Marvel’s The Avengers is a very expansive – “big” – film for the viewer to take in. Big in the sense that director Joss Whedon (a writer for the Roseann TV show, and co-writer of Sigourney Weaver’s Alien:Resurrection, as well as the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course) to supersize the world he creates, and has enough sense to realize what a mess putting too many stars into one picture can potentially be. So he drops the ingredients into this cake’s batter with fine pacing and quality intrigue. The script is adult, not talking down to the viewers, and lines like “His secrets have secrets” from Tony Stark (Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr.) speaking of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), are indellible. The Avengers Initiative, Nick Fury’s plan, would actually be a better title for the film, or even Avengers Assemble, which may have been the working title, though I guess the actual title is “Marvel’s The Avengers”.
The Boston Herald’s Mark Perigard astutely notes that Captain America’s costume gets in the way. Chris Evans in a t-shirt looks more ready-to-rumble than he does in pseudo-Spandex, and he plays Cap more believably than his Johnny Storm from Fantastic Four. James Verniere (also of The Boston Herald, a film so big it needs two reviews in the same paper) gives props to Mark Ruffalo. Actually, Verniere says that Ruffalo’s Hulk steals the show, but I would have to defer to Euclid’s axiom – “the whole is equal to and greater than the sum of its part.” The beauty of The Avengers is the combination of the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Nick Fury, Captain America and Hawkeye. To me Scarlett Johansson would have made more sense as sorceress the Scarlet Witch, her Black Widow’s a little too much like a female Captain America in this, but maybe that makes sense because too much sizzle could overload the senses, and director Whedon has enough explosions and chaos to probably require dozens of assistants just to keep editing scorecards handy.
A personal prefernce about the antagonist would require a more menacing group of megalomaniacs, say the Frightful Four, one of the early foes of the Fantastic Four. That would have made for some malicious fun!…and hold that thought – we’ll get back to it in a moment.
Hulk Smash does bring that character his just due after Ang Lee didn’t give the excellent Eric Bana an opportunity to take the hero to where he needed to go (and after Edward Norton seemed out of place taking over for Bana; Norton was far more malevolent in the Richard Gere film Primal Fear). Ruffalo is a nicely aloof Bruce Banner and the Hulk is a monster with no regard for anything, which is the way we like it. He’s simply bent on all-out destruction. It is the best representation yet of the creature on the silver screen, so kudos to Whedon for accomplishing that. I could have done without the villain being Loki as the Asgard mythology stuff is better left to the Thor films, we need a more “normal” villain to get the ball rolling. Again, the Frightful Four or even the under-utilized Sentinels from the X-Men would bave been superb crossover evildoers to begin this franchise with. It’s the bad guys who are the downer here, a sort of cross between the craziness of the third X-Men flick and those other sentinels from The Matrix…all buzzing about and cluttering up the screen. But the deficiencies are outweighed by a solid script, wonderful sets and scenery and the fast pace that is elementary. And the cooperation of the heroes.
Let’s face it, this Avengers movie with all its pre-hype was almost as predictable as an episode of The Golden Girls where you know the punchline before the joke even gets out of Estelle Getty or Bea Arthur’s mouth. The Avengers was always meant to be an escape from the mistakes of the three Fantastic Four movies (I’m including the original Roger Corman one to boot!), and how some of the Marvel competition, DC’s earlier Superman and Batman films lost their way. The Avengers would be an enhancement and in that regard this film does not disappoint. The beauty of the aforementioned Golden Girls TV show is that all four actresses took the cliche and made it special. Whedon does that here in the superhero world…we knew exactly what we were going to get before seeing the trailer, reading a review or knowing who the villain would be. The Avengers, much like the Harry Potter series, was going to be hard to screw up – and with so much potential revenue on the line, it would be as well thought out as the most accurate business plan could make it. All one had to do is read the directions on the label to learn from the mistakes of previous films of this genre, no matter which comic book company walked the path first.
Now, how can it be improved upon? That’s easy. We die-hard comic book fans from the early 1960s have always wanted a perfect translation from comic book to silver screen. That’s it. Just take the original script and bring it forward and please, please, we beg of you Hollywood…no more “origin of…” the characters. If anyone on this planet doesn’t know the origin of Superman or Spiderman or Batman or the Hulk by now let them go to Wikipedia. The Avengers is an “origin” story, but not as tedious as it could have ended up in the wrong hands. The directions were followed, Whedon succeeds where others went sideways.
The Avengers were always in the shadow of the more famous Fantastic Four and now that the films are bringing in billions (where the comic books are said to be on the decline), for most of the world what they see on the big screen will be the lasting memories of these heroes, especially as those of us who grew up on Marvel Comics…the classic Marvel Comics…get older and fade away. The thrill of waiting for your favorite comic month after month, the brilliant stories and colorful pages find themselves perfect ideas for the movie industry. But the problem has always been that scriptwriters try to reinvent the wheel and until The Dark Knight and Batman Begins we didn’t have decent comic book representation in Hollywood.
So, to wrap it up, where does The Avengers fit in? Other than the fact that the famous Spy-Fi Diana Rigg / Patrick McGoohan tv show turned movie from 1961 could sometimes confuse the masses (as the comic book characters utilize the same name), this motion picture is going to create a new niche; as of this writing (May 4) it is already on its way to being a blockbuster just from the foreign receipts. The projection is that the worldwide box office will be up to around $600 million dollars after the first American weekend.
The character development is good. The sound effects on the explosions are made to please, not too harsh, but very exciting, and our comic book heroes coming to life as a team warms the heart. The Avengers is a fun ride and will keep your attention with repeated spins. It’s a winner…I might just go see it again this weekend.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.