‘The Avengers’

A tentpole action adventure film par excellence that embraces spectacle while not sparing plot or character development.

This is the very best example of Hollywood excess.

It’s everything you could conceivably want from a massive popcorn picture, and takes the best aspects of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Captain America, while eschewing the hokum of Thor and cynical drudgery of Iron Man 2. It’s pretty much the perfect moviegoing experience.

The sheer scale of the film is almost obscene – perhaps fuelled by the kind of set pieces and segments digital effects can now render. Within its hefty running time are several larger than life characters, all of whom get plenty of screen time to shine, and a final act that essentially all but destroys New York City. But its multitude of excesses are levelled-out by writer-director Joss Whedon’s attention for character development, his good ear for dialogue and obvious knowledge of comic lore and the ins-and-outs of the Marvel universe.

(I’m not a comic book guy, by the way. I’m a child of the ’70s, with a love of movies fuelled by the big summer action adventure films of Lucas, Spielberg, Zemeckis and company in the late ’70s and ’80s. What has to happen in a comic book adaptation – or any adaptation for that matter – for me to engage and appreciate it is not having the prerequisite of prior reading to fully appreciate it. I got told this about The Lord of the Rings, that you fully appreciate the films if you’d read the books, but that to me is the hallmark of a bad adaptation – I shouldn’t have to have read 1000-plus pages of fantasy novel to fully ‘get’ a film. But I’m alone on that one. End rant.)

Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man has – as expected – the most established and fully composed character, but thankfully not at the expense of any of the others. Much of the misplaced self-importance of last year’s Thor has been stripped from this telling; that lumbering beast of a thing is all but forgotten save from the film’s lead and key villain. Chris Evans retains the purpose and nobility of his Captain America, while Mark Ruffalo adds a level of gravitas to Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is given a second note, as is Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye (both of whom had gussied-up cameos in Iron Man 2 and Thor, respectively).

I’ve not ever been any kind of fan of Joss Whedon’s television work. The whole Buffy/Angel thing completely passed me by. I’ve seen one or two episodes of the former and had just been blindsided by the scenery chewing, style-over-substance, ham-fisted awfulness of the show’s lead (yes, I’m courting controversy here, I know this, but I really do think she’s one of the worst actresses in history). I would not have placed Whedon as the obvious choice to be at the helm of one of the most expensive films ever, but he’s so very obviously up to the task – marshalling a narrative encompassing eight lead characters with back stories of their own with the requisite explosions and eye-popping set pieces to keep the thronging mass of fan boys happy. ‘Awesome’ is a term bandied about a bit loosely these days, but it’s a film like this that does the word justice. It really does inspire awe.

The Avengers is one of the great escapist spectacles (rendered perfectly well in 2D; save your money on that one). It is just amazing.

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