Starring: Robert Downey Jr. , Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlet Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed: Joss Whedon
Written: Joss Whedon and Zak Penn
General fan furor, and the early word on the street, had it that Joss Whedon was set to bat it out of the park with The Avengers. A risky proposition from word “go”, The Avengers sought to do what no film or TV show has yet managed – teaming not two, but multiple iconic characters in one appealing, understandable (and reasonably lengthed) epic film. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a mess. Watchmen was a visually stunning, but thematically muddled, wreck. Fantastic Four, and it’s sequel, are best left unmentioned at all. Bring up Batman & Robin and get your wallet out to pay the dentist. Odds were not good coming out of the gate. The Marvel films leading in were so drastically different in flavor and scope (Iron Man was a rock & roll action extravaganza, Thor was a classically-wrought sci-fi Opera, Captain America was a patriotic blockbuster throw-back), how would anyone, even a tenured genre genius like Whedon, pull all of that together into a cohesive whole and pack it into a couple of interesting hours?
The same way he’s done innumerable times before – on Buffy, Firefly and every other project he’s dipped his toes in – let the characters live and play them off of each other.
By “live”, I mean he lets them breathe, roam and interact entirely according to their characters. Something sorely missing from most popular media these days. It used to be an actors stock-in-trade, embodying a character to the point that they would instinctually behave as if that character was a living, breathing person with a lifetime of influences and experiences. Staying true to character instead of true to character tropes or stereotypes. When you watch The Avengers, you get that old 70’s magic feeling. You’re not watching Chris Hemsworth, you’re not seeing ol’ pretty boy Evans… they ARE Thor and Cap. RDJ is Tony Stark, even more so than in the previous Iron Man films. Even Mark Ruffalo, coming late to the party in his first performance as Dr. Bruce Banner, aka The Incredible Hulk, manifests his character to the point that you forget everything else he’s done and see him purely as the reluctant scientist/juggernaut. There was not a single performance that fell flat here, and not a moment of characterization and team-building wasted. As always, Whedon keeps a tight ship and uses the strengths of everyone involved.
Being a Joss Whedon joint, you are all, doubtless, waiting to hear which of the main characters pays the ultimate price in the name of motivation and sentimentality. I ain’t tellin’.
What I will say is that this movie kicked the tires and lit the fires. There was raucous laughter, shocked silence, cheers, jeers and applause, in all the right places, like I have not heard in a crowded theatre in more than a decade. The 3D effects are used to better effect than any film I’ve yet seen in the format. The action is amazing, the finale is stunning, the emotional notes are all played with effortless precision. This is damn near as perfect as it could have been, and sets up a sequel in the very best of ways, with one of the best villains possible. ‘Nuff said on that front.
Cameos, you ask? I’m sure I might have missed one or two, but Powers Booth, Big Stan and especially the legendary Harry Dean Stanton were all very welcome surprises, and perennial cutie Ashley Johnson (Yes, Chrissie Seaver is in The Avengers. Suck on that Kirk Cameron, you nutjob.) is a saved citizen that drives home the emotional message of the film. These are heroes, in the epic… mythic even… sense of the word. They are not here for themselves. They are not here for glory or show or to be the coolest badass on the block. They are here to give what they have to, because nobody else can do it.
Last thing I’m going to say… while we’ve seen great things from the Iron Man franchise, from the Cap movie and Thor, this flick ends up being completely OWNED by the Hulk. And it is about goddamned time. HULK SMASH! Will be the call to arms for years to come.
Whedon gets an A++ for this one, as do every single one of the people involved.
Get out there, get lined up and get it on.
In the words of my thoroughly face-melted, mind-blown six year-old:
“This may be the greatest movie I’ve ever seen.”