Dir. by Joss Whedon - 2 hrs. 23 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
Long-term planning is both difficult, and impressive when it actually comes off. If you want to count Ang Lee's "Hulk," which came out in 2003, Marvel Comics has been working towards this film for nearly a decade. That's an incredible amount of patience and planning, but again, when it works, you've got a real gem on your hands.
On the off chance that you're not familiar with The Avengers, it's based on a comic book that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby co-created in the early 1960's (although Captain America was created around twenty years before that by Kirby and Joe Simon). At least in this movie, the team of super-heroes (TM Marvel Comics and DC Comics, and no, I'm not kidding about that) is comprised of Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), under the leadership of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D., which is a super-secret spy organization. We've met most of these characters in the series of movies leading up to "The Avengers," but even if we hadn't, they're all introduced well here.
The action kicks off when Loki (Thor's adopted, insanely-jealous brother, played by Tom Hiddleston) drops in on Earth, and steals a powerful device called the Tesseract. Loki intends to trade the device to the leader of an alien army, who will then help enslave Earth. This is largely a ploy to get back at Thor, as he's taken a liking to Earth. Nick Fury's been planning for such a situation, and calls the Avengers in to retrieve the Tesseract. If you know much about the characters involved, them acting like a team is not natural to anyone. The whole thing comes down to the Avengers defending the city of New York against Loki and his alien hordes. If that sounds like a rather slight basis for a movie, I'd say two things. First, you're dealing with about eight characters who have roughly equal billing, and secondly, it's an action movie. I'm not talking about the details of the action because my words don't have muscles and special effects and loud bangs. Just trust that the action fills in the gaps nicely.
One of the things that makes "The Avengers" so much fun is the constant ego-clashing. There are three characters present who have already had their own excellent feature-films (and Hulk, who had two uneven films), and it would stand to reason that Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America all have their own well-defined personalities and quirks, and are largely unaccustomed to having to accommodate others. They have to earn each other's respect first, and before that happens, there are constant verbal barbs between them, and one spectacular physical showdown that only proves that none of them can punch their way out of having to deal with one another. There's also a story between Black Widow and Hawkeye (who is entranced by Loki in their initial battle, and spends a chunk of the film fighting on Loki's side), the closest thing to a love story (albeit a very unsentimental one) here. For fans who have seen the previous films, the characters all behave just like you'd expect them to (which is difficult when dealing with this many people), and the fireworks that ensue are a huge chunk of what's great here.
And yes, the action here is very satisfying. There are a lot of spectacular sights, and the extended battle sequence in New York is fantastic. In lesser films, I'm becoming numb to the city-wide destruction thing; in the trailers before "The Avengers" alone, there were two movies using the same idea. And that doesn't even include recent films like the "Transformers" series, "Battle: Los Angeles," or even "Fast Five," where Rio takes a hellacious beating. People who are squeamish about seeing New York get attacked on-screen clearly haven't been watching many action films; this is the standard action movie trope that's getting violently humped into the ground just like the "baddie with a super-virus" plot that was inescapable about ten to fifteen years ago. So on it's own, that aspect is neither a positive nor a negative (but I'm warning you, filmmakers, this idea is tap-dancing on the border of played out), but it's what is done with it that matters.
The real story here is not about a battle, it's about a group of people with extraordinary abilities setting aside their egos in order to work together to achieve something that one person can't achieve on their own. How bipartisan! There are bumps and bruises along the way to achieving that (and the interactions between Cap and Iron Man directly address that), but this is a movie about the need for cooperation (in the way that the Batman movies are about dealing with terrorism) between diametrically opposed forces. The message isn't heavy-handed, but when you've got a dyed-in-the-wool patriot having to cooperate with a billionaire playboy and a legit God from Asgard, and they're all literally fighting to save America, you can make of that what you will (Congress, I'm looking in your direction).
But with the years of anticipation building for fans of the Avengers, is this really the best comic book movie ever made? No, I'd have to say it isn't. It's easily on par with the films leading up to it, with the added bonus of finally getting to see established characters interact with one another, and it's a damned fine film. For my money, "The Dark Knight" is as good as it gets. But then again, "The Avengers" is an entirely different beast. It's intended to be about rad characters doing awesome things and bickering with one another. It satisfies on all of those levels, thank goodness. Dropping the ball after so much build-up would have been unbearable.
NOTE: Usually, I don't like to mention any kind of creative disputes about the creation of a film, but as excellent as Marvel Comics' movies have been, none of it would have been possible without the pencil of Jack Kirby (and legions of other artists, as well). Unfortunately, Marvel has historically had a difficult time admitting as such, and their continued difficulty is absurd, considering that the Avengers is a billion-dollar movie. If you're so inclined, read this article and consider making a donation to the Hero Initiative, a charity that helps out the authors and illustrators who have made movies like this possible with their hard work.
4.5 / 5 - Theatre