At my screening of Marvel’s The Avengers, the audience couldn’t wait until the end of the film before erupting in applause. In the midst of a massive action sequence in the third act of the story, the entire Avengers team, including Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow, assembled on screen and seeing them together was too amazing to ignore. It was a tribute to how entertaining the film truly was; a reaction to a wonderful payoff moment built up by well-crafted characters, witty dialogue and a thoroughly thrilling script. And I won’t be surprised if happens again and again once the movie is released worldwide.
A direct sequel that follows the events of the previous Marvel Universe movies, the film begins when Loki (Tom Hiddleston) finds his way back to Earth and steals the Tesseract – an alien source of pure energy – and threatens to enslave the human race with the help of his extraterrestrial army (called the Chitauri). Seeing no other option, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the leader of the covert government outfit known as S.H.I.E.L.D., assembles the team of superheroes known as The Avengers (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner) to stop Loki’s plans.
Rather than creating an uneven mix or trying to focus more heavily on any one specific character, writer/director Joss Whedon has constructed The Avengers as a balanced ensemble. In addition to everyone getting at least one great action sequence, all of the characters are fully fleshed out and given an arc to work with, whether it’s Captain America’s struggle to adjust in the modern world, Thor’s guilt about his brother, Iron Man’s ego and single-mindedness, or Hulk’s fear of his own power. Even Black Widow and Hawkeye, who were largely minimized in their previous appearances, are fully fleshed out and provided with backstories that give us a better understanding of their characters.
As fun as the other Marvel movies have been to this point, the action sequences have operated on a small scale, and The Avengers does more than compensate. Seemingly taking on a philosophy of “go big or go home,” the action is not only pure spectacle, but perfectly paced and shot by Whedon, who makes frequent cuts so that we can see everything that’s going on with the different heroes. The final battle sequence between the superhero team and Loki’s army is better than all of the action in the other Marvel movies combined and multiplied by ten. It earns the buildup from all the preceding films by being the most epic title we’ve seen with these characters yet.
Over the course of his career, Whedon has become well known for his smart characters, quick wit, and emotional gut punches, and this film will only serve to bolster that reputation. Though never even coming close to spoof territory, the movie is actually very funny, both in dialogue (such as Captain America actually recognizing a pop culture reference from The Wizard of Oz) and physical humor (most notably a confrontation between Hulk and Loki). Though a tiny bit off towards the beginning, the pacing of the film quickly comes together as the writer/director is able to both tell the story he wants to tell and mix in multiple high-tension fight and action sequences.
As a lifelong comic book fan, I walked into The Avengers with the highest hopes and deepest fears. A little over two hours later, as the credits began to roll, I turned to the friend sitting next to me, smiled and exclaimed, “They actually did it!” What Whedon and Marvel have created here is not just extraordinary, but one of the most entertaining and satisfying comic book movies yet.