Well, I am thrilled to report that the gamble that Marvel took with this plan has paid off and paid off big. The Avengers is a hell of a summer blockbuster film and definitely is much more than the sum of its individual franchises.
Asgardian god Loki (Tom Hiddletson) is anxious to get revenge on his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and aligns himself with a mysterious benefactor for the services of an alien army to lay waste to Thor’s favorite place, Earth. Naturally, this doesn’t sit too well with Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), the head of the super spy agency SHIELD, who assembles the world’s most powerful superheroes to stop him including the aforementioned Thor, billionaire Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), World War Two supersoldier Captain America (Chris Evan) only recently reawakened from seven decades in suspended animation, scientist Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who has a rather powerful alter ego and to SHIELD assassins (Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner). However, with that many Type-A personalities in the room together, Loki has little trouble in goading them into quarreling with each other rather than uniting against his plans. But the arrival of Loki’s army in the skies above midtown Manhattan galvanizes our heroes to action against the invading hordes in a finale that is one of the best sustained action sequences seen in quite some time.
Outside of J J Abrams’s recent Star Trek franchise reboot, I can’t think of a writer/director who had a tougher remit than what Joss Whedon faced with this film. He had to balance the concerns of several franchises as well as their stars as well as pick up several pre-existing story threads while still make the film accessible to audiences who haven’t seen the previous installments. Whedon does it in a way that makes it look remarkably easy. (Although not necessary, one will get a greater appreciation of some story elements if they’ve seen last summer’s Thor and Captain America.)
Of course, Whedon is able to draw on his experience as the creator of the television series Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, all of which excelled at character group dynamics. Our heroes aren’t necessarily inclined to play well together and that comes from how well Whedon’s script handles each character, which roots each conflict in their various backgrounds and personality and never for the need just to have a clash between characters.
Surprisingly, the advertisements for the film have heavily featured footage form the film’s climactic and action-packed third act. But all of those cool moments that are highlighted are only a small fraction of what that twenty-five minute sequence has to offer. Staging a battle sequence like this one takes a lot of work and Whedon brings the goods. Michael Bay mounted a similar urban battle between science-fiction heroes in the recent Transformers 3, but his battle in downtown Chicago was a messily conceived affair. Here, Whedon delivers a sequence with much cleaner action, including a couple of shots that place us in the action in markedly different ways. And of course Whedon demonstrates that he is the master of punctuating the drama with just the right amount of comic relief.
Now granted this is not high art, though now that I think of it, if anyone were to make a superhero version of My Dinner With Andre, I would want it to be Whedon. It is however, great popcorn and perhaps the most perfect summer movie we’ve seen in quite a long time.
But for all the things that The Avengers get right, there are a few minor missteps. Whedon gives Cobie Smulders a nice action scene at the beginning of the film but then relegates her for the rest of the film to standing around in the background shouting information from and reacting to readouts on computer displays. The 3D is serviceable enough for a post-production conversion but doesn’t really add too much to the proceedings. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Alan Silvestri’s score, which is not very memorable. And when a movie like this gets the adrenaline pumping, you want something to hum on your way out of the theater. Unfortunately, the score doesn’t provide that.
Quibbles aside, The Avengers is just wall-to-wall action, thrills and fun. Marvel is going to have to work hard in the next phase of their cinematic plans to build off of what they’ve given us here. And as any comics fan can explain to you if you didn’t get it, the tease at the end of the film promises that they are certainly going to swing for the fences again with the inevitable Avengers 2. And this time I have absolutely no doubt that they will hit it out of the park.