Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: the First Avenger (and, if you’re feeling masochistic, the first Hulk movie). Five films that need to be viewed to truly appreciate the amazing, and perhaps unprecedented, achievement that is The Avengers. It’s been over a week since its premier, so this review might contain spoilers. Before I went in I tweeted asking if one could be disappointed that a movie so completely lived up to one’s expectations. If you like to write scratching reviews, then yes, but I simply bathed in the glorious fangirl hum of satisfaction.
As fans of the films (not the comic books) we decided to do it right by viewing all six films back to back before we trotted off to the cinema. Since we weren’t feeling that masochistic, we viewed Hulk at a faster rate (at 1.4 the normal speed), making the action comedic, but somehow making the dialogue sound perfectly normal. Why does everyone in that film speak in slow-motion? In any case, we decided that the first Hulk shouldn’t be counted.
Iron Man is the true start of the marathon towards The Avengers. The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (to be named S.H.I.E.L.D. by the end of the film) is present with the most awesome minor character, Agent Coulson. Whether he is facing Tony Stark’s pompous brush off, or an alien Destroyer, Agent Coulson always keeps it calm and professional. In The Incredible Hulk, S.H.I.E.L.D. is the one interested in Bruce Banner’s work, and in Thor Erik Solveig mentions this when they show up to steal (I mean borrow) their research. At the end of Iron Man 2, our indefatigable Agent Coulson is sent down to New Mexico to look into something. His first, and only, complaint comes in Thor when the Destroyer stands over him and another agent asks if it’s one of Stark’s. “The guy never tells me anything,” Coulson mutters, a little testily.
These are only the most obvious examples of how streamlined these films are. Keep in mind we are dealing with different directors and writers! The Incredible Hulk might be the darkest of the lot, with fewer cheap gags to lighten the mood, but they are all part of the same balancing act: somewhere between taking comic heroes seriously, and letting the audience know that we all think it can be a bit silly.
The Avengers takes up this tradition and runs wild with it, almost to the point where there is more silliness than seriousness, but only almost. Loki is a worthy villain, and naturally his evilness can’t be brushed off. Thor warns the other Avengers, however, that Loki is still his brother. When faced with the fact that Loki has killed some 80 people in one confrontation, Thor sheepishly amends his statement to “he was adopted”.
We are after all dealing with a film that includes Norse gods, green monsters and a flying aircraft carrier (where S.H.I.E.L.D. gets funding for that is never explained, but its ridiculousness outweighs any explanations). No sane human being could exist in that world, or in that audience, and not want someone to point this out. After almost every evil monologue or emotionally wracking conversation, there is some gag or comment to lighten the mood so that we may move on with the next crazy battle. Even at the height of the climax, The Avengers still manages to draw great belly-laughs in the middle of intense moments. This more than any other single aspect, makes this one of the best films of the year.
There are other aspects, of course, that cements this opinion. Chief among them is the second great balancing act of The Avengers: the Avengers themselves. Joss Whedon plays on the characters’ differences and similarities. Conflicts and bromances are made with ease and all feel real after the barest exchanges of dialogue. In a room filled with great actors, all playing head-strong characters, their bickering feels right. Take for example, Tony Stark’s immediate dislike of Captain America. This is a perfect soldier that Howard Stark helped create, and later tried to find. He is relentlessly honorable in a way Tony will never be. In a way, he represents what Tony fears people think Iron Man should be. Tony knows he is selfish, and hates how easily Captain Rogers is selfless. All this is never even hinted to onscreen, but see how easily I pulled this theory out of nowhere to explain this instant hostility? That is because even though I have not been reading Iron Man comics since childhood, I still feel in sync with the movie versions.
The amazing work with the characters would be nothing if the film did not keep us informed of where they were and what they were doing at all times. Again, The Avengers delivers something many films struggle with with barely half the number of characters. The cuts between the Avengers feel natural and on-time every time. Whenever I started to wonder what The Black Widow was up to, there she popped up on screen.
The camera-work and editing aren’t the only thing helping us keep things straight. Captain America’s great strategic mind lays out the plan beforehand in a straight-forward way. The audience can easily appreciate the individual Avengers’ strengths, and be able to picture the entire battlefield before it’s even set up.
After all this praise and fangirling, is there anything negative to say about The Avengers? Yes, of course there always is, but for a movie pulling on so many strings this would not only be petty, but unreasonable. As a fangirl, I of course wish with all my heart that Agent Coulson had been handled differently, but we can’t have it all. With The Avengers, however, you can have a lot.
Dice roll 6.