Last weekend, a little movie called The Avengers opened.
Perhaps you’ve heard of it; it racked up a record $200.3 million domestic box office opening. And sure, while that figure isn’t adjusted for inflation, that’s pretty damn impressive. But is The Avengers the genuine article? Or is it another bloated, poorly-executed and facile exercise in CGI excess like the Transformers series?
As it turns out, there’s more wit, drama, humor and intrigue in a single scene of The Avengers than in all of those movies combined. The Avengers isn’t quite The Dark Knight, but it is the best summer blockbuster to come along in recent memory.
Despite the plethora of handsome actors dressed in bright, shiny costumes, the biggest star of this show is writer-director Joss Whedon. Whedon is responsible for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Toy Story, Firefly, The Cabin in the Woods, and one of the best runs on the X-Men comics in history. It’s Whedon’s guiding hand that manages to keep the movie sharp and focused, while also allowing room for brief character moments and expositions. It’s extraordinarily difficult to pull this off in a cohesive manner, to keep the audience intrigued with the plot of the movie while making them, in some manner, sympathize with the characters.
Perhaps sympathize is an overstatement; most of the time we’re too busy being amused by the characters or astounded by their abilities. It’s the more human characters we come to sympathize with, like Agent Coulson, Black Widow, and Hawkeye, who are trying to keep up with demigods, geniuses and super-soldiers, and occasionally pay the price for their efforts. That’s not to say we don’t care about the others, but it’s difficult to be concerned for them because we know going into the movie that they’re going to be OK. After all, there are movie franchises that require their presences.
But that’s OK, because it’s a joy to watch them all in action. I don’t just mean in an “action” sense either, although there are a number of excellent action sequences and fight scenes. These manage to drag on for quite some time, but never become burdensome or tedious. Also, for perhaps the first time in his movie career, the Hulk manages to steal the show from everyone else. Two moments in particular, one with Thor and one with Loki, are worth the price of admission alone.
But the real action lies in the snappy, witty banter between all the characters. The brilliant, narcissistic Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) constantly infuriates the noble, but square, Captain America (Chris Evans), while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) belittles their petty human arguments, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tries to motivate all of them while holding his own secrets, and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) tries to keep calm while all this arguing is going on. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) also joins in on the banter, often to humorous effect. It’s compelling, funny and entertaining, but never irreverent or condescending.
This isn’t all to say The Avengers is a perfect movie. What it possesses in wit, it lacks in intellectualism. But unlike the movie adaptation of Watchmen, it’s not like it aspires to be far more intelligent than it actually is. It simply doesn’t aspire to be so at all. Which is fine, but it prevents the movie from entering the upper echelon of the comic-movie medium with The Dark Knight or The Incredibles. But it is an excellent addition to Marvel’s movie lineup and the underwhelming summer movie scene. Can’t wait for the sequel.