Samuel L. Jackson's brief cameo at the end of Iron Man in 2008 forever changed the possibilities for superhero films. No longer did every franchise have to be a distinct entity - multiple movies could now take place in the same fictional universe, and the collective imagination of fans everywhere exploded at the potential for a massive crossover event bringing everyone together in one film. With The Avengers, Marvel has achieved a seemingly impossible task: not only did they spend years building the foundation that supports this film by bringing together A-list stars from different franchises, but they managed to turn a project that could have collapsed under the pressure of its own ambition into one of the most crowd-pleasing superhero movies ever created.
Writer/Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson
Look no further than the 2002 series "Firefly" and its spinoff film Serenity for proof that Joss Whedon was the perfect choice to corral all of these monumental heroes into one storyline. Whedon is one of the best writers in the business, and he really excels at crafting meaningful relationships among ensemble casts and writing strong female characters, two things that were a requirement for a successful film adaptation of The Avengers. He was helped here by a terrific stable of actors, veterans of the industry who understand one of Marvel's greatest strengths in these properties: the ability to keep the story critical to the film but allow enough humor that it won't suffocate under its own seriousness.
The character work in The Avengers is fantastic, especially considering this particular team-up is jam-packed with characters that have already had entire films devoted to their singular adventures. Whedon gives each of them multiple moments to shine, and everything that we loved about them in previous films is on display here (and oftentimes it's even improved). Even in scenes near the beginning of the film that contain massive amounts of setup and exposition, he manages to insert little "Whedonisms" to lighten the mood; there's a gag with a $10 bet between Captain America and Nick Fury that's a really small moment overall, but it brings a lot of humor to a sequence where people are just sitting around spouting information. Tony Stark has never been wittier, and Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner actually has a personality outside of sulking in corners and fighting the beast inside him. (The Hulk is funny this time, too!) Natasha Romanoff is far better drawn than she was in the disastrous Iron Man 2, so ScarJo fans can rest easy.
The action sequences are spectacular and choreographed so that we know where our heroes are at all times. (That in itself is a pretty incredible feat because the sheer scope of this movie is so huge.) The climax is breathtakingly constructed, mixing spectacle and destruction with legitimate character moments and not letting the (admittedly awesome) visual effects take over the movie. There are memorable setpieces spaced throughout the movie, resulting in easily the most entertaining Marvel film so far.
Because there is so much ground to cover, I did feel a little like Loki's villainous intentions were a bit unclear. He's working with some sort of alien race, but we don't ever find out why the destruction of Earth is so paramount to their greater mission. Also, how did Thor even arrive on Earth for this movie? At the end of Thor, they establish that the bifrost has been destroyed. I understand how things wrap up at the end of The Avengers, with the Tesseract from Captain America playing a key role in the travel element, but there was so much happening that they didn't have time to get into the hows and whys of things like that. Granted, I'm not sure that I would have wanted them to if it meant cutting out anything from what we see in the final film; it's easy to see how Whedon's first cut was over three hours long, and I'd love to see that movie in its entirety at some point if it ever gets released.
But ultimately, the few tiny gripes I have are cancelled out by the sheer geeky thrills in this movie. Marvel is the new Babe Ruth: they called their shot, and freaking blasted it out of the park. At long last, The Avengers finally came together on screen and, thanks to the only man who could have made it succeed, it surpassed all the hype. I probably don't need to tell you that this film deserves to be seen on the big screen to get the full impact, but I guess I just did (and you can skip the 3D - it's passable, but not great). The Avengers is everything I wanted it to be and more, and I sincerely hope that a few years from now I'll be writing about The Avengers 2 written and directed by Joss Whedon. But until then, we can thank him for giving audiences the most fun movie of 2012. Until next time...