By Jessica Delfanti | May 3, 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston
Few moments in cinema have incited as much delight, rumor, or anticipation as the after credits appearance of Samuel L. Jackson in Iron Man. With the final words, “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative,” Jackson represented a movement away from the formulaic superhero film toward a project that would restore the glory of the comic books that inspired the hero craze in the first place. With grace, humor, and more than a few winks at the audience, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers reinvents the superhero film and delivers one of the best action adventures ever made.
With a tantalizing marketing campaign that dropped hints and teasers after the credits of the Avengers’ origin story films, The Avengers set an impossibly high bar for its performance. In a movie year brimming with highly anticipated films, Joss Whedon’s ambitious project could have drowned in its own hype. Instead, The Avengers, like its protagonists, accomplishes an impossible feat: not only meeting, but surpassing, the public’s expectations.
It is no accident that the carefully orchestrated The Avengers is so impressive. Whedon and co-writer Zak Penn’s writing is extremely tight, polished, filled with perfectly timed jokes and emotional development. As a result, the film is not simply a film about explosions and super powers; it is a comedic and emotional journey into the comic book world. While we have seen other action adventures with similar balances of story and action, the quick humor may be the film’s most exciting and unique aspect. Emerging from a tradition of superhero tales that takes themselves far too seriously, The Avengers is deeply layered with witty references to the comic’s history, tongue in cheek nods to the standard failings of the genre, and hilarious references to classical aspects of certain heroes’ personalities. The result is a breathless audience, gasping after bouts of laughter and awe-inspiring action scenes alike.
Naturally, Whedon’s writing and particular tone would do nothing were it not for his absurdly talented cast. Robert Downey, Jr. returns as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and delivers every line with a savory enjoyment. Chris Evans’ Captain America is the decently optimistic foil for Iron Man, while Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is a grunting, ethereal god with little to say and a lot to hit. Jackson reprises his role as the wry Nicky Fury. The two humans in the Avengers, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) supply the narrative with much needed firepower and the inkling of a romance. And most pleasantly surprising of all is Mark Ruffalo’s understated, tense, and undeniably magnetic performance as Dr. Banner, more commonly known as the Hulk.
The Avengers finds our heroes scattered across different continents and solar systems. It is only when Loki (Tom Hiddleston) returns to earth and makes off with the Tesseract, a power source that viewers will recognize from the Avengers’ individual films, that Fury and Black Widow begin to gather up the different members of a defense initiative called the Avengers. Together, the team must stop Loki from enacting his plan to enlist the Chitauri army in an attack upon the earth–a plan apparently motivated by Loki’s desire to destroy the one thing that Thor loves.
Admittedly, the plot takes backseat to other elements of the film. The real conflict appears as the powerful heroes and their equally imposing egos come into play. Some of the most engaging scenes are those where the Avengers face off against each other, whether it’s through heated discussions or actual demonstrations of their physical abilities.
Whedon encases these scenes of development and conflict with thrilling action sequences that are beautifully choreographed, busy, and meaningful. The 3D is used subtly, almost unnoticeable in its enhancement, and yet lending a pulsing reality to the action. Even with this effect, the action scenes are extremely clean and avoid gore or brutality, delivering something tasteful and engaging.
As The Avengers plunges through its disaster-movie climax, it is with such a careful pace and mesmeric character dynamic that the film’s over two hour run-time is barely felt. When the credits do roll, viewers will be satisfied but also fiercely, addictively, wanting more. Thank God–or should we say Stan Lee?–there will be.