I had the opportunity to see The Avengers on opening day with some friends this last Friday. The first comic book film to combine heroes, the highly anticipated film destroyed previous opening day records, raking in a whopping 200 mil plus opening weekend and receiving incredibly positive critical and audience reviews, making the hype something more than hype.
Every element of the film was pitch-perfect. Excellent visual direction by veteran TV and comic book maestro Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly fame) and a relentless, witty and intelliget script (also by Joss), something of a rarity in comic book film circles (the only other notable exceptions in my memory being Iron Man and Thor) made for an experience that cannot be described without words like “exhilarating.” This foundation combined with the generally fine performances by our five lead characters (the sole exception being Banner, whom I found a bit flat), stellar CGI, and a memorable, grounded score by Alan Silvestri, one of his best in a good while, made for a deeply satisfying film experience. Experiencing the film in a packed theater of other people who knew the jokes and caught the references was an added bonus; hearing people laugh, scream, yell and gasp as one at something you collectively love is probably beyond words.
The chief highlight of the film was Whedon’s skills at writing ensemble films and shows, a skill on full display in The Avengers. No single character rose to the top as “the” protagonist, and all of the heroes got equal time. This careful balance was, of course, the goal of the whole film, and Whedon handled the substantial problem with a deftness that lesser writers would have lost control of, fragmented bits flying all over the place. That the movie managed to remain a cohesive whole is to Whedon’s credit. He solved the problem by making the film not about invasions or aliens, but about the conflicts of the heroes with working together. Loki’s initial plan is not to take over the world, but to manipulate them into remaining apart rather than standing united, and this is the focus of the first two-thirds of the film as they battle their own insecurities, one another, and Loki.
This decision necessitated a drop in the complexity of the story if it was to maintain its two-hour run-time, and it is to be said that the script is fairly simple, judging by external events alone. But when you have made the story about interpersonal conflict in a multi-protagonist debut revolving around their agendas and problems, this tends to take up some screen time. The job was a tough one and the fact that the film was romping good fun the whole way through certainly is deserving of respect. Many times the film seemed to be poking fun at itself and its own deficiencies, Whedon repeatedly winking at the familiar tropes being employed as they are used, another skill of his. Frequently the film refers to the other films to the delight of the audience. Each of our main characters are always in character and never make a move that jars you out of the story. I was particularly pleased to see the relationship between Thor and Loki remain and even be carried further by the film.
All in all, it was a marvelous film and in many ways has set a new standard for all such films that come after in terms of intelligence and charm, if not for complexity. It is not high art and is sure to be ignored at awards time, but as engaged, witty and smart entertainment there is likely to be few competitors this year.