, do not miss that final (way after all the credits have rolled) wrap-up scene—it’s so very Whedon to end a loud, raucous action movie in this fashion.
What Joss Whedon has managed to create with this five years in the making film is a piece that is greater than its parts. It’s got it all: humor, heart, incredible action set pieces, conflict, and it’s the kind of movie where even the most jaded filmgoer may find something that they didn’t expect and cheer for it. I don’t think that a film could ask for any better reception — the audience suspend disbelief as they’re frequently called on to do, but so few films give them such a rich and well-written world to get lost in for a couple of hours. There’s nothing better than being able to leave feeling a little bit better than you did before the movie played. It’s what good blockbuster films do while the great ones stick with you for even a little longer afterward, and The Avengers definitely has what it takes to be in that latter group of films as even non Whedonites may find themselves replaying certain scenes over and over in their heads for weeks to come.