As we close in on the top spot in our writers’ film of the year countdown, we arrive at the biggest box office hit of the year. It’s Joss Whedon’s The Avengers…
Regardless of whether you’re a fan of comic book movies, Joss Whedon, or even the film itself, the one irrefutable fact about Avengers Assemble (or The Avengers if you live outside the UK) is that after years of planning, Marvel managed to pull off a unique cinematic achievement – and an overwhelmingly well received one.
Seeing Avengers come to fruition was something of a fever dream, as in previous decades fans watched as once promising franchises barely made it past a second movie before any semblance of respect was flushed away (see: Superman III, Batman Forever, X-Men: The Last Stand, or in The Crow’s case, just City Of Angels). Yet somehow, Marvel reached the previously unattainable height of combining their separate successful licences (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and, to a lesser degree, Hulk) into the highest grossing comic book movie of all time.
In an age where big budget event movies are still prone to start shooting with half-written scripts, Marvel had the forethought to start building towards a larger story arc from the moment Nick Fury walked on screen at the end of Iron Man’s credits. What amazes, though, is how many core elements exist in Avengers from the separate tales – it would have been much easier to lump all the heroes on screen at once under a standalone plot, yet everything from the energy weapons of Hydra, to Tony Stark’s renewable energy, to Loki’s betrayal are not just included, but fleshed out and essential to the story.
Furthermore, moments that seemed like cheeky throwaways, such as Stark using a half-constructed Captain America shield as a prop in Iron Man 2, all enrich the payoff in Avengers when those plot threads, large and small, come together so beautifully.
At times, the road to The Avengers got a little bumpy, with sharp intakes of breath and more than a little internet rage from fans when Edward Norton was unceremoniously ditched from appearing again as Bruce Banner, or when there were doubts that Marvel’s coffers were going to pay out for the mighty Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury contract, but that’s all past history, and paved the way in many respects, to the greatness of The Avengers.
Certainly the biggest vindication came from Mark Ruffalo’s performance as The Hulk, as it marked the first wholly successful rendition of the character on film to date, with fans and critics heaping praise upon Ruffalo after such an initially hostile reaction to his casting. The handling of Hulk by Joss Whedon helped in no small part, with an absolute understanding of the character and his limited dialogue/physicality providing, arguably, the comic highlights of the film, either through his one-line handling of Loki, or his one-fist handling of Thor.
It’s easy for Whedon fans to praise the incredibly sharp dialogue throughout the film, which was perhaps a given as soon as he signed on (special mention goes to the Point Break reference), but where his Avengers really delivers above and beyond is in its balancing of the characters. Somehow, equal time is given to each and every hero, with their own unique personalities tied to the very fate of the story, which combined with all previous knowledge of their plights, makes for one hell of a powerful and emotional punch. There’s a delight in seeing Banner and Stark bond over their love of science, an explosive dynamic between the contrasting attitudes of Rogers and Stark, the fear of Banner by Romanoff, her connection with Barton – the list goes on, but it’s an incredible feat.
Yet despite the screen time given over to the main heroes’ relationships with each other, there’s still time given to the more quiet moments, such as the isolation that Steve Rogers feels being a man out of time (sadly, some of them only exist within the deleted scenes, but here’s hoping that we see an extended edition in the future), or the sweet hero worship that Agent Coulson has towards him, which again strengthen the film as a whole.
There was some criticism over the opening sequence, and by Jeremy Renner himself over the ‘zombie Hawkeye’ element, yet both can be defended. Hawkeye was the only character from the team without any substantial screen time pre-Avengers, so it made absolute sense to sideline him for the duration rather than trying to cram in backstory for a relatively unknown character. Don’t get me wrong, it was a shame, but a necessary evil to save the pace of the story. Equally, while expectation for the opening set piece was no doubt tempered by stupendously high expectations, Whedon didn’t make the same mistake as most James Bond films by throwing everything into the first few minutes; rather, he started with an underhanded and frustrating jab and slowly built from there.
By taking his time, Whedon’s audience was able to witness the onscreen joy of ‘what would happen in a fight between The Cap and Iron Man, or Iron Man and Thor,’ and the result was pure geek spectacle of the highest order. Better yet, there was then the superb action set aboard the helicarrier with a terrifying Hulk at its centre, followed by one of the finest (and longest) action scene finales ever committed to film, which managed to remain breathless throughout while, again, making sure each hero was seen fighting alongside each other – the fine detail that could only have been bestowed on the film by someone who adores the characters.
The Avengers is the crown atop Marvel’s ambitious and deservedly successful cinematic achievements, and one of the most perfectly formed and infinitely re-watchable blockbusters to date. Expectations for Avengers 2 are almost insurmountably high, yet with Joss Whedon at the helm, it couldn’t be in safer hands. And who knows, perhaps next time even Spider-Man will get a look in.
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