Imagine, if you would, we live in a world where movies don’t piggyback off each other. There are no established franchises, crossovers, or world building. Movies are made, just as entertainment/artistic expression. With this in mind, Disney’s Marvel’s The Avengers may be the greatest blockbuster ever created. This doesn’t mean the movie is anything less than perfect, on it’s own. This is a a fun, well acted, hilarious ride completely with dazzling action, and it’s tied together with a perfect script. It is a Star Wars level of filmmaking, and the battle of New York is one of the best third act climaxes of all time. The true magic of The Avengers is how it is able to balance storytelling and fan service.
First thing is first, thinking a movie is perfect does not necessarily mean that it is one’s favorite. After all, a perfect square isn’t the best shape to look at. Visual preference is always subjective. Save for the first time we witness the claws slowly protruding through the fist of Wolverine, on screen, The Avengers was the first full-blown nerdgasm on an epic scale. The Avengers is a simple story about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes coming together to stop a threat on an intergalactic scale. The story itself is nothing special, but it’s only one part of the film, as a whole. The film is about the spectacle over the story. This many heroes, together on the big screen in this fashion, was unexplored, but a great gimmick, not that a gimmick is a bad thing. Each character has an important role to play, so nothing feels out of place, and it flows with a truly organic haste.
Though the story is a just a “good guys band together to stop the bad guys” story, the script itself is, truly, remarkable. Every major plot element is set up. I mean EVERY major plot element. Natasha being interrogated in the beginning sets up the Loki Freudian slip, the counsel and their phase 2 sets up the turmoil for the second act turmoil, Steve telling Tony that he will never be the hero to risk it all sets up the wormhole run, Hawkeye in the crow’s nest, the heated argument in the helicarrier sets up the Banner secret trick… etc. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Each character plays an integral role in the story, and their motivations were either set up in the film, or earlier entries. One of the best moments in the film is a small and subtle moment where Thor, after having lost their first major battle, yields before picking up Mjolnir. This is a small moment, but the brilliance of it is undeniable. Thor lost, feels unworthy, and doesn’t want to repeat the journey of his last Earth adventure. Moments like this define the film. It really didn’t need to be in there, but it’s a nice touch to remind the audience that it both exists in the same universe as the other films, and that characters have vulnerabilities. Steve doesn’t trust Fury for his hidden agenda and secrets, Tony is unwilling to fight as a pawn, Bruce is scared of the Hulk, and Nick has to work with a plate of junk food to make a banquet. Despite limited screen time, each character is completely fleshed out. It is Saving Private Ryan-esque character development, but it still remains a comic book property with silly costumes, inter-dimensional aliens, and schlocky one liners. It takes itself seriously when it’s dramatic, and it plays for camp at other times.
Because the Battle of New York is so monumental as a third act action sequence, it is worthy of having its own paragraph. Remember when the criticism of Marvel films was the lackluster third acts? Boy, Whedon sure showed those critics. Not since Titanic have we had a film complete defined by the large scale action set piece at the end. While movies like Transformers are just shaky cam, running/yelling, lots of dust and lots of explosions, it is a spectacle, but there is no grace, and it gives you a headache. Avengers shows you all the breathtaking action, with no camera hindrance, or choppy editing that cuts the good stuff out. We get a pure, adrenaline-fueled, non-stop thrill ride which amounts to more than just yelling and face punching. The Avengers work together, and we are treated to some very creative, but very comic book teamwork scenes. The film is about teamwork, and the gang accept all this at the end. Tony banking repulsor rays off Cap’s Shield, Hulk impaling a Chitauri beast with a metal shard followed by Thor electrocuting the conductor. Hawkeye using the bird’s eye view to coordinate sky level tactics. Even Nick Fury takes down a fighter jet to counter the incoming nuke, which would nullify the entire efforts of the team. The best aspect of this entire fight is how real it all feels. I don’t mean robot men and super soldiers fighting aliens and a demigod, but The Avengers get bloody, and their apparel gets worn and tattered. The stakes feel low, and it builds some real tension. It’s like the sword fight from Die Another Day. Even though it is a silly and campy film, we are reminded that their fight is very real, and their situation is very dire, in the context of their world, of course. The cherry on top of all this is the Hulk. The Hulk is the most entertaining part of this film and is still a highlight of the MCU, as a whole. Hulk smash, indeed.
The Avengers is the film that pushed Marvel into the big leagues. Sure, the films before this were sensational and box office smashes, but most didn’t go beyond flavor of the week. It was (and still is) an ambitious experiment of big budget filmmaking. It used prior films to establish a big world where all these characters could meet, and it did so by creating something that is the sums of these parts, and also exists on it’s own 2 legs. It is a pitch perfect script which sets up major plot events and pays them off in a satisfying manner, while also serving to flesh out 6 complete characters. While it is chalked full of quippy one liners, and the butting of heads, via their unique egos, it ultimately, and flawlessly, builds up to a gigantic action sequence that ranks as one of the best in recent memory. Question for you: can you name another film with a moment as hilarious, abrupt and memorable as the “puny god” moment? I dare you. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am implying that it will be very difficult. The Avengers was the beginning of the Marvel machine, in many ways, and I predict that years from now it will be hailed and touted as one of the premiere cinematic events of the century. It isn’t my favorite Marvel film, but, as a whole, it is undeniably cinematic perfection.