As a DC Comics fan, at least until lately when they unnecessarily rebooted their entire line, I was always hoping to see a Justice League film on the big screen. Alas, it looks like that won’t be happening for a long time. The Avengers will do very nicely however. Effectively, it is now the template for superhero films, and more specifically superhero team films. It embraces the wonder of world ending danger, cool costumes and memorable characters with unabashed fervour. Ah, to think how far we’ve come since the first X-Men film, with their black leather outfits.
I saw this at a midnight premiere and the place was packed, including audience members resembling a female Loki, Captain America, Thor, Wasp, Black Widow and an Iron Man with a cardboard helmet. The last time I experienced such united enthusiasm in a cinema was when I saw Star Wars Episode 1. However, at least The Avengers deserves it, and exceeds the hype. There was joyful applause as the familiar Marvel logo opened the film, and when Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) first arrived on the screen, there was even more applause. And the laughs. Wow. There’s more laughs in this than a Judd Apatow movie. Surprisingly, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) get the two biggest guffaws in the 140 minute film, but most other characters get their time to bring the chuckles too.
This is what a cinematic experience should be like. I think we were also amongst the first people to see the third The Dark Knight Rises trailer (it looked new to me), although it still isn’t getting me excited, but thankfully villain Bane’s distorted speech issues have been fixed and his menacing, Batman breaking tone is now crystal clear.
Writer and director Joss Whedon was made for this film, having written Marvel comics Astonishing X-Men, and Runaways over the years and as a unabashed fanboy, he knows what us comics readers are after, although The Avengers isn’t steeped in in-jokes to make it inaccessible to those who aren’t comics enthusiasts, but if you are curious about these characters, check out the first two awesome volumes of The Ultimates comics by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch.
Whedon is a master storyteller and has loyal fans for a reason. From creating and guiding Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Dollhouse, Whedonites will know what to expect here. There’s the aforementioned laughs, tied to some great emotional character moments, there are females who are more than just eye candy while the boys do all the fighting, and there is an end of the world threat that amps up the drama and tension. Most of the latter is initially displayed as the team is assembled. Iron Man is the central player, while Thor and Hulk show up later, but Hulk’s alter ego (played wonderfully skittishly by Ruffalo) Bruce Banner has a lot of screen time too. Whedon knows who these superheroes are and infuses the dialogue with their personalities. Captain America’s old time values, Iron Man’s witty, casual charm, Thor’s bemusement at his team-mates, and the shared history between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is handled superbly, with great emotion. It’s clear that these two non-powered heroes have an interesting intertwined past, just like in the comics.
There’s no need to see the previous so-called films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that began with 2008’s Iron Man, but you will need a basic understanding of who these characters are, and being familiar with the events of Thor will help. Captain America is the only character to receive a brief origin recap, but the rest of the team will be known to most viewers. There’s no need to see the 3D version of The Avengers. It’s incorporated nicely, but you’ll barely notice why you’re wearing the fancy glasses.
Within the opening minutes, the Chitauri alien race is revealed, as is Thor’s half brother Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) plan to use them to dominate us pesky humans as, in his demented mind, freedom is an annoying desire and we’d be much better of without it.
The whole alien race aspect is handled well, especially considering after a handful of Marvel films, the subject has never been broached, although I guess Thor’s film comes closest, with the Nine Realms concept.
The action in these films will never really match what the comics can do with an unlimited budget, but this is perhaps the closest Hollywood has come to replicating Earth’s devastation, or rather New York’s devastation. Before we get to the Chitauri vs The Avengers battle though, there are more than enough fisticuffs and gunplay. We see Hawkeye fighting Black Widow, Thor, Iron Man and Captain America facing off against one another, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) versus a plane, and Hulk versus pretty much anything that moves. The action scenes are never pointless and always serve to drive the story forward. The finale is stunning, and it’s awesome to see Whedon finally unleashed on a big budget epic. There’s a singular tracking shot through the skies of New York that is truly worthy of superheroism.
There’s enough nuggets to keep Marvel fans happy, with both Stark Tower and the Helicarrier making their debuts, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo (close to the end), and the inclusion of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and S.H.I.E.L.D Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), and like all of the previous Marvel films, there is an extra scene after the credits. Thankfully though, this bonus appears after the brief main end credits so you don’t have to sit through 10 minutes of scrolling names. It is worth staying for, and anyone who’s familiar with Marvel’s cosmic villains will know who shows his face.
There’s also a couple of Biblical references which was nice. Thanks Whedon! This is the best version of Hulk on the big screen too. He’s genuinely menacing and as most others will say, will probably serve as the breakout character. It’s hard not to see Hulk do his thing and be taken aback by the sheer coolness of it all. Expect to see more Hulk t-shirts in the coming weeks.
It’s difficult to say anything more than, “see this film, as this is how superhero movies should be made,” as it deserves to be enjoyed as a cinematic experience. So – see this film.