A year ago, I didn’t have any intention of watching The Avengers having grown tired of the Marvel super hero movie factory that has rolled out an exhaustive twenty six films since they struck box office gold with X-Men back in 2000.
I ended up being reeled in by a combination of promising early reviews and a public holiday with poor weather and not much to do. After the screening, I spoke to my brother-in-law and we both agreed The Avengers was a spot of fun and we’re happy to see Joss Whedon finally attain some success in reaching a wider audience. He just needed a mega-budget super hero ensemble movie five years in the making to find it!
The Avengers ties together (most of) the stars from Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and Thor with only Edward Norton failing to return to reprise his role. Our heroes are united by Nick Fury of the government agency S.H.I.E.L.D to help fight the demigod Loki who has designs on ruling Earth by opening a portal to a planet full of aliens that look like they escaped from Gears of War.
The film is a Marvel comic fan’s dream project and Whedon gives his core audience plenty of fan service. Before The Avengers unite to battle the invading aliens, they take turns fighting one another in assorted variations of The Irrestistable Force meeting The Immovable Object. There are also plenty of cameos plus winks and nods in the dialogue to Marvel lore.
Joss Whedon’s fingerprints are all over this film. It has a much lighter tone than the more recent Marvel films and is better for it. The dialogue in this film is delivered in his trademark writing style with plenty of one-liners, pop culture references and self-deprecating humour. Everyone gets a turn to play wiseguy and its a sight to see lines that could be taken straight out of the mouthes of Xander and Willow being spoken instead by Scarlett Johanssen and Robert Downey Jr.
Another notable improvement that Whedon brings to the Marvel production is greater attention and characterisation for the women in the film (unlike Thor and Captain America which basically had love interests with no discernible personality traits). The Black Widow is given far more backstory than I anticipated and even minor characters such as the female S.H.I.E.L.D agents get involved in the action and aren’t just there to be eye candy.
At nearly two and a half hours long, The Avengers is sort of like the Gone With The Wind of superhero films. The film is given plenty of time to establish the characters and the threat before delivering an entertaining final showdown in New York.
Whedon’s background working in television is noticable in this final act where he opts to use some strangely claustrophobic and tight camera angles to portray the Avengers in action when you’d think the spectacle that he has created – a giant portal unleashing flying aliens into New York – would call for more than just the single longshot of the cityscape that made it into the final film.
Despite this constrained vision, it is still a thrilling climax which really lets the heroes show off their powers in a manner that will excite everyone’s inner ten year old. Hulk gets to smash buildings real good. Thor gets to fling Moljnir with wild abandon. Hawkeye does some of the best no-look arrow shots since Legolas. You get the idea.
If there’s one thing I’d nitpick about The Avengers, its the villain Loki. I’ll say up front that I haven’t read the Thor comics so I have no idea if Tom Hiddleston is channeling the original character but when I think of the idea of a trickster demigod…he’s not it. He seems too poe-faced and dull. He’s described in the script as being a crazed madman by the Avengers but he’s no Joker. He certainly didn’t feel like a credible challenge for The Avengers and he’s not as fun as some of the best superhero villains. I’ve read plenty of reviews where fans have called him a highlight in the film so I might be alone on that thought however.
At the end of the day, there is plenty to like about The Avengers. It’s a chance for Whedon to shine in the spotlight. If the Australia opening day is any indication, this film is going to make a squillion dollars at the box office and I couldn’t be happier for the guy. It’s a lot more entertaining and tongue-in-cheek that last year’s Marvel films and the action sequences are a sight to behold. This film is far, far better than I thought it would be and is hopefully a sign that future Marvel projects might experience an upswing in quality after a few lacklustre years.