I was never much of an Avengers fan in my younger, comic-reading days; I preferred the darker and more serious books. I’ve enjoyed the occasional story recently though; for me they’re like brainless popcorn films put into comic form. So this franchise really does make the logical big-budget blockbuster choice in terms of bringing comics to the big screen. Mind you, so have a few other movies that have not been any good at all (despite their box-office success). This movie could have gone so wrong but it didn’t; it went so right, for so many reasons. Ultimately I think the lion’s share of the success of this film belongs to Joss Whedon. In fact, it might all belong to him.
Every line is this film is honed to a razor-edge, which is something Whedon excels at. Unlike some writing of this style, however, he generally manages to keep the flow of the dialogue natural and there is lashings of absurd nonsense-humour that only accentuates the effect. Robert Downey Jr stars as the main Joss-Whedon-quip-delivery vehicle in this particular instance, which fits well with the character of Tony Stark. There are a number of shiningly irreverent cut-away gags, largely driven by Stark, though others get a bit of a look in. “That man is playing Galaga!”
The secondary tool for comedic effect is Bruce Banner/The Hulk, who was the most pleasant surprise in the film. Firstly Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is utterly perfect, I haven’t seen either of the other two films, but I find it hard to picture either of the actors who played him as right for the part (and I’m a big fan of both). The Hulk is a character who always seemed really boring next to other characters in the Marvel universe and this is another Joss Whedon signature: taking the supporting character who never gets enough play and making them into something really interesting and stage-grabbing. Needless to say comedic moments involving The Hulk are pretty slapstick. One of them is probably the best 1-second of the film in my opinion, but I won’t give away what it is.
The lesser Avengers (the ones who haven’t had their own films (yet)) get good play too; Black Widow in particular gets a lot of time. Unsurprisingly this character gets more actually development, and probably a longer arc, than any of the others; Joss Whedon loves his femme fatales. Her fight choreography is stunning and the manipulation scenes are incredibly well played. Hawkeye gets to be quite central to the plot development too, but doesn’t get quite as much screen time or back-story.
Captain America is about the only thing about this film that disappointed me; he’s just not old-fashioned enough. He drives a couple of humorous moments with his inability to recognise modern references but a really stark contrast between the culture of the ‘40s and the modern day would have given this character a lot more depth, and it’s about the only thing that was lacking from the film.
Thor is… Thor. Well played, surprisingly little screen-time given his (adopted) brother is the central villain. I guess with all the Black Widow/Tony Stark/Hulk gold to deliver there was only so much time for the others, even in a movie that’s nearly 2.5 hours long.
The length is fully justified though, and it doesn’t seem long. The movie is perfectly paced; round-table quip-fests interspersed with scenery-busting action. It knows it’s an action film and it plays it right: the film opens with action and the action is never far away. Any scene is either things getting broken by people being thrown into them or a chance for Joss Whedon to off-load a metric shit-tonne of absurd wit; any character establishment is woven into the blood-stained tapestry of the biggest egos in the Marvel universe beating the crap out of each other and, occasionally, the bad-guys. The long string of glory-duels between the ‘team’ highlight one of the main successes of this film: being true to the comic book method. When people read crossover comics they do so to see the two heroes wail on each other and to close the ledger on a string of bets they have with all their equally-geeky friends about “who would win in a fight between x and y”. As it turns out the true winner is super-hero cinema.