Last night I went to see a little movie which is officially called Marvel’s the Avengers. It seems to be flying pretty under the radar at the moment, but I’m sure it will pick up as people start talking about it…
Wait, let me rephrase that.
Last night I saw Marvel’s the Avengers, the most successful, fastest-selling, highest-grossing, critically praised comic book movie of all time, for the second time. It’s been out for a total of 12 days, it has climbed to number 9 on the all-time, world-wide best selling movies list, it has surpassed the international super hit The Hunger Games as the best selling movie of 2012, and it is being praised be legions of fans as the best comic movie ever made.
With it’s long list of impressive broken records, The Avengers has proven something that the genius producers at Marvel Comics have know for the past 7 years:
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
If you’re unaware, The Avengers is the culmination of an unprecedented Hollywood venture: an attempt to create a comic book like universe in the cinematic world, with interweaving story lines and crossover characters spread over several years and 6 movies, so far. It all started with the massively successful 2008 film Iron Man, in which we were first introduced to something called “the Avengers initiative.” After Iron Man, came the Incredible Hulk, not as successful as Iron Man, but arguably many times better than the original Hulk movie from the early 00′s. Very little in that movie pointed to some sort of larger story until, Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) shows up and says cryptically, “we’re putting a team together.”
From there, we were given Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, each film giving us more pieces to the puzzle of this “Avengers Initiative.” But if you are a casual comic book fan, you already know the story.
The Avengers is a super hero mega-team, a band of unlikely allies committed to protecting the earth from whoever and whatever might be out there. The movie version, by far the most well-known version, of the team consists of Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America, a man out of time as it were, frozen for 70 years in ice, only to be freed in our not so distant future; Iron Man, the “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” Tony Stark, who spends much of his time in a custom made metal super suit; Bruce Banner, the brilliant and troubled scientist who transforms into a gigantic green Hulk; Thor, the prince of an alien world who was worshiped by some as the god of thunder; Natasha Romanov, a former Russian spy who became known as the Black Widow; and Clint Barton, a sharp shooter with a bow and arrow who has eyes like a hawk.
They are assembled by a very mysterious man named Nick Fury, director of an agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. Together they fight against extraterrestrial forces to save our planet from certain doom. I won’t ruin the ending, but I will say that they’re already working on the sequel.
This combined with all the big budget action anyone could want and a massive cast of well-known actors, could have easily been a disaster on the level of John Carter. Anybody following the lead-in to the movie already had a healthy amount of skepticism. There were just too many unanswerable questions:
Could they give adequate screen time to so many characters?
would such a cast be able to cooperate with a relatively untested director (Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly fame)?
Would the third time be the charm for casting decisions regarding the Hulk (portrayed convincingly by Mark Ruffalo in the film)?
Would they rely too much on big budget effects and flashy cliches?
Would they get bogged down with a clunky story?
etc. etc. etc.
Thankfully, the answers to these questions are:
yes. And by the way, the Hulk offers what is arguably the most satisfying moment in the movie.
In fact, The Avengers seems to have exceeded all expectations, not just commercially, but across the board. This is not just a big budget summer action film, it’s a movie about real people in extraordinary situations, and those, as we all know, make for some of the most compelling stories. What Whedon (who also wrote the movie) and the whole team have done is capture the essence of what has made Marvel comics characters, both heros and villains, so popular for so many decades. They made everyone human. Each person, given all their great power and abilities, wrestles with the things that are inside all of us: Anger, guilt, pride, loyalty, sacrifice, duty, fear, insecurities, and so much more.
Let me give you the two clearest examples, I can think of:
First, we have Tony Stark. in the two Iron Man films thus far, he has been by far the least admirable member of the Avengers. He is a hard-partying womanizer, concerned only with himself, who uses his money, power, and intellect to create a weaponized super suit that seems to have been created more for his own enjoyment than for the betterment of society. Honestly, I was pretty much done with him as a character, and not very excited about seeing him again.
However, the Tony Stark of the Avengers is a welcomed departure from his previous self. He still maintains the sarcastic wit and charm that make him unique to the team, but his womanizing ways are gone, and he is genuinely compassionate and sacrificial. He willingly defers to the natural leadership of Captain America, and spends the majority of the movie’s climactic battle in an almost entirely servant-like role. Let’s hope that this Tony Stark is the one who appears in Iron Man 3, due out next year, I believe.
Secondly, I think the movie’s main villain, Loki, is worth mentioning. Loki is the adopted brother of Thor, who has, as he says early in the film, spent his entire life in the shadow of his more powerful and popular brother. Loki is the embodiment of human pride. He spends the whole movie ranting about how “above everyone” he is, but it’s all too apparent that he is insecure and in need of personal validation, using his power to make others submit to him. I found him to be all too familiar, a reflection of my own heart, my own desires for admiration and power.
In one pivotal scene, Tony Stark realizes that he and Loki are very similar, both using their platforms to project their own images to the world, but unlike Loki, Tony learns the ancient truth that humble service is the way to true greatness, while Loki himself… well, you’ll just have to see how things turn out for him. But it is epic.
The major theme of the movie is that the team is greater than the individual, and each individual working for the good of others is greater than any working alone. This is true in life, and it seems to be true for the movie itself. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that The Avengers far exceeds any one movie that has led up to it. It is excellent in nearly every way. From the minimal language and virtually zero sensuality, to the well-written characters and expertly staged action set-pieces, the Avengers is by all accounts, near the top of the all-time greatest comic book films, and with this being only the first of 3 highly anticipated comic book films coming out this year, things seem to be just now getting started.
So my friends, I wholeheartedly commend The Avengers to you.
But I’m sure you’ve already seen it.