Marvel’s The Avengers is extraordinary, a monumental accomplishment of super heroic proportions. Director Joss Whedon has done the impossible, bringing together four independent franchises (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America) into a single cohesive whole. The Avengers is a better film with the heroes together than any single film with the each hero standing alone. It is quite a remarkable achievement. The film balances perfectly choreographed action, whimsical humor, a large cast and brilliant character development, all in glorious widescreen 3D. The Avengers is now unequivocally the best superhero film yet committed to film. It may not be as dramatic and emotionally intense as The Dark Knight, but it arguably captures the nature and appeal of the comic book medium and the superheroes that populate their four-color pages as successfully as any other of its ilk. The Avengers is rousing, action-packed, and entertaining beyond belief.
Joss Whedon captures the super hero movie like no other. Sam Raimi came close with Spider-Man 2, as did Matthew Vaughn with X-Men: First Class. In fact, The Avengers in the hands of Whedon is very much a cross of these two films thematically. Whedon masterfully, thoughtfully, effortlessly, combines the extreme heroic action with subtle character work. Each character gets their moment. Tony Stark questions his own selfish approach to life and heroism. Steve Rogers grows past his personal loss, both in time and in purpose, to become the leader. Thor battles the conflict with Loki being both his brother and his enemy. Bruce Banner comes to terms with the hulking beast within him. Other characters shine under Whedon’s guidance as well: Black Widow gains a personality and ambition; Agent Coulson gains a first name (Phil) and becomes more important and human; Loki exercises his devilish smile and influence over his surroundings and battles his own megalomaniacal tendencies. While Whedon wows and stuns the audience with every astonishing action powered mountain, he charms and entertains with every character driven valley. The Avengers may be the most perfectly balanced action film because of Whedon’s obvious love, respect and understanding of the characters, superheroes and the medium.
Each actor brings their “A” game to The Avengers as well. And, they never once steal the thunder from their co-stars. Downey, Evans, Ruffalo and Hemsworth are as much a team for Whedon as Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor are for Nick Fury as the Avengers. Robert Downey Jr. bring his familiar flamboyance to Stark, but also displays a stronger depth to the character than in the previous two Iron Man films. Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth continue developing their roles as well each becoming more accustomed to the modern world. Mark Ruffalo, the third actor to star as Bruce Banner, excels as the scientist struggling to hold back the beast. He brings the role a sharper edge and a more comfortable intelligence under Whedon’s pen. Remarkably, Tom Hiddleston manages to play opposite the entire cast as Loki holding his own admirably. Where he may lack a fully developed motivation for his attacking and conquering Earth, Hiddleston brings a convincing and menacing determination to the character that provides the characters actions an authentic villainous drive. And it’s all due to what Hiddleston brings to the role. When it all clicks and gels, it is rousing.
The supporting cast get their moments as well, most notably Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. She quickly illustrates why she is a master spy, a strength, power, and intelligence that should not be ignored; but, later, she struggles with realizing that she is out-gunned and out-powered by the super power heroes surrounding her. Yet, she does not back down, she stands and fights along with the best of them. Whedon and Johansson take the walk-on role from Iron Man 2 and flesh the role out to be as strong, if not stronger, character than the franchise leading roles next to her. Samuel L. Jackson finally gets to delve into the Nick Fury role, with much more to do than the walk on bits in the previous films. Here he shows the leadership and cunning that he’s been promising since the ending of Iron Man. The stand out performer however is Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, who gets to show his softer and stronger sides during the film. His personality is much different beside Captain America and Thor than it is along side Iron Man. His admiration of Steve Rogers humanizes the character and places him directly in the audience’s mindset. Later, when facing Loki alone, he displays a strength only hinted at with his cameos in the previous films. Where he was a fun curiosity before, here he is a fully developed and beloved addition to the Avengers storyline.
The Avengers is yet another Marvel film post converted for 3D. Previously Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger blazed the trail for Marvel’s 3D entries, each with own successes and failures in the process. Captain America: The First Avenger is their best example. The Avengers delivers on the promise of these efforts. Whedon has a careful eye for the visuals and surroundings in respect to depth. In most every scene, where-ever possible, there is something in the foreground: a column, a character, a smoke trail or a villain flying by. When Iron Man first appears, he flies off to the cityscape in the distance, and the scene is spectacular in 3D. The scene where Loki challenges Black Widow’s attempt to plead for Hawkeye’s freedom while trapped in a cage, the class wall becomes a third character separating them. The battle between Thor and Iron Man in the forest is sensational with the added depth. When the Hulk smashes through the hellicarrier chasing down Black Widow, the 3D magnifies the enormity of the Hulk’s rampage as he bursts through the support beams standing in his way. The final battle scene where Loki’s army attacks New York City is simply incredible. No other converted 3D film has looked this good. While the film doesn’t depend on the 3D, it’s presence certainly amplifies the action and heroics giving the film an added scope.
The Avengers is a milestone in modern cinema, a grand time in the theater. It pays equal attention to the action and the characters. It respects the heroes, the audience and the source material. It’s a film that shouldn’t have worked but does in an undeniably sensational way. Each character gets a chance to shine and grow. And the actors behind the heroes make the most of their time, but not a single actor, instead as a team, as an ensemble. The effects and action are superior and the collective experience is rewarding. Whedon is crafty in balancing the narrative and humor to keep the exposition lively and entertaining. He smartly focuses on the heroes struggle to unite instead of the actual battle between the heroes and the villains. Surprisingly, The Avengers as a film works far better than “The Avengers” as a comic ever has. Where the comic is more literal about the heroes joining together to battle evil, in the film, it’s about the heroes being as heroic as their namesakes, living up to their reputations and powers, putting aside their differences, fears and egos for the better of humanity. It works. The Avengers is a runaway success, one that demands to be seen again and again.