We Lovin’ The Crew! The Avengers Smashes Expectations
When The Dark Knight was released in the summer of 2008, critics and fans alike called it a game changer. Superhero movies preceding it had been popular, but few were what anyone could consider a “great movie.” The aptly titled Dark Knight was moody and intense, and Heath Ledger’s final performance as the Joker raised the bar for acting in blockbuster movies that followed. Since then, superhero movies — and blockbuster summer films in general — have tried to up the grittiness factor in order to be taken as seriously.
However, another movie also came out in the summer of 2008, with a much less enticing villain but a much more charismatic star: Jon Favreau’s Marvel–backed Iron Man. The movie was well received and made quite a bit of money for being about a relatively lesser known superhero and headed by rehabilitated junkie Robert Downey Jr, but it was generally overshadowed by the Goliath that was Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight. Comic book movies were changing, and the cartoonish action–filled romps could do well, but couldn’t expect to be taken seriously. Thankfully, four years and five films later, The Avengers has given Batman a run for his money.
The Avengers is everything about superheroes and comic books that you love. It’s hilarious, action–packed, visually stunning, and filled with interesting characters that don’t necessarily need to be sad and brooding to be troubled and complex. It is cartoonish, but grounded in excellent acting and a thought–out storyline that makes the science fiction world seem very relatable (at least as relatable as it possibly could be).
The film is the culmination of five previous films, which began with 2008’s Iron Man, followed by The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. All the previous films, like Iron Man, were well–received box office hits, but it’s fair to say they didn’t pack quite the critical punch to make them classics. Hulk was kinda boring, Iron Man 2 had like three villains too many; suffice it to say, they were enjoyable but not in a “I want to watch it seven million times” way. It turns out these superheroes were all ingredients that are fine on their own, but when mixed together, create the most perfect team of misfits this side of Asgard.
At the beginning of the film, the Avengers are not a team, rather quite the opposite. The film begins with an attack made by the Norse god of mischief and brother of Thor, Loki (played expertly by Tom Hiddleston), whose quest for world domination is fueled by daddy–issues and an insatiable hunger for power. It’s clear that no ordinary team of soldiers can help defeat him, so SHIELD agents Natasha Romanoff (also known as the Black Widow) and Phil Coulson are sent to round up the aforementioned superheroes who are scattered around the globe. I would explain the rest, but you all should have seen this movie by now, and if you haven’t I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s that good.
Having that many iconic characters and attractive actors (seriously, just look at them, it’s not fair) on the screen at the same time could have been cause for a disjointed viewing experience, but those Avengers lucked out when when writer/director Joss Whedon was hired to helm the film. Each character is given equal screen time, and no one character ever seems like “the star.” It’s truly an ensemble piece, and the balance Whedon was able to create between the six team members is a work of masterful direction. The characters Hawkeye and Black Widow (played by Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson), who were not given solo films previously, only appearing as side characters in the other films, were treated as equally important members of the group. Black Widow in particular, whose role in Iron Man 2 was small, but super freakin’ cool (she basically kills like seven guys in 30 seconds with some miniature fog machines and her thighs), is given a much heftier role in The Avengers. This time, she has multiple scenes where her emotional depth and whip–smart intelligence is demonstrated... not to mention more super badass scenes where she completely destroys multiple baddies with her bare hands. As the sole female Avenger, it’s nice to see that she’s given full role, and isn’t merely the prize of another male character.
Another genius move by the filmmakers was to recast the role of Bruce Banner (also known as the Hulk), who had previously been played by Edward Norton, to Mark Ruffalo. While Norton’s subtle performance in the non–green skin of Bruce Banner was admirable, a certain amount of star power is necessary for leading a comic book movie. Ruffalo was able to bring that much–needed charisma to a role that encompasses a soft spoken genius scientist and a “giant green rage–monster.” Motion capture technology mixed with Ruffalo’s performance created a connection between the man and the monster that was absent in past depictions.
And of course, none of this would be even remotely believable without the special effects, which were flawless. IMAX 3–D is not a forgiving medium, and all the cracks and bits held together by gum and paperclips are normally very visible and in–your–face, but I had no complaints. The seamless quality of the visual effects aided the ease of watching.
In an industry where blockbusters are either poorly written visual effects-orgasms or dark and somewhat depressing to watch, The Avengers is a refreshing reminder that fun doesn’t always mean bad, and that gritty realism doesn’t always mean good. And I believe there’s about one billion dollars in box office sales to prove that the general public agrees with me.