by Don Jaucian
The Avengers (2012)
D: Joss Whedon
S: Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston
Thematically, The Avengers offers nothing new. Its plot is the basic hero assembly: the world is in peril and a ragtag bunch of “remarkable people” (or, to borrow from another superhero movie, “an island of misfit toys”) is called in to save or avenge what’s left of it. Factor in the American Savior complex, represented by its trademark ideations of freedom and power through Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and The Avengers swirls into a perfect recipe for blockbuster success, one that subscribes to kumbaya hand-holding as images go by, resembling tragedies and events that have ignited a stronger nationalist spirit.
Americana, of course, has always been hardwired into comic book lore. Superheroes are thick with the atmosphere of war: soldiers and ordinary citizens gifted with every power imaginable, crushing foes that are ingrained with Soviet and Nazi propaganda even though they are from the outer reaches of space. These citizens are symbols of patriotism that kids and adults can look up to, even serving as recruitment strategies that could wield generations of men and women aspiring for greatness. It’s this stuff of comic book legacy that propels The Avengers into soaring heights (pun not intended).
Nitpick all you want, but the Avengers is a distinctly American creation that has largely assimilated into the world’s cultural pantheon. The hard swinging personalities of Tony Stark (Downey), Steve Rogers (Evans), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), arguably the film’s main superheroes, have been familiar with audiences since their creation, and there is only so much you can do with their respective character developments. Director Joss Whedon fleshes out their strengths and gnawing flaws. He creates a pool rife with internal conflicts that doesn’t necessarily overly humanize these characters. After all, their main appeal is their superhuman abilities.
Whedon pokes fun at their old-age brands (like Captain America’s costume or Hulk’s “Smash”) while enjoying the self-referential jokes and one-liners. Whedon knows how to pay tribute to these characters without being too overbearing or catapulting them up into shinier pedestals. He even throws in easter eggs (“This feels just like Budapest all over again”) that should please his fellow fanboys.
What he mines, though, is how a blockbuster flick should work. Getting this ensemble on screen is no mean feat. It is a road riddled with holes and land mines but, as a long stretch in the movie illustrated, this is all about setting aside egos and inching ways out of a hysterically chaotic muddle. A band of outsiders like the Avengers looks good on the battlefield, but assembling a coherent storyline out of some of the comic book canon’s most recognizable characters can go a bit awry. The film takes time in spotlighting each of them, pitting them against each other as if the pre-climax sequence is one long training seminar and anger management class.
With all these massive egos running around, it’s surprising that it’s Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who takes center stage. Hiddleston swaggers with glorious villainy, even if his intention to rule the human race seems as puny and childish as it did in Thor. He gets the best lines, tossing out complex sentences and jabbering at every weak link that he could find just to get what he wants. He is a brat after all.
S.H.I.E.L.D’s floating fortress may look a bit too much like the Enterprise (complete with the slick blue uniforms, swirling seats, and Sun Oracle computers), and the climactic battle sequence may share the same destruction values like Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Battle: Los Angeles. But The Avengers is smart enough to stay out of the Michael Bay School of Filmmaking. There are no signs of military might here, no protruding boners for tanks and other phallic weapons. There are the occasional strays, but Whedon knows that the firepower of this spectacle relies on the heroes themselves. And for fun, he dunks in the Chiatauri skeletal force that could have been the cousins of H. R. Giger’s aliens.
The Avengers doesn’t feel 143 minutes long. It whizzes so fast it’s tempting to watch it three times more. It’s a blockbuster that’s poised for longevity, something that successfully fuses reverential humor and supersized entertainment into a skillfully crafted freak show. Whedon’s foray into a big-budget playground is a lavish and carefully thought out production that is respective of both its niche without alienating greater audiences. It’s one thing to create a cult classic like Fireflyˆ but it’s another thing to create something like The Avengers,which should set the tone and treatment of every superhero film to come, whether standalone or ensemble.