As I write this, THE AVENGERS has
broken the current record for an opening box-office gross in the United
States. While this success is impressive
for a comic-book superhero film, given that some critics thought the trend was
burning out, it’s also vindicates Marvel Studios’ canny strategy: building up
advance support for AVENGERS through advance-hype in IRON MAN 2, THOR, and
Joss Whedon, who both directed and
co-wrote AVENGERS, does a fine job of translating for modern audiences the
appeal of early Marvel comics—hyperkinetic action, clever comic relief, strong
characterization and hero-crossovers.
Whedon’s teleseries efforts, ANGEL and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, showed
similar facility in all four departments, so he was surely the best choice to
assemble the Avengers.
The plot is as simple as the
original AVENGERS comic. In that story,
Thor’s villainous stepbrother Loki, wishing to destroy the Thunder God,
launched a plot that involved using the Incredible Hulk as a pawn, but ended up
involving Iron Man, the Ant-Man and the Wasp as well. After Loki’s defeat, the five heroes banded
together as the Avengers. Here,
following a storyline set up in the THOR film, Loki plots to open a cosmic
gateway, allowing alien marauders to subjugate the Earth, the planet Thor loves
best. Loki’s plot runs afoul of not just
Thor but also Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, and the Hulk
(who, to be sure, only appears in the last third of the picture, after Bruce
Banner finally fails to keep the green goliath under wraps).
In contrast to the mediocre
fight-choreography seen in THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE AVENGERS goes
all-out. Since the alien invasion
doesn’t take place until the film’s final third, Whedon keeps the plot-pot
boiling just as Marvel’s creators did: by having the heroes fight amongst
themselves-- Thor vs. Iron Man, Black Widow vs. Hawkeye, and— with an eye to
decades of Marvel-fans’ arguments—Thor vs. the Hulk. Whedon’s command of humor is no less strong,
whether it’s evoking Marvel catch-phrases like “Hulk smash” or giving Tony
Stark metrosexual references to shawarma.
Given the fast-paced narrative
there aren’t many in-depth character moments, though a confrontational scene
between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Tom Huddlestone’s Loki shows both actors to good
effect. One might complain that some of
the hero’s interactions become a little too fractious a little too quickly—
admittedly a characteristic of early Marvel comics as well. But here the heroes’ quarrelsomeness, though
rooted in their personalities, has been enhanced by Loki, which fact allows
Whedon a certain leeway.
Thematically THE AVENGERS could have been stronger. I suspect that Whedon patterned his screenplay not just on AVENGERS #1 but also on the animated Disney XD series, AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES. In that teleseries, the supergroup arises partially in counter-response to the “bkack ops” of Nick Fury’s SHIELD agency. Foe me this scenario concretizes the ethical basis of the superhero, making it an individual response against any kind of evil, including evils sanctioned by the government. In the live-action films, Nick Fury midwives the group’s birth, and though there are a few canards tossed at the superspy’s questionable morality, those sociopolitical vagaries go out the window when the alien horde comes calling.