Two years ago when Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cabin in the Woods) announced that he’d be directing The Avengers, millions of comic book fans held their collective breath. They can exhale now and loudly too because Whedon has not disappointed them nor the many nervy studio execs at Walt Disney. The film may have a hefty $220 million production price tag to it but, rest assured, the returns will be more than merely adequate.
Under Whedon’s direction, the film does a very neat and tidy trick of pacing itself to the point of the expected then, out of nowhere, settling into a heady sequence of imagery, yet never forgetting all the various players in motion. While not on par with The Dark Knight (best to make this unfair point quickly), the film does continue the recent trend of comic book adaptations being done extremely well since that film’s release (Star Trek: First Contact, X-Men: First Class). There are many theories as to why this is happening now but the most logical one is that studios have finally realized that to adapt a comic for the screen, they must hire a comic fanatic to direct. That is exactly what Whedon is, an unabashed geek who has devoted his adult life to such a cause.
The proof is also into the writing (Whedon again) and the seamless action that weaves a spell into it. Once Loki (Tom Hiddleston) rips through a portal from space to Earth via a Tesseract (unlimited energy source devise) in search of power and trouble, the action gets going. He uses his godlike powers to manipulate the S.H.I.E.L.D agents out to restrain him and ends up stealing the Tesseract for himself. The head of S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) manages to escape the encounter and in a desperate move activates an Avengers Initiative. This A.I. group is Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Dr. Bruce Banner aka Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans) and the irrepressible Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). A lot of egos to be sure, some more than others, but Fury keeps them in check even though questions begin to pile up. When Loki turns up in Germany, the team apprehends him before coming face to face with his brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who trades blows with Iron Man before they decide to focus on Loki’s intentions instead.
The Avengers up to that point settles into a sort of uniformity that mildly informs and entertains but it’s what happens next that shows us the genius of Whedon’s script. As proved by his previous work, we know that Whedon is an auteur with respect to classic action…he’s no bard but functionally poetic with whatever tools are nearest to his hands. In this case, it’s a motley crew of heroes that need to band together for the survival of the human race. Within the bond, a few intriguing moments occur and we’re witness to them instead of merely acknowledging them. This is a film not just for fans but for the curious as well. Whedon also allows for a tie-in of epic proportions with the back-story of Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Iron Man…indeed, if the respective films on these characters were shaky, then this coalition effort thus makes for a safety launch pad for future adaptations, whether singly or together.
When the Tesseract eventually rips open the cosmos and evil begins worming its way into New York, the CGI action trips fantastically into full effect: from Hulk’s smashes (the unquestionable star of the show) to Iron Man’s laser power. The Avengers does deposit a lot of blame expectedly on Loki but it also traps him within his own fury, his powerlessness. His story doesn’t get lost among the others but works within a context that shows them all as vulnerable yet redolent simultaneously. When Agent Colson (Clark Gregg) tells him his actions lack conviction, the fury glints in Loki’s eyes. Most comic adaptations don’t delve too deep behind the monster but here Whedon---through frames of brotherhood—tells Loki’s story without dehumanizing him. What it also reinforces brilliantly is that he will never rise beyond it either…which is what the heroes are able to do. Nick Fury has to threaten, harass and embellish the truth to get them ‘there’ but once they get going then The Avengers rises to its own maximum potential.
And when the danger is past, a stunning effect occurs: the camera goes through the global reaction with input from the different races, age-groups etc. It’s the collective appreciation of heroism that for once isn’t forced or corny. The Avengers manages to allow these heroes to do what they do best without denigrating into assholes or totally boring us with their single points of view. That Whedon spins the black circle on them endlessly and comes up winning every time is nothing short of remarkable. He’s pulled off a massive enterprise while doing the trickery involved to keep us awed until the sequel or the next Marvel adaptation that’s no doubt coming along soon.