The credits rolled, and the theater thundered. Then there was the usual little bonus-scene-Easter-egg that Marvel movies like to toss in at the end, and the theater thundered again, even louder. There were cheers and applause and audible expressions of amazement and adulation. So yes, they did it. Joss Whedon and his crew accomplished the impossible and the created the ultimate superhero movie—a comic book movie with not just one hero, but with with six of them all in one movie. Against all odds, The Avengers turned out to be really good; and the fanboys are rejoicing in the streets. It would have been so easy for a film like this to derail (how many other superhero films have flopped because of too many villains, or just too many characters period?), but Joss Whedon is the master of the ensemble cast, and while The Avengers does wobble at times, he maintains the balance, keeps things on track, and delivers one of the best Marvel movies to date, and one of the funnest action flicks to come along since Fast Five.
Part of this is due to the fact that we don’t have to waste any time on origins. I mean, yeah, this is the origin of the Avengers, but there isn’t any need to explain who these characters are or where they came from. This means those who are coming into The Avengers without having seen any of those other films may be a bit at a loss as to who Thor is or what his connection with Loki is, or why everyone keeps calling Captain America an “old man” when he clearly isn’t, or why Tony Stark initially wasn’t supposed to be a part of the Avengers, or what the deal is with his armor. Well, if you want to get those details, that’s why Marvel invested in those five other movies leading up to this one. It’s a strategy that I think really paid off; it allows this movie to just “get to it” and tell the story it needs to without having to waste any time giving background and introductions to these other characters.
This approach doesn’t work perfectly, however, as Hawkeye just sort of shows up and has some key scenes, but we’re never quite sure why he’s so significant since he hasn’t had his own movie as of yet. It’s kind of sad, really, because some of my favorite parts were the scenes with Black Widow and Hawkeye, and there’s actually a lot of good stuff to mine there, but there just isn’t enough room or time to do so in this film. Maybe a prequel Black Widow/Hawkeye film will eventually show up. That’d be good stuff, because even though there’s plenty of super heroics going on here, I liked the espionage/spy stuff we go with these two, and wouldn’t have minded more of that.
One of my favorite parts relating to these two “minor” characters is some of the background we get on Black Widow. She talks about how she has a “very specific” skill-set, and there was a time where she wasn’t so concerned about how or why she used it. Because of that, her ledger is now dripping in blood, some of it innocent, and all her effort with SHIELD and the Avengers is to try and help wipe that ledger clean. What about your ledger? It’s probably not dripping red like Widow’s, but does it have any blemishes, any at all? Because if it does, well, that doesn’t bode well for our eternity.
God’s standard is nothing less than perfect: perfectly unblemished. Can anyone do that? LeBron James may jump a whole lot higher than me, but we both fall well short of the moon. To get there, we both need help. To wipe that ledger clean, which is something we just can’t do on our own, we all need help. Enter Jesus Christ. He died on a cross and rose from the grave to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves: wipe the ledger clean. He took our sin for his own and bore it on the cross, and then offers to give us his perfect ledger in return. It’s perfection by proxy, you might say. It’s what a loving God wants to do for us: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…’” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV 1984). It’s the help we need to do what Black Widow so desperately wants: wipe the ledger clean.
Don’t worry, though; The Avengers knows exactly what kind of movie it is, and exactly what its fans are expecting… and it delivers. It knows that there’s a comic book rule that whenever superheroes team up, they first must fight each other and then overcome their disputes to fight their common enemy. So, if you’ve ever wanted to see a live-action battle between Iron Man and Thor, or Thor and Hulk, or Captain American and Iron Man and Thor (Thor seems to get into a lot of fights with his fellow heroes), Hulk and Black Widow, and an almost-brawl between Captain America and Iron Man… well, you’ll get to see it here; and it’s awesome.
This movie also knows that its based on a comic book, and that means above all it needs to be fun; and it is. The trademark Whedon wit is quite evident here, but it never overwhelms the film to the point where it feels like a Whedon version of the Avengers, but rather an Avengers story with the Whedon touch. There are some great laughs and some fantastic dialogue between these characters. Then again, most people don’t want to see these guys talking, so The Avengers also delivers the big action moments, and I mean BIG. It’s an awesome spectacle when the film unleashes its final act. Again, the Whedon touch is evident here. Even though we all know these characters have sequels to their own films to star in, and a sequel to this movie to star in, and therefore aren’t in any real peril, they still get put through the grinder and don’t have an easy time of it. What they face truly feels dangerous, as it should, even for Earth’s mightiest heroes. You really feel like the stakes are high enough and extreme enough to make these larger-than-life characters pull together and work as a team, and you also feel that there is the slightest chance that they just might not all make it through, and certainly won’t make it through unscathed. Epic stuff, and again, exactly what this needed to be.
For all the speculation and debate over who the aliens in this film were, they certainly don’t play much of a role, but then, none of the villains do. Loki is here to stir up some antagonism among our heroes, which of course is the very thing they eventually overcome in order to unite (or assemble, if you prefer). And the aliens, well, they’re just there to invade the Earth in order to give the Avengers a credible threat to unite (or assemble) against to fight. Then again, the villains didn’t need much more than a “we’re here to conquer the world” plot because this movie is more about the Avengers coming together and becoming a team, and all you need when you have that many characters assembling for the first time is a basic plot to help move things forward. So don’t worry about who the aliens may or may not be; they’re just there to give our heroes something to punch, and that’s all they need to be, right?
It’s clear now that Marvel’s master plan was actually quite ingenious. While Warner Bros. and DC continue to struggle to get any character to succeed outside of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, let alone a Justice League movie, Marvel and its partners have created fun, breezy movies that all led to the creation of one of the best ensemble super hero movies since X-Men 2. The Avengers is epic, it’s fun, it’s funny, and it has heart. It’s a sci-fi movie, a super hero movie, a spy movie, and an action flick all rolled into one. It wears its comic book identity on its sleeve with giant aircraft carriers that can fly and turn invisible, giant flying alien worm invaders that wear armor, cosmic powers, and heroes in brightly colored garb. If that’s all just too “unrealistic” for you, then The Avengers is not the movie for you. However, if that all sounds like a lot of fun, and it is, then you know where you and your friends need to assemble: at the local theater for one of this year’s biggest (and deservedly so) adventures.