As a comic book fan of many years, it's almost hard to believe that The Avengers actually happened, let alone that it wasn't a train wreck. The slow buildup - Nick Fury in Iron Man, Tony Stark in The Incredible Hulk, Agent Coulson in everything - was a lot of fun, but the idea that all of the crossovers would culminate in some epic blowout seemed too good to be true. And yet after four years and five intertwining films, here’s The Avengers in all its marvelous glory.
The word "epic" is thrown around far too liberally and its power becomes diluted. It should be reserved for cases like this. The Avengers is epic, both in scope and quality. It could've been far less than what it was and still have been accepted by the mainstream. It might not have made a billion dollars, but I have little doubt that everyone involved in the production could've phoned it in (expect for maybe the special effects guys) and Avengers still would've recouped its costs and then some. That was the power that The Avengers wielded - it became a box office hit the moment it was conceived. The move that assured its critical success was Marvel putting Joss Whedon at the helm. Not just because Whedon is talented, though he certainly is, but because he's a sincere fan of the source material.
The Avengers works because the characters work, and the characters work because writer/director Joss Whedon loves these characters and knows how to handle them. They all exhibit distinct personalities, personalities that sometimes shine through certain characters even more than they did in their solo efforts. I'm not the first to point out that Loki is a stronger character here than he was in Thor, nor am I alone in considering Mark Ruffalo to be a far superior Bruce Banner than Bana or Norton. In fact, every character may be better written here than in previous films. That's alright, though. In reality it may be a product of varying levels of talent involved in the different productions, but it can easily be viewed as an evolution. The characters spent their freshman efforts (in Stark's case, his freshman and sophomore) growing and coming into their own, and now that those characters are comfortably who they are, the focus has shifted to the interaction between them.
I'm not spoiling anything by saying that the various Avengers don't gel right away. There are too many large egos for that to happen. What's wonderful is that when they do finally come together, it almost writes itself. And that isn't a blow to Whedon's writing, but a compliment. The characters he's helped create have such clear and expressed motivations that all of them coming together to save the world is the only outcome that makes sense. There is one character that, while not a detriment to the film, certainly doesn't add to it like the others. Samuel L. Jackson has a powerful presence and regardless of the effort he puts into a role, having him in a cast is almost always a benefit. That's good, because his performance as Nick Fury is half-hearted at best, which stands out thanks to the fantastic performances of his co-stars.
The Avengers is everything I dreamed of and a little more. The superhero team is beautifully realized and completely (super)human, the dialogue is spot-on, the funny moments are genuinely, gut-bustingly funny, and it all leads up to an exhilarating third act. Perhaps the most clever thing Whedon did is wrap all of this around a pretty generic plot. With so much goodness everywhere else, you won't care for a second.
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