I’m fresh from the midnight showing of The Avengers and…well, that’s not true exactly. I’ve been home for around an hour and a half now, trying to figure out how to distill what I just saw into words; I’m still processing, going over scenes in my head, and generally just trying to take it all in. I’ll make no apologies for coming across like an overenthusiastic fanboy in this review, because right now that’s exactly what I am. A lifelong superhero fanboy who has finally, after a handful of great movies and a whole lot of bad ones, gotten exactly what he’s always wanted.
Comic books are a pretty solid investment for movie studios these days. The characters are all right there, along with decades worth of stories for the plucking. Comics and film are very different media though, I think more so than most of Hollywood realizes, and so a successful translation is a pretty risky proposition. That hardly seems to matter sometimes though. Even the worst ones generally make enough money to merit a sequel, such as Ghost Rider or Fantastic Four, and even if a studio runs a successful franchise into the ground it can always reboot in a couple years, like with the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man. Thankfully Marvel (either through gifted foresight or extreme luck) retained the film rights to their core Avengers characters, and despite a couple middle of the road moments they have been consistently knocking it out of the park with the adaptations thereof. Even with those successes however, everything had a real chance to crumble with The Avengers. Superhero team-up films have been made before, but as seen in Fox’s Wolverine and Friends trilogy, giving adequate weight and screentime to a bunch of characters at once is no joke.
Luckily this enormous and delicate project was left in the capable hands of Joss Whedon, who not only understands comics and what makes them good, but also how to make great use of the talented ensemble cast he inherited. Even when sharing the screen, every character shines as much if not more than they did in their solo outings. Chris Hemsworth finally gets to bring some proper thunder god action to the table as Thor, and Chris Evans manages Captain America’s sudden transition from the 1940’s to the 21st century brilliantly. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Iron Man is pitch perfect as always, and may have had the most potential to overwhelm the other characters, but this never happens. Everyone in here is allowed ample time to just be great.
I could go on, but suffice it to say all the characters are great. There’s not a bad casting choice or a poorly written or unnecessary part in the lot. What surprised me in particular though was how much I enjoyed Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner and the way The Hulk was treated in general. We’re on actor number three for this character in under ten years, and while everything about Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk can be discarded, I really quite liked Edward Norton’s portrayal of Dr. Banner in the more recent Marvel Studios reboot. He was the best thing about an otherwise middle of the road action movie, and I was sad when he was immediately replaced by Mark Ruffalo way back when all this Avengers talk first began. Turns out I had nothing to worry about; Ruffalo did a great job and stepped into Bruce Banner’s shoes like he’d always been there. Even better, the CGI Hulk got an impressive new overhaul for this outing, and I would say that with attempt number three they’ve finally nailed it. Just look at this guy: pure, just stepped out of a comic book Incredible Hulk perfection. None of this goes to waste either, there are a shocking amount of great Hulk moments. Good to finally see the character getting some proper treatment.
As for villains, there are some aliens. The Chitauri, to be precise. They look cool and their invasion is sufficiently threatening, but they’re there mostly to give six superheros something to beat up on all at once. The real draw is Thor’s half brother Loki, played once again by the awesome Tom Hiddleston, who in my opinion does an even better job with the character here than he did in Thor. You can feel the ever-increasing madness and resentment emanating from him every moment he’s on screen, regardless of whether he’s speaking at the moment or not. Even in the comics I’ve never taken Loki very seriously as a character anywhere outside his native Asgard, but he’s pure villainous gold in this film, easily one of the best I’ve seen in a comic book adaptation.
The script here is as impressive as the casting, taking plot points from the individual characters’ lead-in exploits and weaving them together seamlessly, even taking the care to keep tabs on many supporting characters from those films. One thing that can sometimes spell death for a comic book movie’s pacing and runtime is the dreaded origin story, and it’s refreshing to not have to deal with that this time around. Most of the principal cast has been set up already, and the blanks are pretty quickly filled in on the others. This was definitely a movie with a lot of things to get to, and even at 144 minutes it moves along at a consistently brisk pace. Any exposition is usually delivered on the go, which was refreshing and appreciated as a fairly knowledgeable fan. Comic book enthusiasts will finally get to experience a living, breathing Marvel Universe on film, and at the same time I don’t think there’s anything here that would leave a casual audience lost.
The Avengers is a summer blockbuster in the best and grandest sense of the word. It is a movie that will barely register on the Academy’s radar if at all, but one that’s no less than perfect at what it sets out to do. Remember back when the summer blockbuster season regularly produced good films that went on to stand as pinnacles of their genre? Movies like Jaws, Terminator 2, or Raiders of the Lost Ark? For comic book fans, this is one of those movies. While you can make good arguments for Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and they are undeniably great on their own merits, I am comfortable calling The Avengers the new high water mark of comic book adaptations. It is the best and most pure example of live action superheros to date, and is absolutely the one that other studios need to take note of and aspire to reach from here on out. Go see it. Go see it right now.
Oh, and force your date to sit through the first few minutes of the credits with you. Worth your time. Trust me.