It’s not at all surprising that Marvel’s The Avengers quickly smashed box-office records on its opening weekend – there have been no less than six films before it acting as extended commercials. That’s not meant to diminish the strengths of Iron Man or Captain America, nor lay further punishment on the Hulk movies. We’ve simply been chomping at the bit for years to see these diverse superheroes come together in the same story. And I’m very happy to report that the wait was well worth it.
Director Joss Whedon, with co-writer Zak Penn, has assembled a film worthy of any of the classic Avengers comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This is no mean feat, considering the variables that have been lined up against him, not the least of which is the sheer number of characters. The main members of the Avengers Initiative include Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They’re backed up by numerous agents of the super-secret spy organization known as SHIELD, including Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the ubiquitous Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). And that’s before we even get to the bad guys, chief among them Thor’s Asgardian brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), set to release an alien army upon the Earth with the help of a mystical cube called The Tesseract.
Countless action franchises have lost focus and momentum with bloated casts, but here, Whedon and Penn have found a remarkable balance. Every hero gets moments to shine, and very little feels tacked on just to give a lesser character something to do. That balance extends to the performances, as well. It would be quite easy for strong and charismatic actors like Downey or Jackson to overwhelm the rest, but somehow they don’t, and this is achieved without decreasing their amount of screen time. They simply fit in as slightly more flamboyant members of the ensemble.
While we’re discussing actors, it’s Ruffalo who’s the big surprise here. New to the role of Bruce Banner, he nails the sheer exhaustion of a man who must constantly keep himself in check or risk releasing the green-skinned monster he can only call “The Other Guy”. He provides an unusual amount of depth to the character, mixing grim determination with a dry wit.
The main story is admittedly rather generic, but it’s enlivened by creators who understand comics and can bring those elements to the screen. The Avengers spend as much time (or more) fighting each other as they do their enemies, entertaining but never quite satisfying fanboy debates over who would beat who in a fight. These sequences are so engaging you hardly notice them as stalls in the progression of the plot. There are also big, big laughs here, often commenting on the many absurdities of these costumed heroes, to keep the tone light and the pace brisk, even at a hefty running time of well over two hours. (And you’re well-advised to stay in your seat until the very end of the credits, for a throwaway moment so elegant in its simplicity that it’s one of the film’s best gags.)
In a summer filled with blockbuster comics movies, The Avengers has set the bar very high indeed. Excelsior!
Tags: movie review