Warning: Minor spoilers. I do references specific scenes from the movie, but nothing major.
HARK, True Believers, and let me tell you a story. It’s a simple story, one of raw power and potential, where Good comes together against Evil and drives it back for another day. It’s the original story of the Avengers, straight from their first appearance in comics.
There came a day (unlike any other), when Loki, the Norse god of mischief, unleashed a series of machinations, starting with a clash between the Hulk and Thor. Other heroes got involved by chance or by fate, figured out what was going on, and finally stopped him. On that day they came together as a team, and the Avengers were born.
Since those original comics came out, there’ve been many iterations of the story. Significantly, there was Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates, the Ultimate Marvel version of The Avengers. It even provided the source material for the enemy alien armada in the movie, the Chitauri. In a way, The Ultimates was the kick in the pants that started the whole Marvel Avengers movie franchise rolling. So given all that history, where does this movie stand?
First of all, its credentials are impeccable. The story has Joss Whedon’s imprint all over it—the snarky humour, the really fun moments, the horror and the Big Bad (and the hints of the Bigger Bad). Oh, and let’s not forget the destruction of, and escape from, the SHIELD base in the beginning—a nod to the destruction of the Hellmouth in the series finale of Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That was awesome
The screenplay is by Zak Penn, who’s done really good work recently—to me, most notably in his new (and returning) show Alphas, which is like a modern, grounded-in-reality version of X-MEN.
The ensemble cast plays really well off of each other, in a way a lot of ensembles haven’t been able to; their egos and personalities, their senses of humour and honour, shine through; and under Whedon’s guiding hand, through all their neuroses and bickering, they keep a laser-like focus on driving the story forward.
The story: there were many moments that were laugh-out-loud funny—e.g. when Captain America shows a bunch of hardened NYC cops why they should take orders from him. There were moments when I cheered—e.g. when Iron Man shows up in Stuttgart to take down Loki. Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark provides the attitude and AC/DC’s Shoot to Thrill provides the soundtrack. Awesome!
On a side note, when they first announced the original Iron Man movie, I was rooting for Leonardo DiCaprio to play Tony Stark. The character was literally based off Howard Hughes (notice how Tony Stark father’s name is Howard) and DiCaprio had proven he could pull off Howard Hughes. But three movies later, I’m solidly in the RDJr camp. He’s proven himself, and not just because of the moments when he’s funny and eccentric, but especially in the moments when he’s dead serious.
As for the characters: I won’t do a headcount (I’ll let Tony Stark do that), but it’s being said that Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk provided the heart of the movie. Absolutely true. The wry humour and sarcasm, the world-weary cynic mixed with the eager scientist playing with new gadgets, Ruffalo’s Banner shows us all these sides of the character. As the Hulk, he shows us something almost elemental: rage personified, quick and unexpected as lightning, a force of nature, but ultimately a personality, a man struggling to do what’s right through the thick red haze of anger.
There was plenty of meat in all the characters; there were moments that showed that Joss Whedon gets them all. Take Captain America, Steve Rogers. A man who must feel like he’s suddenly time-travelled 70 years into the future, he’s looking for anything that’ll give him a connection to the past and the present. He doesn’t get most of the pop-culture references spouted off rapid-fire by the rest of the Avengers and SHIELD agents, but when he does, he has one of those ‘A-ha!’ moments that tell him this is still his own world.
Take Tony Stark. What’s the first thing this cynical technologist does when he comes aboard the SHIELD Helicarrier, Nick Fury’s flying fortress and repository of some of the best-kept secrets outside the Vatican? His actions are so quintessentially Tony Stark, they’re almost predictable.
Take the Black Widow. Much of her past is a mystery. In the comics, she’s a lot like a Russian version of Wolverine, given what was done to her by her government. She’s someone who’s trying to make amends; she’s a master spy—clever enough to outwit the god of mischief at his own game. All of these things are hinted at, and shown in her scenes. Every scene she’s given is used to the maximum.
And of course, take Loki. Disgruntled, and carrying a grievance the size of a kingdom, Loki comes to Earth with a plan to take away the world his brother loves and protects. He wants to ‘free’ people from the ‘tyranny’ of freedom—brilliant and twisted; something only Loki’s warped mind could conceive. The size of his ego, and his giant psychotic need for recognition, are such that one after the other, the Avengers and SHIELD big guns profile him and start figuring out his plays. Agent Coulson delivers what I think is the best line in the movie (and that’s saying something) when he explains to Loki why he won’t win.
If there was one character whose essence didn’t come out in the movie, I’d have to say it was Maria Hill. I know a lot of fans were excited to see this relatively new character (in the comics) make the transition to the big screen for the first time, but Maria Hill is literally supposed to have learned spycraft and attitude at the Nick Fury school of badass; she wasn’t really given an opportunity to show that here, maybe given the fact that Agent Coulson seemed to be performing the second-in-command duties in this movie. Oh well, maybe in the next one.
Speaking of Nick Fury’s second-in-command, one character who was rather conspicuously missing from this iteration of SHIELD was Dum-Dum Dugan; especially given that he’d been in the Captain America movie of last year. I guess they would have had a hard time explaining Dugan’s (and then Fury’s) seeming eternal youth (or at least their eternal non-retirement), something they still haven’t explained in the main Marvel comics storyline, as far as I’m aware.
I’ll skip the main plotline and results (the Avengers save the day, what’d you expect), and jump to the delicious little end-of-credits teaser. Let me take a moment here to cackle madly with glee while I tell you, True Believers, that if they carry through with what they’ve shown there (and history says they will), then the Avengers will be going intergalactic, interdimensional, inter-timeline and possibly exploring the boundaries between life and death! *cackle*
Verdict: Loved it. And Long Live Joss Whedon!