What could possibly get me climbing out of bed at 7 AM on a Saturday morning, good readers? It all started with a very merry unbirthday present: tickets to an exclusive screening of the geek-gasmic film of the year. No, I don’t mean Dark Shadows or that Dark Knight thing people have been talking about (Just kidding: I’d nerd hard for that, too). I mean, Marvel-heads, yours truly got a view into Joss Whedon’s take on Earth’s Mightiest, The Avengers. And I’m here to say that you won’t be disappointed.
I don’t think I have to say this but mild spoilers ahoy! (No plot points revealed.)
For those who might be under a rock someplace, The Avengers is the ultimate in geek joy. Take three of the major Marvel movie winners Captain America, Thor and Iron Man and add some rock-solid teammates like Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner as Black Widow and Hawkeye respectively. Sprinkle some brand new Hulk action with retiring and mild-mannered Mark Ruffalo and shake liberally with some Samuel L. Jackson as Nick “The Man” Fury. Then you hand the whole shebang over to one of geekdom’s biggest directorial voices in Joss Whedon. What you get is an action-packed pure comic book film that hits all the right dramatic notes while still being fast paced and fun.
The joy of the new Avengers film is that it’s easily accessible to new fans and old. Folks who have never seen a Marvel movie could catch the premise pretty quickly as Whedon knows how to make battles of good versus evil pretty universal and slick to watch. Those who are fans of the previous Marvel movies can just dive right back into the film continuity (events follow closely after the events in Thor and Captain America) while die-hard geeks will find enough homage to the comic book legacies to keep them entranced. As someone who has read comics since I was a wee tyke, I appreciated how the film tries to balance the powerful personalities on the team the same way that it’s handled in the comics. The titanic ego of Iron Man in Robert Downey Jr. clashes beautifully with Chris Evans’ straight-laced Captain America. Thor, freshly back from his transformation to humble hero in his film, is a perfect outsider looking in at all the wacky mortal hijinks. Meanwhile, Ruffalo’s Banner is the reluctant addition to the crew, always watched with wary fear by his teammates. All of these dynamics are classic Marvel portrayals kept very honest.
Fresh to the screen is the development of Black Widow’s place on the Avengers, and this development smacks of Joss Whedon’s hallmark devotion to strong female characters. Where Scarlett Johansson might have been relegated to just another pretty face in spandex by another director, she shines as a deeper, more introspective character in scenes with Renner’s Hawkeye and especially with Tom Hiddleston as Loki.
And let’s talk about Loki for a second. There’s no question that Hiddleston shown like a star in Thor last year, but in Avengers he positively explodes. His innate charisma is offset only by the depths of the twisted mania he brings to the character as he moves the plot along with casual villain ease. He never loses a step when sharing the screen with intense performers like Robert Downey Jr, a problem his co-star Chris Evans seems to have.
Evans portrays a great Cap, really making us feel his “man out of time” anachronism while bringing the classic hero leadership across perfectly. Yet whenever he and RDJ get into it verbally, Evans seems hopelessly outmatched by the quick-talking Iron Man. Would it have hurt to make Cap feel a little less like the kid on the school yard wanting Stark to “take it outside” all the time? This gets balanced out, however, by Evans in every action scene where he takes everyone to school with his commanding battle leadership. When it comes to being a square jawed, old-fashioned hero, Evans has that down pat. By comparison, the calm and collected Chris Hemsworth sometimes seems put to the side by the plot, as if having one Asgardian around in Loki seems to have been all the story could accommodate. This is an unfortunate shame, as Hemsworth’s Thor is a quiet force to be reckoned with when he’s given room to move. Ditto for The Hurt Locker alum Renner, whose Hawkeye seems a little lost in the shuffle for a lot of the film.
Equally uneven in the film is the handling of the “big bad” problem. Loki’s army of invaders is a faceless problem that even comic book fans might have some trouble recognizing or caring much about. They are a band of big bads to fight and that’s fine to fulfill our action sequence needs. But with the Marvel universe populated by so many better known armies from space (Skull or Kree anyone?) one would have expected Whedon to lead with a bigger name to excite the comic fans. Yet Loki makes up for the “faceless aliens” with his mastery of the whole villain angle and the special scene at the end makes up for it in the set-up for the next film.
And oh yes, there is a setup at the end of the credits. And no, I won’t tell you what it is. All I will say is that it surprised me and made me wonder how the hell they’re going to pull off such a character for the sequel. Just stay into the credits. While I don’t expect most non-comic fans will know who this one is, it was enough to make me screech so loud that I deafened my friend next to me.
End of spoilers.
All in all, The Avengers is a thrill-ride that kicks off from the moment the film starts and blasts right into the plot. The gathering of the team slows down the pace of the movie but in a very pleasant sort of way. It allows us to build up the dynamic of the team and get a real sense of the characters who didn’t have their own movies before. Joss Whedon seemed in perfect command of the film with a stellar understanding of the franchise he has been entrusted with, flavoring everything with his brand of intelligent and character-driven passion without making the movie too Whedon-esque. The film comes off all Marvel, all action, and stands as one of the best examples of a pure comic book flick in its balance and execution. The action sequences never quit and give us moments of incredible heart-stopping super-hero daring mixed in with touching bits and even out of nowhere hilarity. Look out for the Hulk having a laugh out loud time to rival anything Robert Downey Jr. can spit with his on-the-go wit.
With more individual films slated for Iron Man, Cap and Thor and the reveal in the ending credits, I think it’s pretty secure that we’ll see more from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the future. Well done, Marvel and Joss Whedon. You’ve done us geeks proud.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com