The Avengers Succeeds

Joss Whedon, the reigning alpha-geek of pop-culture storytellers has succeeded in a task that seemed nearly impossible: he’s created a superhero movie with seven different comic-book heroes that is hugely entertaining, mostly comprehensible, and provides a satisfying pay-off to the promises made by each of the previous movies.

The Avengers has assembled a whole lot of talent; that’s a lot of high-wattage–and no doubt expensive–star power up on the screen.  But I really think the most important factor here is Whedon’s solo credit for writing.  I can’t remember the last time I watched a big-budget summer movie where the screenplay wasn’t credited to at least three or four people.  It turns out that Whedon’s fans were correct in assuming he was up to the task.  What struck me most about the movie was how well Whedon managed to stay true to the various characters (and even the disparate tones) from the previous Marvel movies.  After all, Iron Man is not very much like Thor, and neither were very much like Captain America (my personal favorite of the pre-Avengers bunch), despite each living in the same comic universe.  Yet, when each character speaks, they do so from their own personality and background, even in scenes where many different  characters are playing off each other. Whedon’s Buffy and Firefly background no doubt provided the Gladwelllian 10,000 hours he need to perfect his skill at character-driven writing.  Within this new movie, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and to some extent The Hulk are developed as breathing characters, without the benefit of significant screentime in prior films, and in spite of the role each has in generating the movie’s manic action pace.  (I’m not sure I consider either recent Hulk movie as a contribution.) And Whedon gets good performances from his actors, too.  Much has been written (and deservedly so) about Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Bruce Banner, but Scarlet Johanson also puts in a pretty great performance here. (It’s no secret Whedon does strong female characters particularly well).

The other thing that Whedon provides is a keen sense of humor.  This is by far the funniest Marvel movie I’ve seen.  The comic relief works exceptionally well and isn’t limited to Tony Stark’s trademark snark.  Each character has good laugh lines, and I truly did laugh out loud, as did the other audience members at the first-matinee-of-opening-day showing I attended.

The Avengers, like roughly 80% of all superhero movies, is an origin story.  The arc of the plot, stripped down, is about what it takes for this various heroes to come together as a cohesive, and inclusive, team.  Apparently this means a lot of fighting among themselves before they can fight alongside each other.  Lots of him-vs.-her (and her-vs.-him) action sequences involving our heroes before the Avengers ever get around to fighting the baddies.  When they finally do come together, though, it feels right.  (It also makes lot of use of the New York setting.  The Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station and Central Park each make significant cameos.)

It’s not a perfect movie.  There’s probably a bit more exposition than necessary (though it’s still maybe below average for this type of movie), and the action sequences in the last act have just a bit of that mind-numbing CGI effect that you get from Transformer movies or Star Wars prequels.   Loki is a competent, though not terribly compelling supervillain.  Overall, this movie is really good, though, and it’s definitely a whole lot of fun.


15 thoughts on “The Avengers Succeeds

  1. I’m so glad. My teenage son saw it last night at the midnight showing and really liked it. I was hoping it would be good because there’s a lot riding on it being good, but I also just wanted to look forward to seeing a good movie. Sounds like this will be one I will enjoy a lot.

  2. So exciting! Whedon is Midas (er, that is, Midas without the now-I-turned-my-daughter-to-a-statue curse aspect of that blessing+curse)

  3. I wasn’t interested in this movie at all until I found out Whedon wrote it. Now I really want to see it.

  4. Looks like Marvel/Disney has decided that, yeah, The Avengers 2 might be a good idea. This, after the movie broke the record for opening weekend US gross at over $200M.

  5. Been there, done that.

    I saw Avengers this week and really liked it. The humor really made the difference, because the plot was good and the dialogue and acting were great, but it’s really difficult to put all of that together into a coherent movie when you have this many main characters. The constant humor pulled it all together and made it fun. That’s what a superhero movie should be.

  6. I saw Avengers and liked it. Although I don’t think I’d go as far as those saying it was the greatest comic book adaptation ever. Unlike Nolan who at least moves things more towards reality (with a few remaining head shakers) Avengers totally embraces the genre. Flying aircraft carrier? Sure. Aliens acting more like Roman invaders rather than a plan? Sure.

  7. Seriously, Clark? You’re talking about a movie where the premise is that people like Thor and the Hulk actually exist and can do what they do and your big problems with it are that it shows a flying aircraft carrier and the aliens act like Roman invaders? How is that possible?

  8. It’s not a problem. It’s just that it embraces the comic book genre. With Thor, Hulk and Captain America they had a foot in both camps: comic book and science fiction. With Avengers Whedon went all in on the comic book. It’s clearly a world unlike ours. The very idea of the Avengers probably demanded it. I think though it’s the first, or at least one of the few, that really did this. I bet more films in the future do it.

    While I prefer the Nolan or Singer style I can’t really criticize Avengers too much for it did a really great job for a film that embraces the genre. And unlike Thor, Hulk or Captain America it didn’t have big flaws. (Note I liked all those films, but they definitely had problems) I think Disney’s model is pretty clear at this stage.

  9. I agree with that, and I think it was better than most of the other films that led up to it. The only one that really might have been better was Iron Man. That’s pretty good for a movie that has to bring together so many characters.

  10. Honestly I think Iron Man, the first two Spiderman films and the first half of Captain America were better. But I did like it. And Nick Fury and his flying aircraft carrier were my thing when I was a kid. (Anyone remember when Nick Fury was following Godzilla in the helicarrier back in the day?)

    Still I much prefer something more grounded in our world. It’s why I ended up giving up on comics. But I doubt anyone will do a better film in this style of the genre than Whedon. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now that people ape Whedon rather than Singer.

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