I’m an old-time DC Comics reader. As a kid, in the 1970’s, I only occasionally read a Marvel comic book. But when it comes to cinema, I can only thank the gods for Christopher Nolan and his Batman trilogy, without which DC would be almost completely shut out of the truly classic comic book movie group.
Marvel has been light years ahead of DC for quite a while, and DC’s horrifying attempt to catch up with last year’s disastrous Green Lantern, a film which disappointed me all the more since Green Lantern was one of my childhood favorites, only demonstrated how much better Marvel works with the big screen and big bucks.
The Avengers takes Marvel’s dominance to a whole new level. It can be fairly said that this is everything a superhero movie should be, and then some.
Marvel Studios deserves a lot of credit for tapping Joss Whedon to write and direct this movie. Whedon’s previous big screen forays — Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Serenity, The Cabin in the Woods — have been far more humble efforts with much smaller budgets. It took some guts, despite Whedon’s cult following (of which I’m a proud member), to trust him with a $220 million blockbuster which had been built towards for six years.
And that gutsy call paid off. Whedon was the perfect man to helm this enterprise. He maintained the sense of the classic comics while keeping the feel modern.
But that was only one piece of a very tricky balancing act that was required to pull this film off. Whedon also needed to allow each of the characters to shine while not letting any of them steal the movie, not an easy feat when dealing with The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and, of course, Thor. Nor is it any easier to let big stars like Robert Downey, Jr., Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson shine without distracting from the roller coaster action.
Whedon pulled that off and got delightful performances from all the actors. Mark Ruffalo’s take on Bruce Banner was both consistent with the earlier Ed Norton version of The Hulk (we’ll forget the Ang Lee film ever happened, ok?) and inspired and fresh in its own right. Scarlett Johansson was incredibly sexy but also has plenty to do and holds her own as a character whose abilities are terribly dwarfed by the superheroes around her. Whedon keeps the whole cast on track, getting just the performances we’d expect from those we’ve seen before, but never allows any of them to steal the show.
The special effects are spectacular and the action scenes were expertly shot, despite the fact that this was a much bigger endeavor than anything Whedon had taken on before. Rarely have I seen 3D used this effectively (I usually find it an unnecessary distraction), and the movie as a whole, from costume and set design to some spectacular monsters, is pure eye candy.
Of course, the movie offers little in the way of plot and is largely very predictable, but the simple adventure story carries the film easily, and it really is just a chapter in an ongoing story, so this aspect works very well too.
It’s a lot of fun to watch the more moody and personal movies that Nolan’s Batman trilogy brings us, and which, judging from the previews, the rebooted Spiderman series promises. But with this many major figures from the childhood of my generation are going to be on the screen, what you want is a roller coaster ride. Joss Whedon delivered that, with a good number of well-placed belly laughs and characterizations which remained true to the classic comics yet also felt very 2012.
If you wanted to build your ideal superhero spectacle, you couldn’t do it better then The Avengers. Maybe some day the folks at DC can do the same justice to their characters instead of feeding us drivel like Green Lantern or Superman Returns.