"Have you ever had shawarma?"
THE AVENGERS is the most popular film in the world. That's weird to say. A movie about a man in a metal suit, an Asgardian God, a steroid-ridden soldier with a circular shield, an assassin, an archer, an African-American pirate in a leather coat, and an unstoppable green behemoth have kicked the crap out of cineplexes around the globe to the cool tune of one billion dollars in only nineteen days. THE AVENGERS combines compelling writing with inspired direction. Most importantly, it's a helluva good time.
In the last few years, Marvel Studios has presented a number of standalone films from its universe. Joss Whedon is the mastermind behind the superhero collective. He takes the heroism of CAPTAIN AMERICA, the technology from IRON MAN, the action (and love of destruction) of THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and the mysticism (and terrific tresses) of THOR. Somehow Whedon not only salvages the essences from each, but inarguably triumphs by creating an entirely new entity altogether.
Whedon serves as director and screenwriter. The longtime nerd favourite (BUFFY, ANGEL, FIREFLY, et al.) was somewhat of a pipe dream for all the loyal fans of the comic. After he secured the job, there was excitement, yet also trepidation, as he had yet to have a hit, save for anything related to sexy undead things. Suffice it to say, the only ones who are worried now are the rival studios battling Whedon's picture at the box office.
With most origin stories, the introduction of the key characters can sometimes be a tiring affair. THE AVENGERS is no different, especially since we've seen them all before. Once the initial awkward meetings are over however, the story picks up the pace, and never lets up until the final credits roll. Loki, the villain from THOR (who was last seen hurtling through space) is zapped back to Earth's dimension by an unknown species. He quickly discards of a small contingent of soldiers before snatching the Tesseract (aka the Cosmic Cube), an unusual, seemingly unparalleled source of energy. S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) gets pissed, makes some calls, then re-ups the Avenger Initiative: basically a failsafe of superhuman people that can save our ass when needed.
Loki slowly amasses his followers, later his army, and it's up to Fury and his newly formed team to stop them. Broken down, the story is a litle blasé. Loki wants revenge on his brother Thor for banishing him to another realm. He unites with an alien breed, who serve as his back-up as he tries to rule the world (sigh). The aliens want the Cube, being that it's incalculably more powerful than our Sun. While the story is nothing new, the journey to get there is a fresh breath of air.
The final battle is one to see repeatedly. The scale is just immense. You've no doubt seen the countless trailers and television spots, so it's not spoiling to say that Manhattan gets obliterated. What I like most about it is, I truly had no idea how it was going to end. Whedon does an adept job of building up the suspense, so when the final moments occur, there's a palpable uneasiness evident. I suppose the best compliment I can give is that the entire film looks like it was lifted from the comic books. Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man, Chris Evans is Captain America, Chris Hemsworth is Thor. You get the idea. Each actor embodies their counterpart perfectly. I haven't mentioned Scarlett Johansson yet (a first for me), but she might be the most impressive of the testosterone-laden cast. Johansson has the most opportunity to humanize, which makes sense, since her Black Widow is one of the few "normal" beings depicted. Her strengths are formidable nevertheless: martial arts, weapons specialist, etc. Though it can be argued that her most impressive trait is the ability to extract information (no doubt aided by Johansson's signature pouty lips).
My favorite though (and I'm sure others) is the Hulk. Portrayed by two others in two previous films (Eric Bana, Edward Norton), Mark Ruffalo steps up to bat this time, and hits one out of the park. As the Hulk's alter-ego, Bruce Banner, he has the most insightful interactions with the rest of the heroes, especially with Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark. Their scenes in a laboratory, while attempting to assess the location of the Cube are witty, sometimes even flat-out funny*. Of course, Ruffalo/Banner could be the most charming guy on the planet, but the anticipation of when he "Hulks-out" is on another level entirely. To watch this insanely powerful brute is simply transfixing. He pummels anything in its path to a pulp. Sometimes friend, sometimes foe. Yet, it also says a lot about Ruffalo and his depiction (he also did the motion capture work), as the Hulk transforms for the second time, a creature with the strength to punch a hole through the Moon can be involved in one of the most endearing scenes in film this year.
*One of the biggest surprises of THE AVENGERS was just how comical it was. Many times through the screening the audience was in a riotous uproar; so much so, that sometimes proceeding lines were lost in the laughter. More kudos to Whedon.
It seems almost preposterous that a film with a shiny, flying man and a green giant could succeed, let alone hold the world hostage, but a billion dollars (and climbing!) certainly shoots that assumption down. THE AVENGERS is a bonafide and deserving hit. Whedon was able to masterfully steer not only an abundance of well-known icons onscreen, but also keep in check the countless egos that were no doubt involved. A sequel has already been greenlit, and with further films to all of its main players, fans of THE AVENGERS will wearing as big a smile as the Hulk does when he rains down on his overmatched prey.