Saw The Avengers late last night and twelve hours later… I’m still catching my breath! The movie was fantastic–frackin’ fantastic. I’ve been pretty cynical lately about comic book flicks. With the stellar exceptions of Watchmen and The Dark Knight series, I’ve placed recent comic or graphic novel remakes into three categories: decent, lackluster or WTF? Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, ranked among my decent. These were okay movies with all the required action, though they didn’t rise above my expectations. I walked out feeling I’d gotten my money’s worth, but wasn’t itching to see either again. The Hulk and X-Men First Class, I found rather lackluster. There were superheroes so that was nice, but otherwise the storyline and plot earned a rating of “meh.” Wolverine, Green Lantern and Ghostrider were so god-awful, I left the theater wondering how a few screenwriters could so mangle a winning popular comic book? I mean, straight up guys, WTF!?! So what made the Avengers different? What did the film seem to “get” that so many of their recent counterparts hadn’t? More, after the jump. But be warned…there be SPOILERS!
So, several reasons The Avengers was frackin’ fantastic.
(1) With the larger origin stories of most of the characters already known to moviegoers, the film was allowed to just pick up and go without a needless lengthy back story. Even if you aren’t a Marvel fanboy/fangirl, you know who many of the characters and villains are (well, at least one of the villains–more on that later) based on the work put in on previous flicks. The whole Marvel Studios idea and the individualized movies proved not only a financial success for the franchise, but allowed for an end product that didn’t have to spend an enormous amount of time explaining things like Asgard, gamma rays or super soldiers.
(2) Remaining true to the comic. Look, I’m a fanboy but I’m realistic. I know that a comic book turned movie can’t have everything I expect. There are going to be changes, if only at times because something that might be workable on printed color paper can translate as kind of ridiculous–i.e., Mr. Fantastic’s embarrassing dance scene in the rather underwhelming Fantastic Four. Still, nothing is more annoying than a film where I barely recognize the heroes, or villains, as their personalities (even abilities) become rewritten to meet the mass appeal of the summer blockbuster genre. This often includes a lot of dumbing down of elements of the fantastic for fear of losing moviegoers not familiar with the comic. I’ve always found this underestimating of the audience quite unnecessary–and a little cowardly. Thank goodness Joss Whedon and the team of The Avengers movie decided to throw caution to the wind, and take the plunge. From the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellicarrier to the jaw-dropping alien invasion sequence, the film wasn’t afraid to take moviegoers deep into the imaginative Marvel Universe that has kept readers enthralled for decades.
(3) Keeping with the last point, too many past hit-and-miss comic book films seem to think if they give both fans and newbies some costumed crusaders and blow up a few things, they can skimp on the storyline or create puerile plots that lack any level of depth. Yet even dealing with a cast of comic book diva characters, Avengers manages to make them relatable to each other, with solid and even humorous dialogue. Also, like their comic book counterparts, these heroes aren’t one-dimensional. They have egos, character flaws, mistrust and conflicting personality traits that make their dissension believable, and eventual reconciliation (both common superhero tropes) much more satisfying. Even S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t come off as squeaky clean–and anyone who’s read Marvel’s usual depiction of shady government organizations and programs wouldn’t expect them to be. Meanwhile, the dire challenges the heroes face live up to the task of actually needing heroes to solve them.
(4) I’m a firm believer that a hero (or set of heroes) is only as good as the villain. If your heroes greatly diminish your villain, it just looks like bullying. Going with Loki for this film, something of which I’d admittedly at first been wary, turned out to be a genius move. Loki has long been a staple Marvel bad-guy, and for good reason. He’s very good at what he does! This movie version Loki lives up to that, even if he’s a bit diminished for an Asgardian (the Marvel Loki is about 6’4, weighs in at 525lbs, is near indestructible and a sorcerer extraordinaire–no slouch!). While it turns out in the end he’s not exactly running the show, he is still a megolamaniac quite capable of carrying out his threats. His plan is complex and thought out enough to keep our heroes guessing, and brings him quite close to success. Best of all, he gets some decent dialogue and depth! While he’s certainly no Heath Ledger as Joker, neither is he an annoyingly screaming amorphous Parrallax from the movie adaptation of Green Lantern. This Loki, both understandable in his motives and masterfully devious, is a villain that is impressive enough to like. Further, by introducing a demi-god as the key villain, the film is allowed to set the stakes quite high–certainly beyond Dr. Doom in FF4 or whatever-the-hell was going on in Wolverine.
