Avengers is proof that all good things go to those who pack the biggest punch and have the longest one-shot fight scenes, because this movie is a perfect summation of all that Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was leading up to. This film was even more enjoyable for those of us who went through the ups (see my Iron-Man and Incredible Hulk piece) and downs (see the second half of my Iron-Man and Incredible Hulk piece) of the films leading up to this tipping point. This is our movie. It’s kinda like how I felt during Marley and Me by the time that last kid was born:
Baby: Goo goo gah gah, this dog is dope and well-adjusted.
Me: You shut up! I have lived with this dog when it was eating couches whole and making Owen Wilson try to change expressions! Don’t you come here acting all entitled!!! THIS IS MY DOG!!!
Baby: My parents are probably getting paid for me to be in this movie.
Me: Touché, baby. You have won this time.
That is kinda how I feel, but a larger more extreme scale each time I watch this movie, and this feeling was only compounded by the fact that I have been neglecting sleep all week to continue this ridiculously ill-timed undertaking. I will not be stopped.
This movie really does have all the ingredients to be a total flop, though. It has a McGuffin with powers that are constantly evolving. It has a bunch of really under-developed characters (sorry Hawkeye, but you can make it up in Age of Ultron). It has one of those classic Joker-esque plots that involve way too many variables for even a god to plan the way Loki did. The last 20 minutes is a montage of the wanton destruction of New York. It is actually a miracle this movie worked at all, but dang it you know it is going to work as soon as the shrill guitar of AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill” kicks in. You think to yourself, “This is the meaning of cinema,” and you might not be wrong.
There is a bunch of things that save this movie from its potential mediocrity, and a vast majority of these things go boom.
At the end of the day, though, you really have to tip your hat to Joss Whedon, and acknowledge that he tied together an ensemble of 8 heavy-hitting cast members and some change–I didn’t watch How I Met Your Mother, so I am pretty apprehensive about classifying Cobie Smulders with such prestige–to create a movie that does justice to just about all the characters. Here’s the checklist:
Iron-Man: Does he seem like a pretty horrible human being? Check. Does he have a new suit that makes the last one seem really dumb? Absolutely. Does he have to become vulnerable for a second in order to save the day. Yup.
Thor: Does he talk like he is at a Renaissance fair? You betcha. Is his morality based off of a general trust for all? Yes. Painfully at times, yes.
Cap: Does he sell the whole “I’m super old” thing. You get the picture.
This script somehow takes all of these people with admittedly complex issues, and weaves them together to create a story that doesn’t really feel dominated by anyone. I literally cannot pinpoint who this movie focuses on. Maybe it’s Stark, Banner, Romanov, Loki, Cap, Fury, or Galaga guy.
It is really hard to tell, and for the first ensemble movie of its kind, this is perfect. A lot of early reports say that Hawkeye and the Hulk are the focus of Age of Ultron, which makes sense because these people have been working together for a while now. However, in this film, we are let in on the ground floor of the assembly and if the team was not the focus, this would have been a sequel for Iron-Man, Thor, Cap, or Hulk with a bigger budget and cast.
I really think this is the most fitting end to Phase 1 that one could hope for. Everything is improved upon by Avengers. All of the characters immediately become more complex, interesting, and entertaining, because they can no longer operate under the auspice of independence. They are a part of a universe in which they are no longer the ruling entity. I happen to enjoy the sequels of Thor and Cap better than the originals, and a large part of this is the sense of connection that they have to this universe. The stakes are raised as you understand that actions from each movie are inevitably spilling over into the lives of the other members of the crew.
The feat of creating a movie that is distinctly its own while also creating a universe from which all other projects must be born is simply unparalleled. Avengers is so successful that even DC is not going to try to bring together so many loose ends so late in the game. The Justice League will begin to form in Batman v. Superman and I struggle to believe the immediacy of that formation is because they want to play catch up with Marvel. They would make just as much money from the Marvel-formula of solo movie leading to the ensemble. I genuinely think they just want to avoid trying to recreate a success that seemed so improbable. Starting earlier makes things much easier to bring together, which means for less opportunities for fatal missteps. Avengers truly stands apart in the realm of superhero movies, and it stands atop a pedestal that it rightly deserves.