Monday, May 21, 2012

Joss Whedon's The Avengers Review

Who woulda thought they'd be able to pull this off?
The Avengers is a summer blockbuster unlike anything we've ever seen. Featuring an all-star ensemble cast, the movie is the cumulative product of five films worth of world-building and ground-laying. Over the course of the two Iron Man flicks, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Thor, Marvel Studios has effectively crafted an onscreen comic book universe in which four larger-than-life heroes can believably join forces to save mankind. They've been doing this stuff since the '60s in comic books but never before has such a monumental task been attempted in film. With that in mind, it's more than a little reliving to say that The Avengers succeeds, thanks in no small part to the brilliant mind of Joss Whedon.

When Iron Man came out in 2008 I was pleasantly surprised to find it was an enjoyable super hero origin story. The movie played to its main strength in Robert Downey Jr. and presented a funny and charismatic hero that was fun to watch and easy to root for. And in the end it made us a promise: that Marvel would give us something more, something bigger than we'd ever seen. Based on how great Iron Man turned out to be I was excited, but after Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk ended up being mediocre at best, I worried that The Avengers would prove to be a disappointment. My fears were abated somewhat when Marvel brought Joss Whedon on board in April 2010, but then last summer's Captain America ended up being kind of shitty despite Whedon's additions to the film's script. As much as I adored Whedon's prior work (particularly the short-lived Firefly and the troubled Dollhouse), I wasn't sure he could pull together something as big as The Avengers, especially given Marvel's heavy-handed approach to the franchise with Iron Man 2. My fear was that Marvel would restrict Whedon to the film's detriment, and force him to make their movie as opposed to his.

And they sort of did.

The first half of The Avengers is a mess. Seriously, it barely makes sense. The villain is sort of established, the heroes assemble, they fight amongst themselves, the villain attacks, etc., but it doesn't really seem to go anywhere. Each of the major characters is expertly acted and written, and their developing relationships are enjoyable to watch. It's clear that Whedon's at the helm because the movie gets by solely on how the heroes interact with one another, which has always been Joss's forté. However the larger story seems aimless, and nothing that occurs seems to be clearly building towards, well, anything. Don't get me wrong, I was never bored in the theatre, but for the first hour and a bit I was underwhelmed.

But then something happens. I won't spoil it here but one character's dialogue identifies an event as a clear "deus-ex machina" type moment where the writer (Whedon) gives the heroes a reason to unite. It's heavy-handed and a more than a little cliché, but somehow it's brilliantly effective and everything that comes after is a pure joy to watch. I can't really explain it without giving away too much but trust me that you'll know the event when it happens, if only because the movie suddenly becomes awesome.

The movie's trailers have made no secret of the fact that The Avengers concludes with an epic battle sequence that literally takes up almost half the movie. However, in a rare example of restraint in Hollywood marketing, the trailers don't give away the scene's most incredible moments. All of the heroes come together for an epic battle for Earth against an (admittedly underdeveloped) alien enemy, and it ranks among the most rewarding action sequences ever put on film. Not only are the action shots effective and awe-inspiring, there is also a character-driven sense of humour to the scene that was unlike anything I have ever seen. It's strange to say but there were moments during the battle where I laughed as hard as I can ever remember laughing in a theatre. It's a rare and wonderful thing for a fight sequence to succeed so brilliantly in this kind of way.

The Avengers is a unique and worthwhile experience, almost solely on the merits of the final battle sequence, and I wholeheartedly attribute it to the talent of Joss Whedon. What probably happened with the movie is that Whedon came onboard after the overall premise of the film (ie the villain, the basic plot, etc) had already been set by Marvel and the original script writer, Zak Penn. The fact that Penn was ultimately only credited with the story backs this theory up, and indicates that Whedon was probably only able to flesh out the characters, dialogue, and minor happenings within the film's larger preset framework. It makes sense then that although the characters are strong throughout, the film stumbles through its own plot until the final battle. At that point Whedon undoubtedly had a lot more room to stretch in terms of his contributions to the script, so long as the heroes still had an epic concluding fight.

The Avengers succeeds against all odds on the strength of its director and the talented ensemble cast. It's not a perfect movie by any stretch, but it doesn't suffer from many of the problems you might expect. Each of the actors involved does a great job, their interactions are pitch-perfect, and the movie is far from a mindless action-fest. All of these are common characteristics for Whedon's work, and it's unsurprising but also a little relieving to see his talents on display. Somehow Joss's personality is able to shine through and The Avengers doesn't crumble under the weight of the five lead-up films or Marvel's franchise crafting.

I urge you to check out The Avengers while it's still in theatres. It's not intellectual, it is a super hero movie through and through, but it's some of the most fun I've had in a theatre in a long time and that's worth a lot. If anyone feels differently then I'd be happy to discuss the movie's relative merits and flaws over a shawarma.

No comments:

Post a Comment