HULK SMASH! HULK MAKE EPIC COMEBACK FROM TWO CRAPPY MOVIES! HULK SMASH…
Wait…I should back up. Hi. We haven’t met yet. I’m a nerd.
I’m a nerd who has been consuming the lead-in movies to The Avengers for years with nigh religious fervor. I’ve been living my life by way of little Nick Fury hits and enduring some intense cravings in between times. My expectation level for this movie, thanks to a legion of fellow nerds on the Web and their fanatical excitement about this franchise, was nothing less than Jesus Christ coming back in the form of a movie to Rapture all of our eyeballs in an orgy of explosions and muscles. Despite this slight bias, I have found almost all of the lead-in films wanting in some way and have had to wonder whether it is possible to make a really great comic book movie. We’re had some really good comic book movies, like the first Spiderman, some of the X-Men movies, and Nolan’s Batman, but how much better could The Avengers get?
The deck was stacked against them. The Avengers have just shy of 50 years of comic book history as a team and that much again as individuals with their own comic books. Much of that history is weird, convoluted, and probably unfilmable. Add to that the recent success of superhero movies and the studios’ desire to churn them out for money as quickly as possible and you get things like The Green Lantern and The Green Hornet, the second of which left me holding my head in the theater praying for someone to save the superheroes.
And then there was Joss Whedon.
Whedon, besides being one of the most important living nerds, is a comic book guy. Not only did he grow up with the medium, he’s written them too. And he was actually good at it—his arc on Astonishing X-Men is still something I hear being recommended in comic shops and his turn on Runaways is a modern classic. And it’s because of this intimate knowledge of the medium that Whedon nails this film: The Avengers is more like watching a comic book than any other comic book movie. It captures the spirit of joy in the medium more than any superhero film I have ever seen.
Does the movie have flaws? Yes. The story feels like several smaller, self-contained stories strung together in a less-than-fluid manner. While some of the laborious exposition seen in other cape movies is skipped over, having been dealt with in the pervious films, Hawkeye and Black Widow have their back stories shoehorned awkwardly and confusingly into an already-full 142 minutes. The dialogue is some of the best I can remember from any summer blockbuster, but there were still a couple of cringe-worthy clichés that snuck in.
But here’s the thing: It does not fucking matter. It doesn’t matter because this movie is fun. Several of these heroes have already proved that they can carry their own films. Seeing them on screen, together, with new and exciting characters, weapons, and space portals is fun. The dialogue is a bit smarter, a bit sharper and a lot more fun than we’ve heard. It’s a buffet of superpowers, superegos, and celebrities juggled deftly by Whedon. No one feels left out, no one feels overused. The volcanic rise of childish glee in your chest during the final battle—in which the camera flies around Manhattan finding each of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes fighting their own pockets of the invading alien horde—is worth the ticket price alone. So for the love of god(s), before I start yelling at you about the things that Hulk smashed, go buy your damn tickets and spare my vocal cords.