Movie Review: The Avengers

Review by Jess Peacock

At one point in the new Marvel film The Avengers, ubiquitous SHIELD agent Coulson tells Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, that SHIELD has updated his classic suit with a few modifications. Rogers asks, “Isn’t the stars and stripes a little old fashioned?” At which point Coulson, an avowed fanboy of Cap, tells him that maybe, just maybe, old fashioned is what the world needs right now. And herein lies the magic of writer/director Joss Whedon’s approach to the record smashing live action superhero mash-up: old fashioned fun that hearkens back to the Halcyon days of the cinematic game changer Star Wars.

Nerd-god Whedon knows who the Avengers are, what they have been, and where they need to go. As such, he avoids the mistake of reinterpreting the mega-team through a post-modern, nihilistic lens, a trap too often ensnaring other contemporary superhero projects. Neither does Whedon devolve into camp (coughGreenLantern). Rather, he allows the characters to play in a world and respond to a threat that Marvel has brilliantly pieced together since the release of Ironman in 2008.

Ultimately, Whedon is somehow able to achieve this while giving every major hero their rightful due, not allowing the considerable presence of Robert Downey Jr. to overshadow the fact that this is a team-up film (a super-powered feat in its own right). And it works. At the start of the film, these characters are at cross-purposes, with their own agendas and egos blinding them to the larger developing threat. Steve Rogers is seemingly adrift in contemporary society; Tony Stark is focused on, well, Tony Stark; Thor is unable to see past his Asgardian responsibilities; and Bruce Banner just wants to be left alone in exile. As the gamma fueled doctor describes them, the Avengers are an unbalanced chemical mixture ready to explode…and the results may not be what Samuel L. Jackson’s manipulative and heroically amoral Nick Fury was hoping for.

Some reviews have complained that the first half of the film is paced too slow, that Whedon seems to get wrapped up in his own whip smart dialogue and fanboy glee at seeing these characters on screen for the first time in history. Unfortunately, this might be the Michael Bay effect so prevalent in modern action cinema, a terminal illness that demands a giant explosion destroying a major national landmark every two and a half minutes. Yes, The Avengers ultimately gets to the explosion-y goodness, and satisfyingly so. However, Whedon presciently lays the groundwork for something far more important in the film and the Marvel universe writ large: community.

Make no mistake, Joss Whedon’s fingerprints may be all over the aforementioned dialogue, however, it is his focus on the building of community that truly lies at the heart of The Avengers. Disparate ideologies coming together to serve a singular purpose is a staple motif of the Whedonverse (e.g. Firefly, which also seems to have influenced the look of SHIELD’s flying tech), and is the narrative engine that powers The Avengers. Why would an avowed capitalist, a jingoistic patriot, an introvert with anger management issues, and a demi-god who is quite literally above it all, ultimately decide to work together or even deign to be in the same room with one another? To say much more would be to venture into spoiler territory, but rest assured, the enmeshing of these considerable egos and powers feels organic and rather awe-inspiring (note: to witness the culmination of this new community, stick around to the very end of the credits for bonus clip deux).

None of it would ultimately be possible, however, without the presence of Tom Hiddleston and his maniacal return as Loki. A dark, more twisted God of Mischief than we previously witnessed in Thor, Hiddleston brings to the “big bad” of the film a demonic glee and palpable excitement as he schemes, murders, and manipulates the Avengers on his way to becoming the ruler of all of Midgard. His interactions with each hero reveal a mind that is truly lost and so desperate to be a king, a king of anything, that he is unable to see that he is himself a puppet in a larger cosmic scheme revealed in a truly nerdtastic post-credits denouement (are you really going there, Marvel??)

Aside from a somewhat generic score, The Avengers is a perfect superhero film in every way. While box-office receipts are no indication of the quality of a movie, the Hulk-smashing $200 million domestic weekend and $600 million twelve day worldwide haul (now exceeding $1-billion) is an indicator that moviegoers will respond to smart scripts that treat the fan and the property with respect. Marvel’s multi-year plan, building to what was previously an unthinkable cinematic scenario, is now playing out before the eyes of the world, and the overwhelming response is a testament to the vision, focus, and, yes, love of these heroes and gods of the new age brought to life by Marvel and the true hero of the day, Joss Whedon.