Last night we saw Marvel’s latest superhero epic, The Avengers. We absolutely loved it. Joss Whedon didn’t simply make a good movie with characters that I already enjoyed. But he managed to achieve all the goals of a good superhero team movie, some of which seem in opposition.
For a superhero team movie to really shine, it has to have character moments for each individual hero while not slowing the movie down or stretching it to four hours. The stakes need to be high enough to justify assembling so much heroic firepower while not being so global or intergalactic that it takes us out of the story for being too scattered. And we all know that ultimately our heroes will triumph, but the danger and sacrifice must be real enough to keep us on the edge of our seat. Finally, the best superhero movies need to deliver more than simply the popcorn action set pieces, but to have a heart and a message under it all.
Joss Whedon (writer/director, for the three people who don’t already know) managed to do all of this with flying colors. The movie is 2:23 but seemed to fly by. Everyone gets their moment. Even the characters without superpowers have valuable skills and justify their presence on the team. The world is in jeopardy, but the stage of conflict is contained enough that we can follow the action. And in the midst of all the wild action set pieces, the movie has a lot of heart, and touches on many of the same familial themes of loyalty, morality, responsibility, and altruism of the best superhero movies.
The movie looks fantastic and is very exciting, but this is a cast of excellent actors and Whedon knows how to keep the moving moving while letting them act. Every actor has moments to shine here, and truly inhabits their roles. Hiddleston again proves that he can give a villain depth and real charisma, making the whole affair that much more real. Nobody plays a rock star superhero nursing his wounds and hiding a heart of gold like Downey Jr. Helmsworth, Evans, Renner, and Johansson bring their impressive talents into the mix, making a team of basically unbelievable characters (a god? a steroidal super soldier? etc) come to life. And Mark Ruffalo, who had a completely unenviable job of stepping into a role already played by Eric Bana and Ed Norton, in my opinion nailed Bruce Banner and The Hulk better than any of his predecessors. His Banner is not a whiny wallflower begging to be left alone, but a man who understands who he is and his capabilities as both scientist and monster.
As a fan of action movies, superhero movies, and fantasy, I walked into The Avengers expecting to have a good time. Even so, I was very pleasantly surprised by just how good the final movie was. If you’re looking for some pre-summer and summer fun at the cinema that will not simply entertain, but engage you, this movie will.