May 6, 2012
by Derek Defoe
Marvel Studios' grand and ambitious continuity with The Avengers and the films leading up to it is probably the closest translation to the experience of reading a comic book series to date. If you were to pick up an issue of Spider-Man and halfway through the adventure his good buddy DareDevil may pop up to lend a hand, it would be no big deal. It's usual, it's expected. They occupy the same world. Things are a lot simpler in the funny books than they are in Hollywood though, legal rights to characters tend to take the fun out of things a bit. But now Marvel Studios has built a foundation for their own universe, owning as many characters as possible, and showing us that these characters all occupy the same world. The Avengers is what happens when these characters clash.
The best compliment you can give to a movie like this is the fact that it will have people talking afterward, not so much in a way where you may have long, profound discussions about the psychology of the characters and their struggles, which you may very well do after one of Christopher Nolan's Batman films- and I'll be honest here, Nolan's films, they're just, they're untouchable, they're ten times the movies that any of these Marvel ones could be- but I'm not going to criticize The Avengers for what it is not. People will be talking after a movie like this about how awesome it is. Repeating lines. Describing action scenes. Possibly making explosion sound effect noises.
It's not to say this is a mindless action CGI-fest, far from it. The characterization is very good. Many of the other characters have the advantage of starring in their own movies to be introduced, some, such as Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, not so much. But in any case, whether you've seen all the lead-up movies or not, you get a good idea of who the characters are by their own personalities and actions and interactions. Essentially, that's the whole basis for the movie. The characters are different, they have different attitudes, different ways of acting within a situation. They conflict. They resolve. It's basic story telling, it's not reinventing the wheel, but the fact that it's not just different, conflicting characters, but THESE different, conflicting characters, well, that's just gravy.
I was particularly impressed with how well Whedon was able to sneak in Black Widow's whole story, and her relationship with Hawkeye, and what haunted her from her past, and what she was striving to fight for. And the fact that they were able to get all of it across strictly through dialogue, without having to resort to hackneyed flashbacks? That's just commendable. Really. You could complain that the writing's pretty simple and cheesy but I think the best writing works on a near-subliminal level.
And all credit where credit's due, I loved seeing all these characters together on the big screen, it was amazing, but I really, really appreciated how in this midst of this superhero opus they dedicate a tune or two to the unsung heroes. Saving the world from an army of evil inter-dimensional beings is hard, no doubt, but with a character like Nick Fury, working for the most part behind the scenes, you have to appreciate how he's the one who has to deal with all the bureaucracy of floating heads on his computer screens, always telling him how wrong he is about everything and busting his balls. And you have to appreciate how, yes, with drones of faceless employees working for SHEILD, maybe one or two may be playing video games while the big boys get to play and save the world. The SHEILD organization, really, is the glue that holds this, and all the other movies together, and no character is representative of this more than Agent Coulson, played by Clark Gregg. I will be damned if his role here isn't just as crucial as that of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow, or Nick Fury.
The Avengers is not high art but given the concept I can't imagine it being any more perfect that what I've seen on screen. The characters were all great to see and all had their own great stand-out moments and while it might not get you to reflect deeply on the world and its issues it works as exceptional escapism, which is a hard thing to do given the fact that the last act features New York city being destroyed by evil invaders. I think the reason we can give in to it is because the movie's heart is in the right place, and the heroes of The Avengers stand for the tried and true notion of the greater good. It is an extremely entertaining crossover film, it has some of the best and most outrageous action scenes I think I've ever seen, and it is a great comic book movie. The standard has been set.
Robert Downey, Jr.
Samuel L. Jackson