Well. Of all the things you can say about Avengers, it only takes one simple sentiment to do it justice: that was totally worth the wait.
Ever since a small but perfectly-formed teaser at the end of Iron Man heralded the coming of the Avengers, it’s been tough to keep expectations reasonable. For every good Marvel film, there was a bad one. For every reason to get excited, there was a reason to be cautious. A complete disaster seemed unlikely, but anything less than genre-defining brilliance was going to be a let-down.
And to Whedon’s credit, he pulled it off. He didn’t just make the best superhero action film that has ever been made, he somehow did it while making a Joss Whedon film – smart, funny and dramatic, but with all the trappings of a sci-fi action movie presented fully intact. Imagine if Transformers 3 had a plot, a script, actors you liked and comprehensible special effects: that’s what Avengers feels like. It’s all so very… big.
Of course, with seven lead characters, a villain backed by an army and a supporting cast pulled from multiple sources, it could never be anything but. Perhaps the hardest challenge Avengers faced was in maintaining its sense of scale: giving the street-level skills of characters like Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye’s a place where they could shine even against the larger-than-life exploits of Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk. And yet, somehow, everyone gets their moment. Most get four or five.
To quote Den of Geek’s own Mike Leader, Avengers was far better than it needed to be. The action beats are there. The character beats are there. But there’s so much more than that too. Whedon knows what the audience expects of an action film in this genre, and he uses that knowledge to pull the rug from under us again and again – sometimes for a joke, sometimes as a plot twist, but also without it ever getting old. It even looks fantastic, proving Whedon as not just a distinguished writer, but a distinguished action director. There’s no question that from now on, he’s going to be Hollywood A-list.
And what of its stars? Each one, fantastic. We know by now that Samuel L Jackson is Nick Fury, and Robert Downey Jr is Tony Stark, so there are no problems there. Hemsworth (Thor), Hiddleston (Loki) and Evans (Captain America) reprise their roles seamlessly. Johansson may have felt like an intrusion on Iron Man 2, but here she finds deservedly equal footing as the Black Widow. Ruffalo is a very different Bruce Banner than his predecessors, and yet the character is so embedded in the public consciousness that the Hulk still becomes, if anything, the film’s breakout star.
And what of Jeremy Renner, the man who has to try and make having a bow and arrow look cool next to an indestructible shield, a hammer that can control storms, and a suit of armour that can break the sound barrier? It’s fair to say that he’s the hardest sell, and Whedon, clearly aware of this, finds him a position in the story that lets him show off his skills early and often. He may never be the most iconic hero, but Hawkeye does carry his weight without becoming the butt of any jokes. Of all the film’s likely difficulties, it’s this one which it’s most surprising to see overcome.
There are places where you can pick at the film’s seemingly-perfect veneer. Despite several thrilling set pieces, the middle act’s action sequence can’t help sagging a little as it tries to give the whole cast something to do. Some of the character arcs are weaker than others (but at least everyone has one.) And maybe, if you’re one of the three people on the planet who hasn’t seen at least some of the lead-ins, you’ll struggle to accept the more outlandish concepts. But in truth, it’s all as close to flawless as makes no difference. No one is going to leave thinking about what spoiled Avengers – you’ll all be leaving with grins.
Perhaps the secret to the film’s success is that Whedon doesn’t just re-use the characters, he gives them all a new story, and new triumphs to find. As the film’s final battle reaches its climax, he takes a second to show each struggling with the enormity of their task, and then finding the strength to continue. It’s a small moment, but a key one. It reminds us that even though they’re gods, and super-soldiers, and geniuses, they’re still people like us: flawed, uncertain, and afraid. It’s not their powers and abilities that make them heroes, but their ability to find new resolve even when they’ve given it all. That, right there, is the very essence of the Marvel Universe brought to life. That’s why we love it. It’s why you will too.
There’s a shot near the film’s climax which manages, in one awe-inspiring moment, to perfectly translate what it feel like to be a superhero fan, reading a superhero comic. To say any more would spoil the surprise, but when you get to it, you’ll know. Of all Avengers’ many triumphs, that’s the one that’ll stick for the fans: it’s a movie that finally matches the one you have in your head.