Monday, May 7, 2012
Earth's Mightiest Movie
Yes, there's always contrarians out there and no movie is above criticism but The Avengers has elicited more of a positive consensus than any movie I can think of in recent (and even not-so-recent) memory. It's the right crowd-pleaser at the right time and writer/director Joss Whedon and his cast and crew can take a much-deserved bow for meeting impossibly high expectations with style.
Even though Whedon never shouldered a film as big as this, you wouldn't know it from watching how seamlessly he juggles The Avengers' large cast and sprawling action. In fact, I can't think of the last summer blockbuster that worked an audience into expressions of cheers, laughter, and applause as ably as this one does. I recall an interview with Whedon early on in The Avengers' production and he made a comment to the effect that while films that deconstructed the superhero genre were being seen as the next step in the genre's evolution, that he felt there hadn't been nearly enough really great, straight-forward superhero films yet - films that really deliver the kind of excitement found in comic books. And clearly The Avengers shows Whedon out to prove that point with a vengeance, leaving it hard to disagree that great comic book films - even in our cynical age - don't necessarily have to wallow in darkness.
They can actually be, you know, fun.
Calling The Avengers "fun", however, doesn't mean Whedon has shortchanged the Marvel heroes of their complexities. A large part of why The Avengers works is that Whedon writes each of the character's individual quirks and neuroses so well. These are characters who all have weak spots in their psyches and how they'll come together as a team - if they even can - is no simple matter.
The last forty minutes or so of The Avengers has been celebrated for its rousing action but I loved the early sections of the movie just as much for how well it depicted the difficulties these characters face in coming together. The moments where Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Thor, Black Widow, and Nick Fury (due to Loki's mental manipulations, Hawkeye is out of the main group until the later part of the film) are all verbally sparring, trying to advance their own agendas, and testing each other's moral mettle are pure Marvel.
To see these characters in close quarters on a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, getting their first taste of working with others as extraordinary as themselves, was just as thrilling to me as the many physical smackdowns peppered throughout the film. That said, those smackdowns are undeniably awesome. From the earliest days of Marvel Comics, their tumultuous heroes have brawled with each other nearly as much as with their enemies - whether due to mind control or misunderstandings - and The Avengers holds true to that tradition with almost every Avenger fighting each other at one point or another. As much as I've enjoyed the previous films from Marvel Studios (as well as many of the movies based on Marvel properties produced by other studios), The Avengers left me gobsmacked at how next level it is in bringing the full Marvel experience to life and how it opens up so many even bigger possibilties to come.
I've heard a few critical grumblings that this movie wasn't quite amibitious enough and that it took an artistically easy route and so on but boy, is that a misinformed opinion. Maybe because The Avengers came together so well, it's tempting to say now that it was an easy bet all along - just a no-brainer. But there was nothing easy or safe about the path that Marvel decided to take with their movie universe. Think about it - Warners and DC couldn't even make a successful franchise out of Green Lantern. So for Marvel to make characters like Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America (none of which are easy sells) into successful cinematic properties in their own right and then bring them all together into one film - that's huge. It's enormously amibitious and completely unprecedented and credit must be given to all involved for making it work.
In closing, I'd like to take a look at a fanmade clip that's been making the rounds lately - a fanciful fake promo for a made-for-TV Avengers film in the '70s. In case you haven't seen it, here it is:
It's cute piece of work, a funny "What If?" (the title of one of my favorite Marvel series back in the day, by the way) but as someone who grew up on the substandard Marvel TV movies of the '70s and who saw the company struggle to bring their properties to the screen in the '80s and early '90s, I'm not interested in basking in nostalgia anymore for the days when fans had to settle for less - not when the future of the Marvel movie universe seems so limitless.
As the cry was often sounded to Marvel's readers: "Face front, True Believers!"