Published on May 15th, 2012 | by Jordan Petersen0
REVIEW: The Avengers
Summary: Summer movies have devolved into lame excuses to showcase supermodels and explosions. However, The Avengers marks the return of the true summer blockbuster.
Marvel Studios may have pulled off one of the most impressive feats of blockbusting, but the title of this movie is stupid. Marvel’s The Avengers … wait, did you think we would be confused and forget that this is your franchise? This is one of those instances where a studio’s grandstanding needlessly cheapens an indisputably awesome accomplishment. Let the thing stand on its own, for the sake of everyone involved.
Enough about that, though, because this movie really was one of the most impressive blockbusters of all time. That may sound like hyperbole, and it is, but it’s justified, isn’t it? This thing is riding on a culminating wave of success of five other movies. Let’s count them, just to remember: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America. Not one of those movies flopped. Certainly some were better than others, but they all stood up pretty well on their own.
And The Avengers is better than all of them.
I didn’t think this was possible. At best, I posited, this comic book movie to end all comic book movies would be entertaining, a pleasant summer diversion. These are all charming characters, and the studio will certainly spare no expensive spectacle, but this kind of a movie cannot (I reasoned) be done right. The thing that would break it would be those very heroes by whom we were all so charmed. They are all leading actors. They are all title characters. Every single one of them could, and did, carry a whole movie very successfully.
So how in the world could you bring them all together under a two and a half hour roof and expect them to accomplish anything useful? Apparently Joss Whedon encountered the same question. And then he answered it.
This was a masterpiece of both writing and directing. Yes, Whedon had the support of deep-pocketed studios, extraordinarily talented actors and ample source material from which to draw creative inspiration, but he deserves credit as one of the most talented directors now working for pulling it all together. The script and the manner in which it was executed navigated the impossibility so smoothly it seems natural and believable, almost inevitable. That is true genius at work.
He pulled it off by knowing these characters deeply. He knew their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and fears, and then let them react to the circumstances he orchestrated. In a way, Nick Fury is Joss Whedon’s narrative incarnation. Think about it.
The result is rich storytelling, constant humor and a whole lot of heart. Not least among my delighted surprises was that the stakes and moral questions of the film actually seemed to matter. This giant, loud, absurd ensemble mess of a film actually resonated more sincerely than any of its more insular predecessors. The story explores questions of power, freedom, pride and atonement in a way that no 220-million dollar movie should be able to do without collapsing into a cloud of pretention and stupidity. The success of The Avengers in its exploration of those issues has helped to restore my faith in Hollywood’s potential. Or at least in Marvel’s willingness to hire the right people and let them work.
Effective escalation is also something that many summer blockbusters seem to screw up. There’s always a point at which the thing gets too loud, too fast and everyone stops caring. Michael Bay has devoted his life to this, and Joss Whedon just took him to school. Not only does The Avengers escalate to a degree that at least matches the latest Transformers joyride, it manages to keep its audience caring.
There was a point at which I thought the film had probably moved through some of its biggest action set pieces already, but then I remembered there was supposed to be, like, some kind of alien army. Or something. And I thought, “Hmmm.” And I waited a bit. And then everything just went crazy, and everyone in the theater hung on every moment, laughed at every joke, gasped at every danger and cheered at every victory.
I’ve been afraid for a while that summer movies were devolving into a series of increasingly empty excuses to showcase supermodels and explosions. Joss Whedon, and all the people on whose shoulders he stood, have proven that you don’t have to sacrifice heart and depth at the alter of the spectacle. You can have it all. Comic book movies have been paving the way for years, but The Avengers marks the return of the true summer blockbuster. ♦ ♦ ♦