They don’t make movies like The Avengers anymore.
When I walked out of the theater, I tried hard to think of the last time I had so much fun at a movie. The first thing that came to mind was the original Iron Man. But Iron Man was four years ago. In the years since, we’ve had no shortage of superhero movies, including the origins of his fellow avengers, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Incredible Hulk, and even Iron Man 2. They are all fun movies, but none of them came close to matching the sense of pure excitement and fun that Iron Man – and now The Avengers – exude from every angle.
But let’s put this into context. I had all but given up hope that The Avengers was going to be a good film. Sure, it had Joss Whedon, the man behind the incredible Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, attached to it. Sure, it had a tremendous cast with some of Hollywood’s best talent at its center. Sure, it had the strength of Marvel’s best properties behind it. But its greatest benefits were also its greatest risks. There’s a concept known as “villain decay” in which a superhero film tries to include too many villains, with the result being none of them getting the development and screen time they deserve. I was worried, rightfully so, that The Avengers would suffocate under its own weight due to the inverse, hero decay. These are four of the most iconic properties of the 20th century they’re putting into a single movie – how could they possibly hope to give each member their due?
I needn’t have worried. Joss Whedon, who rewrote the entire screenplay based on a story by Zak Penn, masterfully gives every single hero their share of great moments, be they ridiculously awesome feats of strength or a huge laugh, or a tense conflict with a fellow Avenger. Nobody is slighted in the least, and that’s a feat that few other films could claim to have pulled off. Whedon accomplishes this mostly by recruiting each of the group individually early on in the film, and then pairing them up for the remainder of the movie. In very, very few instances will there only be one hero in the scene. This wouldn’t work too well either, if it weren’t for the incredible chemistry the actors have. It’s unbelievable how well these men play off each other. Some of the best scenes of the movie, scenes with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) trying to find the Tesseract by tracing its gamma ray signature, are filled with banter that is sharper than any writer active today could possibly hope to write.
And just like Iron Man, that’s a core strength of the film – it’s witty and amusing at all times. During the most intense action sequences, the theater erupts in laughter and applause at regular intervals. As serious as the stakes in the film may get, there is always a great line or two to ease the tension. It’s a lightness that has marked everything Whedon has created in his career, and it pays off wonderfully here. This is truly Whedon’s film – it builds off Marvel’s established franchises, but the Whedon stamp is wholly his own. And it belongs right at home here in the Marvel Universe.
The Avengers isn’t anything more than what it needs to be. It’s a movie about superheroes that caters to those who like superheroes. It works. It doesn’t aim to be much more than fun, funny action spectacle. But it excels so well at being just that, that I can hardly fault it for failing to be more.
* * * 1/2