Thor: He's my brother. Black Widow: He's killed 80 people in 2 days.. Thor: ..... he's adopted
Director: Mr. Whedon
(full spoilers, read after seeing)
I've followed the reviews since they began springing up on Rotten. "Marvel's 'The Dark Knight'", "matches the hype and exceeds it", "Hulk? Smash!". Tall statements, and I'm here to report that I fully agree with all of it. Sitting down in my seat in the IMAX theater with my 3D glasses, my bag of popcorn, drink, and Reeses Pieces, I expected the best for my buck, and got it. Before the movie even began, I was bombarded with awesome by the new trailers for TDKR, Prometheus, and ASM. Hell, if the digital projector had conked out right after that, I almost felt fulfilled right there. But then the lights dimmed all the way, and the MARVEL logo appeared, and this 26 year old was like a giddy 10 year old for the next 2 hours and 20 minutes, leaning forward frequently, completely absorbed with euphoric sensory overload.
While I'm not going to complain about the level of quality on display, which is marvelous, it does confuse me slightly why this level of talent hasn't been assembled before 2012 for any comic book movie (sans maybe The Dark Knight, but even that film feels pale in comparison in terms of equal character growth). With decades upon decades of sometimes amazing stories to cull from, it seems like it took Mjolinir hitting the side of some studio executive's head one day back in 2008 to think to himself: Maybe we should hire actually talented cast and crews to develop a shared universe people could become invested in, and continue to build and culminate within that continuity. Five films and four years later (who have all been upgraded in my mind now, seeing the biggest picture unfurl), we witness the penultimate (for now, until it's possibly topped by the sequel) MARVEL adventure, that manages the tricky task of both playing to those of us who have been there since that first after credits scene with Iron Man, and the mainstream audience who might not know a lick about comic books or comic book movies, but are interested due to the 9 realms-sized hype. It may be late arriving to the party, but it's the guest of honor, as far as I'm concerned.
Of course, the biggest fear on most fan's minds was how could you effectively juggle that many superheroes in one live action film. Thankfully, Joss Whedon was tasked with quelling that fear, a man who's TV work and other cinematic outing, Serenity, dealt primarily with ensembles. Managing teams of unique and powerful individuals is his repertoire, and riding the high that MARVEL has established with the prequel films (and a budget his fanboy mind could only previously dream of), he's finally given a task that matches and tests his talents as a director and writer, and I couldn't be more grateful it was him. While Downey Jr. is perhaps at his snarkiest and most charming here (and I'm coming to really love whenever he and Paltrow are around each other), he doesn't steal the show. Evans' noble soldier heroics make you salute him, Ruffalo always gives you the sense that the Hulk is boiling inside him, Thor whups Chitauri ass riding that lightning, Johannson makes use of everything around her making herself very relevant to the fight, and Renner and Johannson's shared history, before and during their SHIELD service, is intriguing. Gregg's Agent Coulson comes perilously close to topping them all, however, with his death by Loki reminiscent of the way Fred died in Angel, sudden and harsh, but at least he got in one more punch line, befitting of his beloved character.
The story was simple enough for the first team outing, with imagined slighted Loki taking his heritage issues out on Earth, making a deal with the devil/Thanos to acquire an alien army to do so (those Chitauri I've mentioned). It's an easy enough premise to swallow for anyone I would think, with both Nick Fury's master wrangling of these titanic egos and Coulson's death being the glue that brings them all together in a realistic way. I really didn't want anything more complicated than that right out the door anyways, and I believe it gives credence to the idea that simple is usually best.
It was also a masterstroke to use Industrial Light and Magic for the superhero brawls, helicarrier, and eventual invasion by Thanos' Chitauri army. Everything looks fantastic and expensive, and besides the constant humor and wit Whedon injects into nearly every scene, your retinas are constantly saturated with pleasingly staged chaos and capes. It's a helluva thing to see Iron Man rocketing through downtown Manhattan facing off against a horde of Chitauri at every corner, and even the littler players like Black Widow, being propelled by Captain America's strength onto the back of one of the Chitauri... chariots (they seemed almost like alien chariots to me), taking control of it, and wreaking havoc with their own technology turned against them.
With a somewhat memorable score by Alan Silvestri, strong performances all around (especially from Tom Hiddleston, who completely and utterly owns Loki), special effects to drool over, and more puns than the previous movies combined, MARVEL's The Avengers is both the 4 year climax we've patiently, or impatiently rather, waited for, and a team origin story that drops just enough nuggets to keep the masses going wild for more superhero spectacle (much to thedude-abide's chagrin). This CBM fanboy is in heaven.