I entered the theater this weekend with a little trepidation. The last time I watched a movie with its bar set so high, I was disappointed. That movie was The Dark Knight – undoubtedly a good movie, but especially in the wake of Heath Ledger’s death, I felt that the press laid the superlatives on a little too thickly. Similarly, every review I skimmed for The Avengers universally said good things. Did it live up?
In short, yes. Absolutely. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie in the theater as much as this one.
An Avengers or Justice League movie has been rumored or planned for a long time now, but it always seemed like one would never get made. There seemed to be a few key things standing in the way:
Superhero movies typically spend a lot of time on the “origin” story of the title character, and an ensemble superhero movie wouldn’t have any time left over for the actual story.
It would be difficult to assemble a good cast, with each hero’s face recognizable.
Getting all the actors to act in concert, rather than stealing the show, would be difficult.
Marvel solved the first two issues with a brilliant strategy: debut each major character in his own franchise, and lock the actors1 into an Avengers movie, should the plan proceed and the ensemble movie get made. First we had Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2008, then Iron Man 2 introduced The Black Widow in 2010, and Thor and CaptainAmerica got their own movies in 2011. Thus, the stage was set. We knew who each character2 was before millions of our butts packed the seats this weekend, and they were almost entirely the same principal (and secondary) cast.
Point 3 was addressed by Joss Whedon, who made sure that each actor kept in line and served the story. The exchanges between all of the Avengers rang 100% true to me, a fan of the comics for years. Tony Stark stole the show a little, but you expect him to, and it was a plot point in the movie.
I can’t imagine a better Avengers movie than the one we got. Whedon nailed each character on the head, and gave fans everything they wanted, on top of an experience that could be appreciated by non-fans as well (assuming you were at least a fan of the characters’ individual movies).
The Avengers felt more like the original comics than any other superhero movie I’ve seen (and I’ve seen just about all of them). As much as I like Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman (I really do), he’s breaking new ground in most ways. There are elements of Frank Miller and a handful of other writers and artists, but the vision is clearly his own. Whedon gave us the characters we already know and love, and there’s something magical about seeing that on the big screen.
Having read the various Avengers comic titles for a while, you get to know each of the characters, and how they interact. For instance, when Spider-Man fights The Hulk, Spider-Man is clearly the underdog. Thor, though, is in the same power-class and you expect a more even match. These and other truths are maintained consistently across time and creative teams, and Whedon demonstrated that.
Marvel comics in particular also offer something not typically seen in movies. While reading any given issue, you expect random characters from Marvel’s other series to pop up. I loved seeing secondary characters from Thor and Iron Man casually thrown into The Avengers, as if it only required ink and paint on a page (and again, played by the same actors, so no explanation3 was required).
We got awesome superheroes together fighting a serious threat, destroying New York City in photorealistic fashion, just like on an expertly drawn page. I couldn’t think of a single way Whedon should have changed the movie. Great job all around. The bar has been permanently raised.
Given how well this movie has down (and will surely continue to do), a sequel is assured. But will we ever see a Justice League movie? Can they solve the problems listed above in a similar manner? I’m not so sure. DC is making a Wonder Woman movie, they’re rebooting Superman, and are about to conclude a tremendously successful Batman franchise, but what about the rest of the League? Green Lantern fared rather dismally; would an Aquaman movie do much better? Time will tell.