Rating: 4.5 of 5
I love Joss Whedon.
Here’s the thing, he has been loved by a small percentage of the population for over a decade. He’s an incredibly talented storyeteller; unsurpassed with dialog; great with characters; capable of infusing meaning into a fun story. Now is the moment when everyone else figures out how truly talented he is. Which means there’s a mixture of vindication and pride in seeing The Avengers.
Given that I love his work, I knew the movie would be good, but I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The beginning was fast and gigantic (I had a few moments marveling at how much those early shots cost) and set everything in motion effectively.
I loved how everything progressed from there. The writing was Whedon’s trademark smart, witty, sincere, funny, pause in the middle of all the action to let the characters emotions run wild and drive the movie which gave depth to the action.
Given that, I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was really funny. And I guess I wasn’t really surprised that it was funny, but the comedy took me by surprise in the way that great comedic moments catch you off guard rather than being overt.
The thing I liked about the action was how seamlessly everyone moved; even Agent Hill jumping into a car looked cool. The fights between the characters were hard hitting. The Hulk looked amazingly lifelike which was such an improvement over previous cgi constructs. The alien fights were all interesting and kept me engaged even though it was a long fight. But mostly I liked the more intimate fights, the brothers going at each other and the brawling among themselves.
I liked that the core of the movie was them fighting each other even more than they were fighting the bad guys. Which sounds lame to say because I’ve read it in more than a dozen interviews where Whedon talks about how he put the story together. But to actually see it played out gave the film resonance.
I also really liked that he acknowledged certain things about the genre, that he had the characters say the things the audience would be thinking (Thor calling everyone tiny was awesome). And by acknowledging it, it oddly made it seem more authentic, because it’s like he’s telling you he’s not really asking you to suspend your disbelief. At least, not that much, which removed any element of the ridiculous which comic book movies sort of invite. Maybe Variety said it best:
from the script’s balance of sincerity and self-effacing humor…whenever the possibility of boredom or excess rears it’s ugly head, Whedon finds an elegant solution.
And I probably can’t say enough that the characters had depth because it is so rare in this genre, even sometimes in the Marvel universe (though they are generally better than most). The spectacle becomes the heart of the film, rather than the people in it and the things they feel or need or fear are shallow and acknowledged but not lived in. You don’t watch Avengers for the spectacle, or at least not just for the spectacle. You watch because you already care about these characters from their own films and Whedon rewards that with time spent with them as people and not just as glib superheroes. The moments in between the fights are really the heart of the film and totally smart and worthwhile.
Speaking of the characters, they’re all fantastic. Which creates a not uncommon conflict in that Black Widow is awesome and intriguing and complex but I don’t like Scarlett Johansson. This was probably her best performance to date (which I give Whedon most of the credit for since I haven’t seen her evoke anything like this on her own). I love the character and am generally annoyed by the actress. Same as Colbie Smulders. I love Joss and he is unparalleled when it comes to female characters, giving them strength and substance and even making them more interesting than the guys. But sometimes he has poor taste in women (as does Christopher Nolan and Cameron Crowe).
And let me just say, Whedon is true to form. I love him for this and how elegantly and meaningfully he can’t help being himself. or maybe he just doesn’t want to.
His directing was brilliant, and I’m including other factors than just the camera shots, especially the performances of the actors. There were a few odd shots here and there and one moment where it was a little overscored. But mostly he made sure the action was fast and riveting, the quiet moments heartfelt and interesting. He kept me involved in the story the whole way through.
It’s interesting that in a giant movie with a dozen stars and iconic characters, it’s all Whedon’s show.
See how The Avengers ranks with the other Marvel movies.