For those who don’t know, cult favourite writer/director Joss Whedon hasn’t had the smoothest of rides in Hollywood. His first foray into feature film writing was the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a film that was mangled and reinterpreted into a lacklustre comedy. He had better luck with his contributions to Toy Story soon after, and of course TV’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ will go down in history as a show that left an indelible imprint on the vampire, horror and teen drama genres. After that, we had the fourth Ellen Ripley outing, Alien: Resurrection, which according to Whedon was completely misinterpreted by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet et al. Then we had two animated features that under-performed, Titan A.E. and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The TV series ‘Angel’, ‘Firefly’ and ‘Dollhouse’ were all axed before their time by callous networks, and Firefly’s second chance – the Serenity feature – didn’t do well enough to lead to a continuation of the series. He also spent a year on a Wonder Woman movie that never happened, and most recently, Cabin in the Woods had been sitting in post-production hell for three years whilst the bankrupt MGM got back on its feet (though thankfully this will be appearing in Australia in July). This might all seem depressing, but consider that a) I have enjoyed every one of his creations, and b) with The Avengers, Joss Whedon has finally struck gold in every way. This is a film that’s going to please comic book fanatics and mainstream audiences, and is a true rollercoaster ride of a popcorn movie.
The slow coalesce of the Marvel movies’ metanarrative has been fascinating to watch. Have we ever seen such a long term plan in the movie industry? I have no doubt that the risky venture is going to pay off, because The Avengers would have to be the best Marvel film of them all. The ride to here has been somewhat uneven – keeping in mind that my views of each of the films seem to differ from the consensus – but this flick certainly couldn’t exist without that which has come before.
This raises the only problem with Whedon’s kick-arse movie – you have to have seen Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America before you see this one. Practically no time is spent detailing the backstory to the main threat in The Avengers: Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the Tesseract. I’ve seen all the films, and even I had some problems trying to remember what had happened in each of the prequels.
This makes some sense, however, because The Avengers is all about the team up of the heroes, and not really the evil that they’re combating. Whedon excels at assemblage storytelling. A look at any of his previous work proves this – multiple characters with differing personalities and motivations; this is what his work thrives on. Of course, some get more attention then others here. It comes as no surprise that Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is practically the main character – another in the long line of strong female leads written by Whedon. She’s strong, assertive, intelligent and no-nonsense, and not once does the camera salaciously follow the contours of her body. If a Black Widow feature ever gets made, I sincerely hope that Whedon is Marvel’s first choice.
Tony Stark gets a fair share of the screen time – and it’s no wonder, since Robert Downey Jr. has been the most popular of the recent crop of superheroes. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner gets a decent amount of attention also. It was clear the screenplay would have to spend a significant portion of running time focussing on him since there have been two previous actors in two previous films, none of which have had a stellar reception. The rest – Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – are all present and accounted for, but they don’t get much in the way of character development. Surprisingly, the film pays more attention to Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) than ever before, whilst Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is absent for a lot of the film.
When it comes to the action, however, all are present and accounted for. Whedon’s comic book writing with ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8’, ‘Fray’ and his ‘Astonishing X-Men’ run have all proven that he knows how to handle superhero biffo, and The Avengers is no exception. Hands down, this has the best action of any of the Marvel movies. Not only that, but it has the best visual effects of the series to date. It’s clear that a LOT more money was splashed around, and whilst not perfect, it shames the rather awful effects work present in last year’s Captain America.
In terms of pure entertainment value, The Avengers excels. Nowhere else could you find epic set pieces but at the same time have hilarious asides peppered throughout the dialogue – for instance Steve Rogers getting excited that he understood a reference to The Wizard of Oz or Tony Stark wondering just how Nick Fury manages to operate with monocular vision. The central plot itself may be nothing to write home about, but it is the interactions between the superheroes that we paid to see, and The Avengers delivers in spades. An absolute must for comic book fans, and I have no doubt that everyone else on the planet is probably going to go along to see it anyway.Rating: