Movie Review: The Avengers
By Edwin Davies
April 30, 2012
And there's plenty of "the other way" on display, as The Avengers seeks to outdo not only its predecessors, but every blockbuster of the last 20 years in the action department. The fight scenes between The Avengers and their foes - and each other - are inventively staged, often escalating until they seem like they can't get more impressive, then even going further. This is especially true of the climax of the film, which finds The Avengers battling Loki's invasion force through the streets of Manhattan. It's probably the sequence of the film that boils the appeal of The Avengers down to its most elemental. It's the part in which pretty much every character gets their "awesome!" moment, the moment when they get to shine and be the living embodiment of 40 years worth of comic history. The Hulk, in particular, gets to partake in some smashing that will make fans of the character very, very happy.
Yet, whilst they get great individual moments, the strength of the climax lies in the way in which the members of the team find themselves split up engaging in separate endeavours, then occasionally working together in different configurations, all in order to save the world. The Avengers is a film about a group of superheroes who fight aliens, but it's also a film about the way in which a group of broken, damaged individuals can come together to form something greater than themselves. Even though the final act is, superficially, typical blockbuster spectacle, it also works beautifully as a way of bringing the characters together and to solidify everything that they have experienced over the course of the film, and there is something quite moving about watching them struggle together for a common goal.
The emotional aspect of The Avengers is, for me, what sets it apart from most blockbusters. It takes the concerns of its characters seriously, and even though the film is incredibly funny most of the time - Whedon remains one of the sharpest writers of dialogue working in Hollywood today - it also grounds its spectacle in the emotional arcs of its characters, both individually and as a team. It finds time for Captain America's sense of displacement as a product of World War II awakened in the modern world; it finds time for Black Widow's guilt over her past; it finds time for Tony Stark to rub pretty much everyone else the wrong way. Most importantly, it finds a way to make the global personal by having The Avengers experience a tragedy that galvanizes them into working together as they were always meant to.
It's a canny bit of writing on Whedon's part, even if it is one of the few moments in the film that feels like it will mean more to people familiar with the preceding films than those coming to The Avengers completely fresh. That's another thing that's remarkable about the film; for the most part, it doesn't feel like the culmination of five films worth of build-up, but like a largely standalone story. There are occasional references to events in the other films, but for the most part Whedon is concerned with telling his own tale, rather than being overly concerned with those that came before him. It's that individualism that allows the film to power forward at the pace that it does, and rather than pause to make sure that everyone gets the references or is clued up on the backstory, it gets on with the business of having superheroes save the world. There's something wonderfully pure and exhilarating about that approach.
Considering all the hype and build-up, it's wonderful to see that The Avengers not only lives up to expectations, but exceeds them on almost every point. It's funny, exciting and offers the kind of giddy thrill that all blockbusters should aspire to, yet rarely achieve. On top of all that, it even manages to find an emotional core for all its dazzling spectacle and witty repartee that makes the destruction mean something. Quite frankly, it sets a new standard for what blockbusters should aim to be from here on in.