Has it only been five years since The Avengers blew us away and ushered in a brave (and in some cases not so brave) new world of superhero movies?
It certainly was not a spontaneous event, even in terms of summer blockbusters. Marvel had been carefully building up to it with no less than five movies, and gave a great deal of control to writer-director Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy, The Cabin in the Woods, and Firefly. Compare that to the now many, many, reports of very skilled, creative directors departing fromMCU films due to “creative differences.” In the case of The Avengers, this trust paid off in a big way, with The Avengers becoming the first MCU movie to gross $1 billion. This movie wasn’t just adored by audiences though; critics heaped praise on the film too, citing its character development, action, and especially its wit.
In case anyone somehow mnaged to escape it, the plot involves Earth’s mightiest heroes assembling to stop Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who at this point is still the MCU’s best, most memorable villain, from conquering and enslaving humanity. So a team of mismatched heroes getting together to fight a Big Bad and save the world? Hardly new territory. So why is The Avengers so loved?
Whedon seems to get most of the credit, but it’s one of the rare times when lavish praise seems right on target. He takes his time setting up all the iconic, beloved characters, who all come with considerably long, established histories. Nevertheless, Whedon manages to get to the core of their personalities without neglecting any of them, thus ensuring that not only do their interactions feel genuine, but the movie’s many action scenes have real stakes, even if we all know no one’s biting the dust.
However, even Whedon’s brilliant writing would fall flat without the marvelous cast, who bounce off each other with a compulsively watchable, manic energy, even during the film’s quiet moments, with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans acting as the opposing yet complementary center as the sardonic Iron Man and the boyishly sincere Captain America. Surprisingly, this doesn’t lead to the neglect of any of the other cast members, with everyone getting moments of introspection and tortured backstory. Scarlett Johansson has an especially difficult burden as the lone woman on the team, but she’s allowed to be suprisingly vulnerable without needing a rescue or even a love interest. Everybody also acts as perfect vessels for the movie’s many one-liners while exhibiting a surprising amount of comedic timing, and they pull it off while also living up to the fast-paced, explosive demands of today’s action standards. Hardly an easy task, especially when compared to movies that got it wrong, like the sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron.
And what with a whole new stable of Marvel films coming out, which includes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opening this weekend, Thor: Ragnarok, in the fall and next year’s Avengers: Infinity War Part 1, it’s reassuring to know we’ll always have the one that got it right.