The summer season officially begins today with the release of The Avengers, the superhero team-up epic that has been years in the making. The end result of Marvel Studios’ output for the past four years, the film production arm of the comic book empire has a lot banking on the success of this franchise. Were they right to go all in on an action ensemble, or did they end up going bust while gambling on success?
The concept of The Avengers is laid out by the head of the super-secret government agency SHIELD, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), as a group of super-humans that can do together what no one of them could possibly do by themselves. The group consists of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), once again reprising his role as billionaire hero Tony Stark; Captain America (Chris Evans), the super soldier that was lost during WWII and is back to save America once more in modern times; the God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who has been named by his Norse brethren as the protector of Earth; and SHIELD operatives/assassins Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), masters of their respective weapons.
Also serving as a member of the group is the Hulk, known in human form as Dr. Bruce Banner. The Hulk is portrayed here by the third actor to take on the role in as many films, Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac). Ruffalo was the biggest question mark for fans coming into the film. Not known for taking on centerpiece roles in big-budget tent pole flicks, how would he handle taking on a film that is so vastly different from his usual indie drama output?
The hiring of Ruffalo was a stroke of genius; the energy he brings to the film would seem to be hard to find in any other actor. While the action sequences will be the scenes that most fans remember, the personal highlights for this reviewer are the moments shared between Downey and Ruffalo onscreen, playfully criticizing the others’ scientific work, discussing the probable conspiracy behind the government’s involvement in the Avengers (all the while splitting a bad of dried blueberries), and constantly swatting down Stark’s suggestion for Banner to turn into the Hulk “just to see what happens”.
An even greater gamble than hiring Ruffalo was the decision to bring on Joss Whedon as director. Best known for his work in television, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the cult hit Firefly, Whedon impresses here with his ability to seamlessly interweave the stories of all six members of the team, with no one character feeling as if it got screwed over in the process. He manages to showcase each member’s strengths and weaknesses without calling attention to the fact that he is somehow juggling seven storylines throughout the near 2 ½ hour runtime. It is apparent that his work with television ensembles proved crucial training for the demands asked on him by a film with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, but perhaps most impressive is his ability to handle the action set-pieces called for in a film of this nature. Before now known primarily as a director that is greatly underappreciated by the ticket buying audience at large, The Avengers should be the hit that will give Whedon the opportunity to work on projects that are a little more personal to him, and that his fans have come to expect.
The easiest way to have written this review would have been to just copy and paste “its soooooo gooooood” 100 times onto the word document. Honestly, there aren’t many films released that has an audience cheer five times, laugh uproariously a dozen, and sit grinning throughout the entire runtime. The Avengers is that film, and Marvel’s gambles pay off in the end.