WE’VE FINALLY GOTTEN THE QUINTESSENTIAL COMIC BOOK MOVIE WITH “THE AVENGERS”
It’s been nearly 50 years since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created one of the greatest comic book titles ever to grace the shelves of bookstores worldwide. The comic book for the Avengers has been a bestseller ever since its release and has gone strong ever since with a sterling reputation as any Marvel Comics fanboy’s wet dream. And now…? I believe a massive kudos is in order. The world’s mightiest heroes just got themselves a movie worth a rousing standing ovation, and it’s all thanks to the Ultimate Geek King himself, Joss Whedon (the mastermind behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “X-Men,” and “The Cabin in the Woods”).
Following the events set in motion in 2008 with “Iron Man” and continuing on with “The Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor,” and “Captain America: The Last Avenger,” we are met with a massive threat to the globe when the otherworldly Loki (Tom Hiddleston) comes to Earth armed with a powerful army supplied by a mysterious alien benefactor in order to both rule the Earth and steal a powerful artifact called the Tesseract. The covert U.S. Government agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), decides to secretly enact his now-defunct plan to engage the Avengers initiative – which would bring together all the major Marvel Universe heroes together as a team to stop this global threat. This list includes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) being along for the ride as S.H.E.I.L.D. agents. As the heroes clash with both their enemies and one another, the threat to the world grows ever stronger.
Deftly combining and meshing established solo characters with one another is a cinematic feat not seen too often. The “X-Men” films are well-known for succeeding in that type of event, but they didn’t truly try balancing all the heroes (choosing instead to have Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine play the main role). And let’s not even discuss “The Fantastic Four” or “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” With “Avengers,” this scale is unprecedented and yet – somehow – it works. Each character is astoundingly given a full plot arc matching feature length treatment, which is a huge step in making this film stand out as much as it does.
The story is what fascinates me most in how much it is able to accomplish with its characters and its pace. While “The Dark Knight” moved extremely well for being around 140 minutes, this perhaps moves even faster with the same consideration for its characters. Every character got a genuine moment to shine and wow us without ever feeling like the writing or the directing is hurrying onto the next character or the next moment. It is surprisingly relaxed and fun amid explosions and confrontations.
With the acting, I was greatly satisfied with how everyone got their “voice” intact from their solo films. Tony Stark’s Iron Man is still just as witty and charismatic as usual, but with a lot more to play with considering he has to play with others. Thor keeps his Shakespearean diction and likable arrogance. Captain America keeps his old-fashioned coolness. Basically, their acting is just as good as their solo runs and if you liked them then, you’ll love them now. Everything appealing and original about them remains strong.
But of the heroes, it’s the one that previously had mixed cinematic responses that gets to be the showstopper. The Hulk. First placed by Eric Bana in 2003 and again by Edward Norton in 2008, the Hulk has always been harder to show in film due to his Jekyll/Hyde persona. It’s hard to tell an action-packed superhero story where your superhero is only “super” when he fails. The two films before now (although I loved “The Incredible Hulk”) didn’t quite get the character as he’s supposed to be in the comics. They show, in their own way, their own version of the Hulk. But here, we finally get the Hulk as he was meant to be. Although I wish Norton could have returned to the role, Mark Ruffalo abounds in this role with his nervous energy and forced “everyman” demeanor. He gets who the Hulk is supposed to be, and the CGI is the best it’s ever been. It makes perfect sense why he’s been offered to replay the role an additional six more times.
What I liked most of all is everyone had “the line.” You know, that one line either they say or is said to them that perfectly conveys that character. Hulk perhaps gets the best, although Iron Man isn’t far behind. The main reason I believe “The Avengers” works as well as it does is because Joss Whedon totally understands these guys. He isn’t basing his movie on the previous films – he’s basing them on the comics, and sometimes even on his own level of observation. Things I’ve considered but never really put into concrete thoughts, Whedon finally says. He calls these characters out on their crap and makes both them – and us – really see them as they are.
Where “The Avengers” falters ever so slightly is in its villain and his role in the grand master plan. Now Loki was an absolute revelation in “Thor” with his tragic Shakespearean undertones and masterful performance by Tom Hiddleston. It was, by my count, the showstopper that made “Thor” such a fascinating and gripping film for me. Considering his streak of menace and growing hatred for his brother Thor and all things under Thor’s protection, it makes sense that he could easily take on the entire Avengers team with an army at his command. Yet, for some reason, Loki feels reduced in the villain meter for “The Avengers” in being demoted to little more than the leader of his army. While he has some decent action scenes and dialogue, he never conveys the threat the character promised in “Thor.” Maybe I was setting myself up for failure in hoping to get a Jokereque villain of manipulation and power. It’s not really fair, I know, but I was hoping for the God of Badassery more than the God of Mischief. Still, he served his purpose and Tom Hiddleston was great at everything he did.
Ultimately, “The Avengers” proves to be the grand spectacle I honestly never thought possible with Joss Whedon perfectly balancing the characters, the action, the humor, and the delirious sense of fun that have made the comics popular for so long. While I will always love the gritty realism of the DC Batman films, this is the first true “comic book” movie that got everything right. For its specific intents and place in Marvel lore, “The Avengers” is indeed the greatest film in the Marvel roster.