(5) Action. A comic book film without action gets boring, real fast. Then again, a film that jumps between non-stop fight-scenes is plain tiring. The movie manages to disperse its action scenes, fitting them into the larger storylines without making them seem gratuitous. By the time we get to the final big fight scene, you feel like you’re somehow cheating and getting some extra action for free! Not only that, but the CGI effects are thankfully either very well done or kept minimal enough not to disturb the realistic feel of movie. These were believable scenes of action, more likely to make you gasp than laugh. Best of all, they kept the best parts out of the trailers, so you felt you had something worth coming to the theater to see.
(6) Last of all, Marvel has perfected the after-credits sequence scene–wherein all but the wholly naive moviegoers know NOT to walk out until the credits have rolled in full. The first of these after-credit sequences was one of the greatest thrills in the film. Again, SUPER SPOILER to follow. Here we are introduced to a glimpse of the master villain, who we learn was pulling Loki’s strings–a grinning, eyes-aglow, lantern-jawed, purpled faced being that any Marvel fan will recognize immediately as none other than the mad Titan, Thanos. Yes! Thanos! If you need a primer on Thanos, he’s got a lengthy bio on Marvel.com and Wiki. Revealing Thanos as a villain is probably one of the most frackin’ fantastic parts of this movie, as it offers clues of where Marvel intends to go next. Because if anyone was paying attention in Thor, we actually got a glimpse there of the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet–complete with the requisite gems! This is the opening up of a comic book universe in film on an unprecedented level, hinting at the possibility of taking moviegoers to depths no others have dared. This was attempted half-heartedly in the 2nd Fantastic Four movie with the introduction of the cosmic Silver Surfer. But ultimately, writers never truly gave us the all-important Galactus, but rather some form of the less intimidating incarnation Gah Lak Tus. (Director Tim Story claims he made Galactus more reminiscent of the Gah Lak Tus swarm so that he could be properly introduced in the new Silver Surfer spin-off). With the introduction of Thanos for the inevitable Avengers sequel, and the possible inclusion (dare we see the actual use?) of the Infinity Gauntlet, there’s no telling how far this ride along the Marvel Cosmic rollercoaster will take us. Might we catch a glimpse of some Celestials? Beyonders? At the least, I expect to see at least one Watcher!
One thing’s for certain, the guys over at DC, still hemming and hawing over the forever-rumored JLA movie, have probably had some emergency brainstorming meetings. Because The Avengers just upped the super hero team movie game to a “whole notha’ level.” They might want to invite Joss Whedon for a pep talk.
Update: Okay, I can’t give any film review without some criticisms. As a fanboy, I’m just not buying that, even with his fancy suit, Iron Man is holding his own anywhere near that long against Thor. Nuh Uh. No way. No how. Black Widow is the only new hero introduced (who hadn’t appeared in the earlier movies). Marvel could have been a bit braver and given us a Vision or Scarlet Witch. But I realize there are all kinds of legal issues and probably so many heroes you can have before the team gets cluttered. I do hope for the next film, especially for a Thanos-related-fight, they bring in some heavy hitters like Dr. Strange. Because I’m not certain what good Black Widow or Hawkeye is going to do against some full-on cosmic powered entities. Loki getting punked by one of Thanos’ minions? And not having some trick up his sleeve to turn against his benefactor? He’s Loki, god of mischief, trickery and double-dealing. At the least he should have his own motives to steal power for himself. And breaking his mental hold by smacking people in the head seemed rather simplistic. Also, no real explanation (at least not a full-fledged believable one) on how Hulk suddenly turns semi-tamed, or Banner’s seeming ability to near “change-at-will.” Further, an alien invasion force with all of one ship? What? Were they just planning on taking mid-town Manhattan? For that matter, nuclear devices destroying a ship that would have had some powerful shielding to traverse interstellar space? Very unlikely. No passing of the Bechdel test here, either. While Black Widow is a strong female character, I don’t know that she shares more than two words (if that much) with the only other prominent female character in the film–Agent Maria Hill. As for POC, well Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury is about it, unless you count Hulk and Thanos (played by actor Damion Portier). Despite all of this, Avengers remains a solid movie that delivers. There’s just always room for improvement.