The Avengers is a super-hero movie that lives up to the hype, even if you use the more demanding definition of the term that takes into account not only years of anticipation and a ridiculous conglomerate of actors, but also the much-lauded writing/directing talents of nerd superstar Joss Whedon. In other words, it’s not only big and fun, but it’s got the sense of humor and style to elevate it comfortably above the standard action flick. Hats are off to Whedon, who may finally springboard into the mainstream, carte blanche success he has so long deserved.
The Avengers is successful because it is funny and has some great action sequences, but also juggles a complex cast admirably. Despite a bit of a slowdown through the middle third, it’s overall a very lean movie. Whedon avoids the common pitfall of trying to do too much, as The Dark Knight did; the ensemble cast drives the story organically, even if I wished it paused to catch its breath a little more. The movie could have also done a better job of establishing a strong threat, like the Dark Knight does with its Joker; though the Avengers feel needed, they fall a little short of threatened. As a last quibble, I felt a couple of plot points could have been elaborated on better (minor spoilers here), such as Loki’s purpose for The Hulk or in getting captured to begin with.
But these are all really asides. The real draws of the movie are its wit – Whedon is known for snappy dialogue, but The Avengers demonstrates he also knows the value of a good visual gag – as well as some fantastic action set pieces that rival or top anything seen in a comic book movie. After a half-dozen reasonably entertaining skirmishes, The Avengers ends with a battle royale that is exactly what fans of the genre have been waiting for – a breathtaking, complex, sustained action sequence worthy of a super-hero super group. The action is GOOD action, too – it’s fast without being incomprehensible, and there are even those genius little moments like Captain America swatting a grenade in mid-air or Hawkeye using the wind to direct an impressive arcing shot. These little touches ground the audience back in some sense of reality; we feel these superhuman beings inhabit a real world, rather than a never-ending sequence of Falcon Punches.
Among comic book movies, I would slot The Avengers with The Dark Knight in a tier below Iron Man. It does not have quite the ingeniously-compelling plot of Iron Man, but it matches it in humor and exceeds it in the scope and quality of its action. And while I’m a little on the fence as to whether I “must” see it a second time in the theater (there was never any doubt with Iron Man), it’s unquestionably the rare film that’s worth plunking down 10 bucks to see it on the big screen. Assemble your crew – you’ll be glad you did.