Holy sh*t, holy sh*t, holy sh*t, holy sh*t, holy sh*t…
That was my reaction after watching Marvel’s The Avengers earlier today. I was half afraid that it wouldn’t live up to the hype (it had a 100% rate on aggregate review site www.rottentomatoes.com based on critics’ early reviews). After all, Marvel Studios has had such a long run of awesome movie making that they were bound to serve up another dud. Plus, you know it’s written and directed by Joss Whedon, which raises the expectations that much more.
I should have known better. Whedon has never failed to impress and it’s no different now that he’s handling someone else’s intellectual property.
Marvel’s The Avengers is a long time coming. In 2008, Iron Man sported a post-credits scene where Samuel L. Jackson shows up as Marvel’s cinematic universe’s version of Nick Fury to recruit Tony Stark for the “Avengers Initiative”. For the next few years, each Marvel Studios film has had a post-credits scene that depicted something bringing us closer and closer to an actual Avengers real-life movie.
Insert fanboy squeal here.
The Incredible Hulk had Jackson reprise his role to ask General Ross about everyone’s favorite angry green giant. Then in Iron Man 2, Agent Coulson discovers Thor’s hammer in the New Mexico desert. The ending scene in Thor showed Fury recruiting Dr. Erik Selvig to work on the cosmic cube (apparently calle d “The Tesseract” in the cinematic universe). Captain America: The First Avenger’s tie-in was a scene in modern day New York where Steve Rogers first encounters Fury. All of this ties into the story of the new film.
The new film’s antagonist is ostensibly Loki (Tom Hiddleston from Thor), who comes back from exile having travelled through the far reaches of space. He serves as the vanguard for an army of Chitauri (a cooler version of the classic shape shifting Skrulls) and has been tasked with opening a portal that will allow the invasion of Earth to start. His first task is to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. and steal back the cosmic cube.
In his way of course are The Avengers, Earth’s mightiest heroes. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Oh, and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). He kicks ass.
Other cast members from the previous films also reprise their roles. Sam Jackson is still playing Nick Fury, and he gets to see some action this time around. Stellan Skarsgård still plays Dr. Selvig and Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, Tony Stark’s partner from the Iron Man films. Paul Bettany also returns as the voice of Jarvis and get this, Lou Ferrigno does the voice of Hulk (for those of you too young to remember, Ferrigno played the Incredible Hulk in the 70’s TV series). Stan Lee also does his requisite cameo.
There are a few new faces as well. Cobie Smulders (Robin from How I Met Your Mother) plays Agent Maria Hill and looks awesome doing it. Alexis Denisof (Wesley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) also shows up as “The Other” which I have to assume is the dude that looks to be overseeing Loki’s exploits on Earth for the big bad. For the most part, though, it’s the Avengers’ show.
A friend of mine told me that the reason he didn’t like Thor was because it wasn’t “big” enough. The same could be said of Captain America: The First Avenger in my book. Neither film felt as over the top as X-Men United or Iron Man 2. I don’t think either will be a problem with this movie. There are really only 2 or 3 big set pieces but they are long, satisfying, and make you want to stand up and clap at the end. Whedon knows how to write those stand-up-and-cheer moments, and his directing has only gotten better since his first feature, Serenity.
He also knows how to write comedy. At one point, Hulk cold cocks Thor right in the face, just for the hell of it. The gag is totally unexpected and is so perfectly timed right smack in the middle of a huge fight scene that you can’t help by break out in laughter. There’s another scene where Thor is defending his brother Loki’s honor when one of the other Avengers besmirches it. Widow mentions that he’s killed about 80 SHIELD agents by this point in the movie (it was a busy first hour) and Thor quips, “He’s adopted”.
The movie is a gem of accessibility. It’s not just the comedy or the action, either. Though I consider myself a geek, I’m not as obsessive about the Avengers as I am with other properties. I know enough to not ask stuff like “who’s that guy?” every time someone new is introduced, but I couldn’t tell you how closely this cinematic version of The Avengers follows the comic canon. I can tell you that the Chitauri are part of the Ultimate universe (a sub-line of comics that re-introduced new versions of characters to make it easier for new readers to follow), and that the costumes aren’t anything like what they look like in the books. I can tell you that these aren’t really the founding members of The Avengers (they were Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp). I can tell you that in the comics, Nick Fury is a white guy with a stogie in his mouth.
I can also tell you that none of that really matters.
The movie is a well-told story about an alien invasion that is stopped by a group of extraordinary men and women. It’s that simple and most people how will be pulled into seeing it by this or any other recommendation will likely be seeing it in that context. Whedon and the cast and crew have succeeded in creating a film that caters to both the fanboys and the general movie going public, while not going for the lowest common denominator like Michael Bay. The script is smart and pace is fairly brisk. Character moments are balanced with over-the-top action scenes. CGI serves the story and there aren’t any shots that are just there for the sake of showing off (unless you count the SHIELD Helicarrier, but you have to put that in to satisfy the comic geeks).
Even the alien designs feel thought out. It’s odd because the Chitauri are onscreen less than the aliens in Battleship were, yet they feel far more original and threatening. I love their troop carriers (I’m not going to describe them here since that would spoil it for you). They make me feel like I’m reading Starship Troopers again for the first time.
If there is one thing I don’t like about Marvel’s The Avengers, It’d have to be Captain America’s new uniform. It kind of looks dorky. But that’s about all I can come up with. The rest is just f*cking awesome. Pure, unadulterated, *cking awesome. I felt the urge to stand up and clap when it was done.
Frankly, I’m watching it again tomorrow, and then probably a third time this weekend. By the time the month is over, I plan to have every second of this movie memorized and analyzed. Then I’ll buy the DVD and geek out on the commentary and the 30 extra minutes of footage that Whedon promised.
I can’t wait.