Calling The Avengers the best comic book film of all time or the perfect comic book film is a bit unfair, especially with The Dark Knight on the table. But it is a great film that captures the spirit of the Marvel film franchise perfectly. Every thing that makes the Marvel films so great is exemplified here.
Rich gave a rundown of the plot in his review, and adding any more here would send us into spoiler territory. So I’ll just get into my review.
One of the reasons why Marvel comic book adaptations are so successful and most DC Comics adaptations are not is because the Marvel franchise is a sterling example of serving the comic book fan while presenting a quality film for the uninitiated.
The fan service begins immediately with the setting for the first scene, which is a research facility many comic book fans will be familiar. But it builds from there. This is not a spoiler, because the scene is references in the ads for the film, but there is the trademark hero-fighting-hero scene in the film. As any Marvel Zombie would tell you, more often than not, when two Marvel heroes met for the first time, a misunderstanding would cause them to beat the snot out of each other before realizing they are on the same side.
There is also another hero versus hero battle that is a classic chestnut from the comics. Many of the characters have connections with each other that mirror their connections in the books. And unlike other franchises that like to split up the team so they fight each bad guy individually (*koff koff* X-Men*koff koff*), in this one, the team actually acts as the team in the climax, all working together to bring the bad guys down.
But Joss Whedon never loses sight that if the film is going to be successful, it has to be accessible for the non-comic book fans. In other words, it needs interesting characters and it needs to tell an interesting story.
I have to echo Rich’s kudos to Whedon for skill on getting the most out of an ensemble cast. Each character has a chance to shine and each has an arc through out the film. Granted, the time to shine for characters like Thor and Captain America, whose individual films are fresh in the memory, and Hawkeye, due to plot requirements, might seem less than the time Banner/Hulk or Black Widow get, no one appears to be a third wheel.
Sidebar on the Black Widow. Relegated to a supporting character in Iron Man 2, she is the breakout character here. People seem to forget how good an actress Scarlett Johansson can be, but she gives her all in the role. I want a Black Widow film, directed by Whedon, now.
Johansson isn’t the only stellar performance in the film. All the actors do a great job in their performances, especially Mark Ruffalo. It’s not easy stepping in a role that has been made famous by three other actors in the last forty years, including an actor he controversally replaced, but Whedon’s decision to go with Ruffalo over Edward Norton makes sense. Ruffalo adds layers to Bruce Banner, nuances that can only be truly appreciated upon repeat viewings after you are informed of a third-act plot point about the character.
The only weak point of the cast, as Rich mentioned, is Cobie Smulders, who, quite frankly, appears to be a bit out of her depth. Her performance doesn’t take away from the film–her Maria Hill exists only to be an exposition engine, the character who asks questions necessary for another character say something that advances the plot. In this function, her hesitant line readings can be written off as “characterization.” But until this realization takes hold, she seems to be just a bit off in her role.
It’s hard for me to say whether or not you need to see all the other Marvel films to truly enjoy this one because, well, I have seen all the other Marvel films. But it does appear that Whedon made the effort to provide enough about the characters so newcomers will not be totally lost. And the writer has peppered the script with plenty of his trademark zingers, all of which should generate a chuckle or a guffaw.
The Avengers is a great film, another in a long line from Marvel. I am curious to see where Marvel goes from here and if the quality stays the same. But you should go see this film. And if you do, stick around until the very end of the credits, because there are two bonus scenes.