Marvel’s The Avengers is the eagerly awaited convergence of the Marvel Studios superhero films, starting in 2008 with Iron Man and ending last summer with Captain America: The First Avenger. While it may not be appreciated or understood by those who have not seen the earlier films, and although it relies more on spectacle and less on plot, it’s nevertheless a fun and exciting action extravaganza – a comic book film in every sense. Having recently co-written and produced the highly overrated horror spoof The Cabin in the Woods, writer/director Joss Whedon delivers an entertaining escapist fantasy that’s just as funny as it is pulse-pounding. He also gives us plenty of eye candy, only some of which is enhanced by the film’s presentation in post-conversion 3D.
I have no baggage attached to the various characters or the comic books from which they came, so any potential observations or complaints that this movie is not faithful to its source material will fall on deaf ears. All I can respond to are the stories as they appeared on the big screen. Despite various writers, directors, and stylistic approaches, I’ve been pleased with the results. Even Thor, generally the least liked of the intertwined series, had just enough to earn my seal of approval. The standard was set with Iron Man, which remains the best of the Marvel series and still ranks as one of the greatest superhero films ever made. I think I was right in not expecting The Avengers to top it; it allowed me to enjoy the film for what it is and not for what it should be.
The plot revolves around the teaming of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), a recently unfrozen Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Dr. Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, the third actor to assume the role in the last ten years), the thunder god Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the skilled archer Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) under the supervision of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of a covert government organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. Essentially, the must save the world from Thor’s evil adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who plots to subjugate humanity by opening a wormhole and unleashing ruthless alien warriors. To achieve this goal, he must recapture a glowing blue cube known as the Tesseract, a powerful but potentially deadly energy source.
The rest is pretty much just window dressing. We have plenty comic book peril and violence; there’s hand-to-hand combat and laser blasts, exploding air freighters and smashing Hulks, hammering Thors and the devastation of Manhattan, which is essentially the go-to city for glorious destruction. We have floating monstrosities that look like giant eels clad in armor. We have numerous references to the previous Marvel films, including appearances by Gwyneth Paltrow, Clark Gregg, and Stellan Skarsgård (alas, Natalie Portman makes it in only as a portrait on a computer screen). We have mutual distrust amongst the Avengers and Fury’s hidden agenda. We have Loki acting like an arrogant dictator, forcing a large crowd of people to kneel before him. And yes, we even have a cameo appearance by Stan Lee.
Whedon has never been a master of dialogue, although his flippant style is perfectly suited for the Tony Stark character, who has always possessed a biting wit and a natural superiority complex. The rest of the characters sound a bit goofy, although I guess that was the intention. Consider Gregg’s character, Agent Phil Coulson; when he finally meets Steve Rogers in person, he drops his aloof mystique and becomes an excited fanboy eager to have his collection of Captain America trading cards autographed. This movie proves that visuals have always been Whedon’s strong suit. In the case of The Avengers, he uses them to evoke not only excitement but also a sense of humor; some of the funniest sight gags are reserved for the Incredible Hulk, who truly is only good for smashing things.
Movies like Marvel’s The Avengers are a unique marketing opportunity – a franchise assembled from other franchises that will itself inevitably spawn a new franchise. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. As long as I’m being entertained, it doesn’t matter to me how much a product is packaged, even if it comes within an inch of its life. I was very much entertained. Having said that, I can’t help but wonder how much mileage this series has left. Can five separate films and one convergence adequately serve as the basis for an Avengers sequel? Will the original five inspire any sequels of their own? Story wise, I find myself growing wary. The last thing I want is for all the fun to stop. One of the quickest ways to make that happen is to allow franchises to overstay their welcome.