Review: Marvel’s ‘Avengers’ a roaring blast of summer funWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It was about two years ago. I was on the air on 92.5 KISS FM one Wednesday morning, and I informed the assembled crew about what I felt was a pretty big piece of entertainment news: It had been announced that Joss Whedon would be directing and writing the upcoming Marvel superhero crossover epic “The Avengers.” Everyone in the room quickly laughed and basically said, “Who cares?”
Well, now, they better care. Because it turns out that Whedon — the visionary behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” and other titles which bring a smile to many geeks the world over — was just about the perfect choice to craft a film out of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Between his uncanny ear for witty dialogue and his ability to balance a wide range of characters, Whedon has managed to make one of the best popcorn flicks imaginable — a shot of pure fun from beginning to end.
The plot is pretty simple, really. The secret organization S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to harness the “potentially unlimited power” of a glowing cube of McGuffin, and accidentally creates a portal unleashing Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s nasty brother. He plans on enslaving humanity. That’s basically it, as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) begins to assemble a team comprised of all the heroes Marvel Films has been introducing fans to over the past three summers.
It’s a pretty good thing most of these characters have been thoroughly established in the public’s imagination by now, as anyone who isn’t familiar with the heroes will be lost pretty quick. Everybody gets their moments of introduction, yes, but “The Avengers” takes for granted that we pretty well know who Iron Man, The Hulk and everybody else are by this point.
But really, that’s fine, because once the hellos are out of the way, it’s the moments of interaction between the cast where the movie really begins to shine. Whedon crafts lines and situations for his actors that are hard to watch without a big grin on your face. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is as vain and glib as ever, Captain America (Chris Evans) continues to be a man out of time, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) looks on all around him with an understandable superiority complex, and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is a ticking time bomb.
One of the key relationships, though, comes from two of the lesser-known characters — Black Widow (played tremendously by Scarlett Johanssen) and Hawkeye (played by the awesome Jeremy Renner). Even though they don’t share a tremendous amount of screen time, her mission to save him from Loki after he’s brainwashed provides one of the film’s purest emotional motivations.
But “Avengers” isn’t really about character. The whole thing is a set-up for an hour or so of the most kinetic, entertaining action sequences imaginable, where every hero gets a chance to be as bad-ass as they can be. Whedon’s story construction resembles the guy on magic shows who keeps ten plates spinning simultaneously, as he balances all his heroes and the makes the battles fun, with plenty of doses of wry humor, as well.
Damn, is that last hour something to behold. The entire final battle is an ever-escalating war of attrition centered on the streets of Manhattan. As Whedon showed with many of the climactic conflicts on his television adventures, he knows how to craft scenes that are thrilling without ever being incomprehensible. Unlike the fast-cut, shaky-cam action of the past few years, here is grand excitement that is never confusing to follow. There’s one, long, unbroken shot which manages to focus on all of the heroes in sequence, and it’s as joyous a single moment as I can recall in movies in quite some time.
The journey isn’t perfect, though. As mentioned, though Whedon and his co-writer, Zak Penn, give each hero time to have some dramatic moments, that’s still a LOT of characters in a not-a-lot of screen time (at 142 minutes, the movie still feels short). What makes the best superhero movies is when we enjoy the heroes just as much when they’re out of costume as we do when they’re in them — that’s why films like the original “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight” last.
“The Avengers” doesn’t have that level of depth, which ultimately puts it a notch below the very best. But what it does bring is amazingly fun action that satisfies the kid in all of us. This is the kind of rip-roaring adventure that we imagined in our backyards as we played with superhero action figures. Thanks to Whedon and his collaborators, if only for a couple hours, we get to play all over again.