After years on the outer, never quite making the big time, Buffyverse creator and Toy Story scribe, Joss Whedon, has finally arrived. His previous feature, Serenity, was squarely targeted towards fans of his prematurely axed Firefly TV series and so never achieved the wide audience it may otherwise have received or deserved. With The Avengers, however, he finally gets his opportunity to bring his special brand of loving fanboism to the masses.
Compared to that other great superhero ensemble flick (no, not Fantastic Four!), Bryan Singer’s X-Men, The Avengers is the kitschy one of the two but it is no less a film. Whedon shows that he knows how to do kitsch without descending into a tired, boring, groan-inducing cliché (like Fantastic Four). Of course Whedonphiles have known this for many years and now the rest of the world will know it.
The primary difficulty in an ensemble film such as this is making sure that each character within the film has enough space to develop. The Avengers has an advantage here in that Marvel have taken the time and expense to develop most of the characters externally in their own franchises but even so, Whedon has done exceptionally well in giving each hero a respectable amount of screen time so that no one (almost) is short changed. No one character is elevated above another, they are all equals. This principle has most importantly been applied to The Hulk.
As the least glamorous member of the team (he’s big, green, angry and barely talks), Whedon has smartly elevated Hulk to the biggest, baddest ass on the team. He’s the one that nobody has successfully controlled (with the exception, perhaps, of his alter ego, Bruce Banner); no force has subdued him; no weapon has destroyed him; everyone is shit scared of him. When faced with an angry Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), the demonstrably deadly Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) stands her ground but is clearly petrified of him. The Hulk is the trickiest character to handle and Whedon does so elegantly.
Likewise performances are good from the entire cast. Iron Man naturally gets all the best lines given Robert Downey Jr’s ability to deliver them with aplomb. Black Widow is given the most character development (appropriate since she has not had a movie of her own) and Johansson does well with the subtleties of her character as she wields her personal vulnerabilities like weapons. Samuel Jackson is just Samuel and we love him for it. Hawk Eye (Jeremy Renner) is short changed a little on character development but perhaps he’ll be fleshed out further in future installments. In any case, he’s not a major player in this plot line. Chris Evans will be pleased that hardly anyone will remember his role in Fantastic Four and his performance here will erase that memory completely.
The action is suitably spectacular but that’s par for the course these days. Nothing feels slow throughout the proceedings; the action, dialogue and plot snaps along nicely and the script feels like it has spent exactly the right time in development to iron out all the wrinkles, which is refreshing.
As good as this film is, however, it does represent yet another needless application of 3D technology. This seemingly endless tirade of 3D blockbusters has become positively tiresome. Like most before it, 3D adds very little to this film; if anything it’s a distraction. 3D films present completely differently to their 2D counterparts – and not usually in a good way. The 3D effect forces you to focus on very specific parts of the scene, specifically (and literally) the focus or subject of the image, to the exclusion of everything else. It induces a kind of tunnel vision in the viewer. Watching a 2D variant, more detail is apparent in the background, as we’re not being directly distracted by whatever is hovering in front of our noses – much like a magician’s trick. That we see more detail in a 2D image is contrary to our expectations of 3D, which is meant to be a heightened experience. This needn’t be a bad thing, however. Like any other cinematic device, it could be used to good effect (it could have useful applications in horror movies, for instance) but it shouldn’t be overdone, as is the case with this currently endless slew of 3D flicks. The best 3D movie in recent times is easily Hugo. Clearly Scorsese understands the tool and is smart enough to know how to use it effectively and appropriately.
That aside, The Avengers will do well at the box office and it deserves to, and Joss Whedon will get his long overdue just desserts into the bargain.