We are living in the Golden Age of Geek..
Though comic book movies exploded at the box office over a decade ago, it feels like they’ve all been leading up to THE AVENGERS release. In addition to the film being directed by renowned geek god Joss Whedon and that it includes a cast of A-listers like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlet Johansson and Jeremy Renner (to name a few), the marketing blitz and fan fervor surrounding this film has been intense since it was initially announced - the expectations are sky high.
A lesser crew could have let the weight of this project crush them, but Joss Whedon and company rose to the challenge and deliver the best outing from Marvel Studios since IRON MAN. Everything about it is epic - more action, more heroics, more humor, more heart. For a film to juggle so many characters and their respective storylines in just over two hours is a feat, and to make it seem so easy is a true work of art.
The chemistry is great between all the heroes, and their groupings and re-groupings allow everyone to shine. Given that IRON MAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA were the strongest films leading up to this movie, it’s no surprise that their dynamic was the strongest and most engaging. Plus, they are two sides of the hero coin; there’s immediately friction there on how they live their lives, run the team, and approach the entire process of being a hero. Fans of the comic book stories of these characters also notice an extra layer to their interactions - the potential for a power struggle.
Two of the characters that were short-shifted in previous installments manage to shine in this crowded blockbuster. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow gets some meaty moments in a role that easily could have become “window dressing.” Whedon’s writing and Johansson’s portrayal hint at a woman with a dark past and a very special skill-set, making her an asset to the team. She’s integral to assembling the Avengers, and also arguably the one hit the hardest when Loki alters key members of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was the biggest wildcard in this equation - a character that had been handled twice in two separate features, with two different actors, to underwhelming critical and box office success. Mark Ruffalo adds a layer of humanity and sweetness to Bruce Banner, giving even the CGI Hulk more depth by association. The true strength of THE AVENGERS is not fixed in its own glory; it actually manages to elevate all the previous Marvel film efforts. While IRON MAN 2 and THOR are weak links in this series, they needed to exist in order for these characters to end up together and for this villain to attack Earth.
Joss Whedon’s signature snappy dialogue and humor is abundant. I plan on re-watching THE AVENGERS when it opens this weekend, partly because the laughs and cheers from the audience drowned out so many great lines, moments and jokes when I screened it the first time. Words and barbs are quickly exchanged and I need to catch every moment: Between Steve Roger’s “fish out of water” lines, Hulk’s anger issues, and Iron Man’s narcissistic banter, there were far more reasons to laugh than I was initially expecting.
While it had more laughs than previous Marvel films, it also has more action too. While the first half of the film was spent putting all the pieces in place and literally assembling the Avengers team, when it came for the ultimate battle between Loki and his army versus our heroes, it did not disappoint. Whedon’s previous directorial effort, SERENITY, exposed his television roots with lots of close-up shots, making for some claustrophobic scene setting. But here, everything feels epic and grand. It’s precisely because of his TV history that he is the perfect candidate to handle this project - who else could have written and directed a storyline about a cast this large?
Recent action films have been criticized for the kind of shaky camerawork that doesn’t allow fight scenes and battles to shine (yes, I’m talking about THE HUNGER GAMES). THE AVENGERS features some of the best action work in years. Every fight reveals something about the characters involved, and is not just action for the sake of action. It all has purpose, therefore it’s directed in a way to showcase that. There’s one shot in particular that follows each of the heroes in battle that was just fantastic - we track Hawkeye’s shot past Iron Man, who flies by Hulk, who crashes through buildings next to Captain America, and so on and so forth. It was so engaging, watching these fights play out, that I may have forgotten to breathe for a minute there.
Don't let my gushing fool you, this film definitely has flaws. As previously mentioned, the first half is spent setting everything up, so it does drag on at times. Switching between the different assembly scenes, with their different tones, was also a little clunky. With so many characters, it’s no surprise that some of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents didn’t get as much depth or back story to truly understand these characters; this is especially true for Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Hawkeye. Also, the final catalyst that makes the Avengers put aside their differences to team up didn’t seem necessary to me. I won’t get in to spoilers, but the entire planet at stake should have been a big enough motivator for this group of already proclaimed heroes.
Finally, the battle of 3D vs. 2D continues. This was post-converted by the studio, I’m sure to try to rake in even more money, and they even created special Avengers glasses for each of the main heroes. THE AVENGERS isn't HUGO or AVATAR and the 3D element does not add anything to this already fantastic film. The special glasses, while cool collectibles for the die-hards out there, are worse than the usual movie theater sets. They were built to look cool, not to comfortably fit on your face for the full 2 hours and 20 minutes of the film.
See THE AVENGERS this weekend in 2D. Save the few extra dollars from the 3D ticket and use it to see it again. It’s a good time to be a geek, and this is Marvel Studio's crowning achievement.
Other articles that you might like:
Pingback: The Cheat Sheet: THE AVENGERS » GordonandtheWhale.com