Review: Marvel’s The Avengers
Previously, on The Avengers.
You have to hand it to Kevin Feige. There’s no reason six different films from five different directors with five different writing teams should work as a cohesive body of work. Setting all of these stories within the same universe and having them work under the same rules, all complimenting each other in aesthetic and theme is an absurd undertaking. One writer-director can barely pull this off. And yet here we stand, Marvel’s The Avengers opening across the globe, and with much thanks to Joss Whedon, pulling it off with literal flying colors.
The Avengers initiative (and I’m talking about making the movies themselves not the parallel assemblage of super heroes within the movies) is more than just a franchise or string of sequels. In many ways it’s a mega-franchise that directly evokes the medium from which it’s adapted. Warner Brothers was bold in their choice of Alfonso Cuaron for the 3rd Harry Potter film. He elevated and widened the series while bringing his own much needed talent. The WB unfortunately never followed up on their boldness, as that was the last daring choice that series truly saw. Marvel took this approach a step further, realizing that each of their heroes, while tied, would need a distinct and appropriate voice. As a body, this decision worked in spades; all stand on their own but contribute to the grand scheme storytelling they were shooting for. And boy, does it come together.
Though it’s a loud, raucous action film, The Avengers actually makes the audience feel smart. (Which is largely why it’s a geek magnet and such a pleasurable experience.) The film never blasts you over the head with the background details from the previous movies. They’re there, but subtly laid. Instead, the audience is left to recall what happened in the past and put the dots together themselves. This is what makes hunting easter eggs and finding hidden references so fun. Knowing the characters’ backstories shades their choices and gives everything more depth than what meets the eye. You see this all the time in television, and it works wonders for Marvel here. (Double all that if you’ve read the comics).
But where would any of this be without Joss Whedon. Whedon’s particular brand is all over this film. From snappy, referential dialogue to sudden death to grand, imaginative set pieces, you can tell he is responsible for much of The Avengers' success. The movie is as funny as it is exciting. You'd think with a plethora of super heroes and ancillary characters, some would go under utilized and forgotten. That's simply not the case. Every character gets a shining memorable moment and like their individual films works towards the cohesive whole. He even makes excellent use out of Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow.
Now more than ever, Joss Whedon has proven himself as a master of pop culture and genre storytelling. He makes stepping into the shoes of 5 previous directors and writers seem like a cake walk and manages to make all of their work look better in the process. On almost every level, he just gets it.
But such a task is not without its pitfalls, and I would be remiss not to mention its simplistic plot made to feel complicated and its forgettable villain army. The story of The Avengers is actually fairly straightforward. Loki has teamed up with the space-meanies, the Chitauri, to conquer Earth, meanwhile S.H.I.E.L.D. is harvesting the power of the magical-energy source, the Tesseract, Loki steals it so he can bring the Chitauri to Earth, Nick Fury assembles The Avengers to fight him, they fight each other, they put their differences aside, you know the rest. In the film this is much more drawn out and grandiose, without really needing to be. On the Chitauri, they’re given no backstory and no motivation, they’re literally faceless, angry aliens and it’s a detriment to the otherwise shaded story. Loki stands in and is compelling but the audience is aware that he’s a pawn and doesn’t learn much about the Chitauri or their leader. That lack-of-knowledge-makes-the-audience-feel-smart thing can be a double edged sword.
American audiences get not one but two post credit scenes - a welcome tradition for Marvel, which has now bled into almost every major movie. (I never leave before the credits are done anymore, no matter what the film is.) The former appeals only to Marvel comic fans and may come as a disappointment to casual viewers, while the latter shot but 3 weeks ago (all the way at the end of the credits) is genuinely hilarious and trademark Joss. As a side note, the 9:40 am audience I saw it with was the most excited, enthusiastic audience I have ever witnessed in a theater. One Hulk moment in particular, during the film’s climactic battle, had people on their feet cheering. If that’s any indication, this is unbridled movie going pleasure and no matter where Marvel and Disney take their mega-franchise from here, they can at least relish the fact that they pulled off something unprecedented.