There is an internet phrase that originated some time ago in regards to entertainment that flashed across my mind shortly after seeing The Avengers.
To put it delicately (ie incorrectly) for grandma, it is known as the “Eff yeah moment.”
The term that means a scene that is badass and/or unexpected. The more of each are combined, the better. A moment that makes you want to throw your fist in the air and yell… well, you get the idea. I can say with absolutely no doubts in my mind that Joss Whedon’s The Avengers contains more of these moments per hour than any other film I have ever seen. Every character seems to get at least one bit that made me want to stand up and cheer. Based on the nigh-continuous applause at the midnight screening I attended, I was not the only one.
There is such a joy in the writing for the characters, that none of the principles get lost in the shuffle. None of the Avengers. Not Nick Fury. Even most of the secondaries get their chance to shine. The plot itself is, perhaps not weak or thin, but very simple when you get down to its bare bones. (I will not reveal that plot, lest I become the newest super villain of the internet.) But part of the reason the plot isn’t incredibly complicated is because the characters and their relationships are. This is not an origin story for the characters. The previous films in the “official” Marvel series have taken care of that, and thank goodness. But this is the origin of their relationship. With the exception of a few, mostly Iron Man and various members of SHIELD, the clandestine organization that houses Fury, Black Widow and the fan favorite original creation Agent Coulson, these characters are meeting each other for the first time and their dynamic is thoroughly explored with each other. Iron Man, Thor and Captain America bounce off each other with surprising economy as the confluence of events leads them to quickly find who they are in relation to each other. Oddly, while Iron Man quips his way through with the kind of aplomb you would expect and Hulk is used like a desert to add perfectly to the few scenes that the giant Green Meanie is attached to, it is Captain America that seems to benefit most from this approach. “Maybe we need something old fashioned,” Fury remarks early in the recruitment. He seems to be right. While Cap may not have as many moments of pure badassery, when he emerges as a leader (only a spoiler if you haven’t been aware of the comics at all for the last fifty years) it not only feels natural, but necessary.
(In many ways the treatment of Iron Man and Captain America feels like the excellent character work of Superman and Batman in the DC comics animated series that ran on the now-defunct WB. Characters that personally create friction, but manage to find common cause out of adversity, not being “Superfriends,” but also never seeming to snipe just because the story needed a dramatic beat.)
That’s the balancing act that Whedon pulls off, and it’s done in a way that makes it seem like most of his work was a first draft for this film. He manages to fold exposition into character development and character development into fun setpieces that are as big or bigger than any of the summer blockbusters of the last ten years, yet manage to feel far more intimate and personal than anything Michael Bay is capable of. The interactions are reminiscent of his season-long arcs on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, already comic book/horror hybrids, but boiled down to their essence.
The actors bounce off each other like flubber, creating more energy with each blow. The only newbie on the team, Mark Ruffalo, does a decent enough job, even if I personally preferred Ed Norton in the role. It is his Hulked out alter-ego that steals the show. If you have kids, expect them to be wanting Hulk hands for Christmas this year. Cobie Smulders plays the other unknown quantity, SHIELD agent Maria Hill and she does so well enough, mostly being frontloaded in the film.
Everyone else brings their A-game, continuing on what has turned out to be miraculous casting over the course of the previous five films. While the dialogue threatens to become, to steal his trick of slapping a “Y” on the end of anything to make it an adjective, too Whedon-y at times, the actors manage to make it compatible with their past films so it doesn’t seem like as big a shift as the use of someone with such a notoriously stylized use of language could be. With a television series that he’s created or a film like Cabin in the Woods, that’s not an issue. With a film that’s part of a series in which each of the individual directors has to create something that works individually, but also with each other, the results could be less than desirable. The script teeters on the brink on more than one ocassion, but it always manages to pull itself back.
In the end, this is probably the most raucous, joyous, utterly preposterously fun blockbuster in recent memory. I smiled. I pumped my fist. I said, “Eff yeah!”
(Five out of five stars)