There is film that exists in my head. It’s been there ever since Samuel L Jackson first strolled into Tony Stark’s swanky lounge back in 2008 and uttered the words “Avengers Initiative”. Those simple eight syllables sent my geekabellum (that’s a real part of the brain, I swear it on the name of Jack Kirby) into overdrive, and my imagination began concocting this fanboy dream film where my all my favourite heroes would band together, banter abounding, to smash their collective high-tech, godly, superpowered and jolly green giant fists right into evil’s leering face.
Unfettered by the limits of budget, studio mandate and in some imaginary scenes, even physics, it was pristine nerdy perfection, the ultimate geek accomplishment, the very pinnacle of fanboy dreams!
And last night Joss Whedon’s Avengers just blew it out of the water. Damn you Whedon, why’d you have to be so awesome?
The culmination of four years worth of cinematic adventures, The Avengers could so easily have gone so very wrong. Iron Man 1 & 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger added all their respective cards to this rapidly growing and insanely ambitious tower of Marvel, with the comic book publisher choosing Supreme Geek Overlord Joss Whedon himself to cap it all off. And with the threat of this teetering skyscraper of a tower crashing down looming ever large, Whedon calmly and capably steps up and pulls off the nearly impossible.
Balancing an all star cast of heroes consisting of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), a human barrage of genius intellect, charisma and witticism; Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), a time-displaced and star-spangled cultural throwback; Thor (Chris Hemsworth), a pompous demi-god turned hero; Dr Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), a modern day Jekyll and Hyde that can crack planets with his bare hands; Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), a master assassin and spy with a blood soaked past; and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a bordering-on-supernatural archer that shares Black Widow’s history, it would have been so easy for Whedon to have any one of these characters – the foundation of any truly good story – be completely lost in all the marvelous (see what I did there?) CGI mayhem and destruction on display here.
Throw into the mix Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the preening, monologuing, scenery-chewing half-brother of Thor, freshly returned from his involuntary exile between the worlds with a mysterious alien army at his back and machinations on the Tesseract – an otherworldly cube of limitless power last seen in Captain America – as a means of world domination, and you can see how even Whedon’s famed ensemble cast juggling skills would be be stretched to breaking point. At least I assumed they would, because he sure as hell made this look effortless.
While Downey Jr and surprisingly Ruffalo – with his magnificently soft-spoken and witty portrayal of Banner – threaten to steal every scene they are in, Whedon manages to give every single character their own moments to shine. Even mere mortals like SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), tasked with bringing together and controlling these traditionally solitary heroes; Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), his more than physically capable second in command; and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), undoubtedly the backbone of the entire Marvel movie universe and – in a Whedon masterstroke – secretly the key to success of this entire endeavour, all get the chance to show exactly why they’re worthy of hanging out with these costumed gods.
Whedon’s script, touching on themes of individuality, heroism and duty, and dripping with his trademark wit and razor-sharp dialogue, combines functional exposition with intense and elaborate action to move at a blistering pace, (dipping just once around the 90 minute mark to allow us to catch our breath) leaving the film’s 2 hour 22 minutes running time as a complete non-issue. He also manages to carve out his own story, while at the same time paying tribute to the classic comic book team-up tropes. Everything from geek-argument hero vs hero battles, to subtle nods at character’s allegiance switching histories, he handles it all adroitly.
And then there’s the Hulk.
Although he certainly makes his presence felt earlier on in the film, by the time the film’s final hour-long climactic battle in the streets of Manhattan – the epic scale of which has rarely been matched before – finally draws to a close, there is simply no doubt left as to who is the biggest, baddest and greenest on the block. Resulting in some of not only the coolest and most memorable but also the most hilarious scenes I have ever been privileged enough to witness, he is simply the giant, jade, rage-fueled star of this show.
The film is not 100% perfect though. There appears to be a bit of a narrative disconnect between Loki’s fate at the end of Thor and his appearance here, also the alien army – despite all the pre-release brouhaha made about their identity by fans (myself included) – is treated as completely throwaway cannon fodder, while the usually reliable Alan Silvestri’s score is about as unmemorable as they come.
But these are really the nittiest of picks in the overall scheme of things. It may not be as matured and layered as Dark Knight, but What Marvel and Joss Whedon have produced is a film so absurdly and universally enjoyable, that it will be the new yardstick by which all future comic book extravaganzas will be measured.
I am hard pressed to describe how they can possibly make a better movie after this, but judging by that devilishly geekgasmic post-credits scene though, they sure as hell are going to try. Until such time though, I will have a new geekily perfect film to dream about tonight.
Hulk smash, indeed.
Last Updated: April 27, 2012