When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first created the super team they called "The Avengers", I doubt that they could scarcely imagine the popularity it would enjoy today. Way back in 1964 when the title first debuted, Lee and Kirby were trying out a new formula when it came to superhero team-up books: create a book where the heroes didn't always get along. Up until that point, namely in the more perfect universes of DC Comics' Superman and Batman, the caped crime fighters generally co-existed with very little drama. The Marvel Universe would differ, with the heroes having more three-dimensional personalities and the conflicts that they bring. That was the drama that readers of books like The Avengers, Fantastic Four or X-Men came to expect, a veritable soap opera with muscles and skin-tight spandex. It works rather well in comic books since the dialogue is at times heavy-handed and the costumes a bit bright, but not always in real life.
That is until Joss Whedon (Serenity) directed The Avengers. (Well, more specifically it's called "Marvel's The Avengers". I'm guessing it's for branding reasons and to avoid any confusion with the duo of John Steed and Emma Peele who also went by the same moniker.) In his first mega-budget blockbuster film, Whedon has to bring together characters and story elements from 4 other movie franchises, namely Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Hulk. I'll admit that as each film was being released, I was beginning to doubt if anyone could pull off such a Herculean task. The fan boy in me was relieved to see that Whedon - as both director and screenwriter - was able to weave together all the different story threads he was presented with and stay true to the essence of each character as established in the films. But not only did he keep the continuity of the films intact, he also drew in even more elements from the comic book universe that the characters originated from.
The story set-up goes like this: after the events of the Thor and Captain America movies that preceded this one, Nick Fury finds himself dealing with the schemes of Thor's evil half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). A confrontation early in the film results in the loss of a valuable artifact to the fallen Asgardian, and Fury must try to marshal the forces of the meta-humans that he has been monitoring for the past couple years. It's no easy task and there's a point where it looks like the team will disintegrate on its own, since there are so many divergent personalities on the team. Classic Lee and Kirby if you ask me. The origin story loosely follows the one established in the original Avengers #1, but also pulls in bits from the more contemporary re-telling in Marvel Comics' series "The Ultimates".
The film is chock full of references that the most obsessive comic-book nerds will enjoy. They will smile at the slight revision made to Iron Man's armor; and how The Black Widow handles interrogations; and - this was my favorite part - how the SHIELD "Helicarrier" (my all-time favorite ship in Marvel Comics) translates to the big screen.
And yeah, we finally get to see the Hulk in his full, furious glory.
That is not to say that the film is without its flaws. While she gets to have her moment in the sun, SHIELD Agent Maria Hill (played by Cobie Smulders) does little more than shoot her gun and argue with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). And there are times when the dialog falls a bit flat, especially when it gets to the part when a certain character meets an unexpected end.
But Whedon is also very aware of the tropes that surround comic book stories and plays with the expectations of the audience. You know how superheroes always seem to fight before they team up? Yeah, that also happens here, but the way it happens comes off as more organic and logical than it does in the comics. And when the Avengers finally "assemble" at the most crucial time of the film (come on you knew that was gonna happen), that feels organic as well.
After 2 hours and 20 minutes of action and melodrama, Marvel's The Avengers fulfills a promise that was first made when the first Iron Man movie hit theaters, bringing to life a shared universe of heroes, villains and wondrous worlds.
Stan and Jack would be proud.
(Oh yeah, and be sure to stick around during the end credits because true to form, there are not one but TWO "easter eggs" to be seen, the second of which was not included in the special advance screenings.)
Marvel's The Avengers gets a Geek Factor Rating of 4 (out of 4) Quinjets.
Marvel's The Avengers - Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johannson. Directed by Joss Whedon