It's been a long time in the making but The Avengers finally arrived last Friday. Here we are just one weekend removed from the opening and it already is setting records, absolutely shattering the all-time opening weekend record by raking in a whopping $207 million.
I can't really say I'm surprised. Superhero movies tend to do fairly well as a genre in general, and this one is about as big as they come (ball's in your court Dark Knight Rises). If memory serves me correctly, it was all the way back in 2008 when Iron Man one premiered that an Avengers movie was first hinted at, in what is now one of those maddeningly standard post-credit Easter egg scenes.
Since then we've seen Iron Man twice, we've seen Edward Norton come and go as the Hulk, and we've had individual efforts from both Captain America and Thor. I can't say I've enjoyed every one of those individual puzzle pieces, but most of them were a good deal of fun to varying degrees. I did grow quite tired of each individual movie feeling less like stand alone efforts as time went on and more like necessary stepping stones to the ultimate finish line. Luckily, The Avengers more or less makes up for all of that.
The Avengers was put in good hands with director Joss Whedon. Perhaps best known for his TV writing credits, Whedon also wrote some very highly thought of X-Men comics and his proven himself more than adept at writing screenplays for the big screen as well. Nothing he's ever directed has come close to the massive scale present here. The plot here is nothing new for comic fare, and it can be summed up rather quickly.
The good guys, in this case S.H.I.E.L.D. (that organization led by Samuel L. Jackson), possess something the bad guy wants. In this case it's a glowing blue cube (why is it always a cube?) called the "tesseract" (we were introduced to this in Captain America: The First Avenger) that both sides want for obviously conflicting purposes.
S.H.I.E.L.D. claims to want the tesseract as a clean energy source, while Loki (Tom Hiddleston - the brother of and villain that we were introduced to in Thor) wants the tesseract as a bribe to an other-worldly population that he envisions invading earth with. So Loki steals the tesseract rather easily early on, and S.H.I.E.L.D. faces the unlikely task of assembling a group of less than enthusiastic superheroes who'll need to work together to save the planet. Simple, right?
The Avengers has many things working in its favor, but its biggest strength is its humor. Whedon never loses sight of what he's dealing with, which when all is said and done, is a pretty silly set of grown men in costumes. Whedon embraces the silliness of it all. The joking routinely pokes fun at things that might otherwise induce eye-rolling.
You even get the feeling that some of the corny dialogue was purposely put there. With all of the joking there are enough serious moments (some more believable than others) throughout that prevent the overall feel and tone of the movie from crossing what is a fine line between lighthearted fun and cheese.
The action sequences are also pretty spectacular, with the final 45 minutes or so being consumed by one massive battle that destroys most of Manhattan. This doesn't always feel like the typical action sequence that is just wall-to-wall action however.
With so many characters at his disposal, Whedon is able to balance the biggest action with quieter moments of other characters off helping civilians, or planning their next attack. This is a bit of a luxury that allows the film to avoid what other big-time action movies rarely seem to avoid: that feeling of repetitive, monotonous action and noise that doesn't always appear to be serving a purpose.
Whedon also does an excellent job of balancing screen time between an unusually large number of actors and big-time characters, almost all of whom have been given their own full length movies. This easily could have become a crowded exercise that lacked any sort of meaningful character development, but somehow Whedon manages to give each character their own solo time and their own time with the group, and it ends up feeling pretty balanced with a couple of exceptions.
If I had to guess, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man gets the most screen time, but I don't think that's an accident. His fast talking, sarcastic yet often hilarious character is not only the best performance in the movie, but is the most likable character of the bunch.
At the other end of the spectrum seemed to be Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, who felt a bit underused considering Renner's strength as an actor. It's not that he's given nothing to do, it's just that at times he feels unnecessary, and at other times feels like he's serving more of a purpose in expanding on Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow.
Mark Ruffalo takes over the role of Bruce Banner nicely, and I liked Chris Hemsworth's Thor more here as part of the larger group than I did as his own primary lead character. It's also nice to see Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury turn into a real character as opposed to the one-scene hint that he had been previously.
Hiddleston, whose Loki character was the highlight in the otherwise underwhelming Thor film, is even better here. He's creepy, conniving, and compelling, which is a must for basically a single villain that manages to have such a massive group of protagonists on the ropes.
Simply put, The Avengers is a lot of fun. It'll be hard to go back to any single-character Marvel movies after this one. It's definitely raised the bar.