My intention was to chart the important comic book movies, those that really contributed to the rise of the genre (and hence to the coming of The Man of Steel). So some Marvel fans might argue that I should touch on Iron Man and maybe some of the other Phase 1 movies like Captain America and Thor. Well, those people would be wrong. Frankly, Iron Man was nothing special. It was well executed, sure, but the ground had been laid by the X-Men and Spidey. Iron Man is only important because it launched Phase 1 for Marvel and everything in Phase 1 was building toward one thing…
There’s a semi-valid argument to be made that The Avengers cannot be considered a great movie in its own right because it depends so heavily on how well its characters were established in the films building up to it. I said “semi.” When you get down to it, the same could be said of the Dark Knight. Though knowing who Batman is would get you pretty far with that movie, the whole Rachel storyline was built in Begins. So, it is right and proper that we consider the awesomeness of The Avengers…
And awesome is the word. The first and most astounding thing is that, as I said before, it just shouldn’t have worked. To take three heroes who have been built up in separate movies and shoehorn them together successfully into one movie is feat enough, but The Avengers not only accomplishes this but it also makes the most interesting characters the bit players who stepped up–Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Scarlett Johansson’s for-some-reason-accent-free Black Widow. Marvel has chosen its directors wisely and trusted them to pull off the fairly challenging task of making the absurd more than watchable, but absurdly entertaining. But with an ensemble cast like this, there really was only one director who could pull it off. For those of us who have been long-time fans of Joss’s, seeing the whole world–the whole bloody verse!–acknowledge and admire his genius is extremely gratifying (and it doesn’t hurt that he’s just a heck of a guy).
In Joss We Trust…10
Now, just the other day I was writing about The Dark Knight, giving it my highest (yet still hopelessly arbitrary) rating yet. But there’s something I didn’t mention about the plot of The Dark Knight that I’d like to address by way of contrast. Much has been made of the trope of the villain landing himself in the good guys’ hands in a way that is “all part of the plan” in recent films (cough, Skyfall, cough). Yes, clearly The Dark Knight did this before The Avengers, but there’s a key difference to the move Whedon’s screenplay is making compared to Goyer and the Nolan brothers’ Dark Knight: the good guys eventually win. In The Dark Knight, the Joker pretty much gets everything he wants (cough, Skyfall, cough). The good guys are manipulated at every stage of the game and in the end, Harvey Dent is dead–and a murderer–and Batman’s forced to flee in disgrace (and apparently, if the sequel is to be believed, to become a giant cry-baby). But the massive, sprawling, absolutely unbelievably epic action finale of The Avengers (which is way more exciting than Batman having to kill a couple of Rottweilers to stop his nemesis from kicking him on the ground) results in an actual victory for the good guys. And dang it, isn’t beating the bad guys something comic book superheroes are supposed to do?
As I’ve already intimated, nobody–NOBODY!–does an ensemble cast like Joss Whedon. My evidence: Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, and Firefly/Serenity. If you have not already, watch them and love them. So there’s a lot I could say about characters in this film. Evans is great as the fish out of water. Downey Jr. is predictably and perfectly smug–until he tries to call Pepper one more time before blowing himself up in a wormhole, que dulce! Hemsworth doesn’t get much to do except deliver a few good punchlines, but come on, he’s a God, cut him some slack. The SHEILD folks are kinda snoozy, but there’s still more than enough wow factor on the roster to earn Avengers a nice fat point bonus for characterization (which it will…patience).
But I want to point out a particular character moment that is so Joss and so good. Black Widow had already been introduced in the Marvel universe through the regrettably uneven Iron Man 2, but she had not been fleshed out one iota until The Avengers. We meet her here as a total bad ass when she wipes out a room full of Russian thugs while tied to a chair. Then she dares to go face to face with the man-would-Hulk-out. But, to show us the menace of our villain, when she confronts the baddie who has brainwashed her friend and fellow agent Hawkeye, his talent for manipulation reaches into her soul and finds that one vulnerable soft spot where she can actually be hurt…PSYCH! No, you don’t, Loki. She done played you. Seriously, it’s such a nice move that Whedon makes: “No, my female hero is not going to be reduced to tears by some man shouting at her. She’s instead going to use this chauvinistic expectation to draw out the information she needs. Thank you, come back when you’re ready for someone this awesome.”
Okay, minor gripe: Loki. Even Whedon was concerned that Loki couldn’t pose enough of a threat to merit the Avengers assembling. Give Tom Hiddleston his due, though, he really does take the petulant brat from Thor and make him into a damaged soul out to prove that no other frail souls can rise above his level, can ever be more. His sudden acquisition of a brainwashing spear thingy makes him more insidious, too. Throw in a disposable alien army and you have one of the best action sequences in cinema history. It’s enough, but since it’s obvious we’re squaring off against The Dark Knight for THE title, it’s obvious he’s no Joker.
What? Cop out? Weenie move? Okay, yes, it’s the same score I gave The Dark Knight. I can’t choose between them. Together they show two poles of what the best in comic book movies can be. I had more fun in Avengers, but I thought more in Dark Knight, so I give them the tie. The real question now is: Where will Man of Steel fall?
- Thou shalt not nitpick Joss Whedon…mainly because he’s already done it. If you watch the commentary track, you’ll hear Joss address most of the soft spots in the script himself (like the conveniently insta-death for the invading alien army once the wormhole is closed) with his typical wit and humility.