Sci Fi Ramblings: Reviews, commentaries, and/or just plain ramblings on any and everything concerning science fiction and fantasy.
By John J. Joex
Marvel’s The Avengers hit the theaters domestically by storm this past weekend delivering the highest Box Office opening of all-time and setting out on a path to potentially surpass Avatar as the highest grossing film of all-time. And it did this for good reason as it is a heck of a good movie that brings together an all-star cast of superheroes and manages to deliver an action-packed and satisfying story that maneuvers past the pitfalls of cramming so many characters together in one film. But the movie does more than that as it caps off a master plan that began over four years ago when Marvel Studios concentrated their efforts on making a series of intertwined films that shared the same superhero universe and that allowed for cross-overs and team-ups just like the one that The Avengers delivers.
It started with 2008’s The Incredible Hulk when Robert Downey Jr. showed up briefly as Tony Stark, and then the cross-overs continued (mostly consisting of Samuel L. Jackson showing up as a grim-faced Nick Fury) through both Iron Man movies, Thor, and Captain America. And this wisely accomplished something that blockbuster superhero movies have failed to do since Superman flew into theaters in 1978. Marvel Studios actively worked toward creating a shared universe across the superhero films it began producing, starting from The Incredible Hulk. Previously, we have seen any of a number super crime-fighters on the big screen including Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and more. But the chances of these characters crossing over was slim because of the different studios producing the films and the licensing issues with bringing the characters together. But Marvel Studios decided to hold onto as many of the company’s characters as possible so that it would always have the option of bringing them together in the same film. The Avengers is now the first full example of this, and based on its success many more will follow.
The film itself delivers an excellent movie-going experience, and follows the quality of the recent Marvel movies dating back to the first Iron Man film. Now to be honest, The Avengers is just a really, really good popcorn film as it delivers an action-packed (and hero-packed) story that never bogs down, derails, or succumbs to its own weight. The script has plenty of wit (and some great lines: “Puny god”) even if it does have a few copy and paste scenes and bits of dialogue. It also manages to work in ample screen-time for each of the film’s major characters and gives even the second-tier heroes like Black Widow and Hawkeye some juicy parts. However, it does lack the more substantial story that we saw in last year’s X-Men: First Class (a highly underrated superhero film in my opinion), nor does it quite match the story quality of Captain America: First Avenger. But in my book that means the film only fell just short of exceptional and simply matches the excellence of Thor and Iron Man 1 & 2. And simply the fact that this film could bring together so many characters (often a huge pitfall of previous superhero films) without them tripping over themselves is a huge accomplishment in itself.
And much of that credit goes to genre legend Joss Whedon who co-wrote the script and directed the film. Whedon long ago established himself as a fan favorite with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and more, but now The Avengers bumps him from cult hero to the Hollywood big time. What he accomplished with this film by taking these many characters with their rich histories and diverse personalities and bringing them together in a breathless, entertaining movie has to count as a masterstroke. And with The Avengers on track to break all sorts of Box Office records, Whedon will definitely have his pick of projects in the years to come. The bad side of this is that we may not see him return to television, where he has accomplished so much, for quite some time if at all. We also probably can expect little in the way of quirky projects like Dr. Horrible as well. And we have to hope that Whedon’s current path does not lead him to cranking out cookie-cutter Hollywood fodder like we have seen from Tim Burton of late. But at least Whedon is finally getting the widespread recognition he deserves, and likely some of the compensation as well.
The one area where Marvel might have missed the boat here is they did not use their movie series as an opportunity to relaunch their comic titles in a manner similar to what DC did this year (thought the DC move had nothing to do with their own movies). It would have made perfect sense to restart up most if not all of the Marvel titles to fit into the current movie universe. Then, new readers who’s interest was spurred by the movies could pick up the comics and feel like they are in sync with what is going on there. As it is, if a novice comic book reader tries to dive into the Marvel line, they will quickly find their head spinning with the multitude of titles the company puts out, some with two issues hitting the stands per month (and at $4 per pop on top of that). I don’t see the success of the movies translating to increased comic book sales in the long run. Sure sales may go up as the movies come out, but I believe many new readers will quickly become discouraged by the plethora of Marvel titles choking the comic book stand.
But don’t let that discourage you from seeing The Avengers. It’s a heck of a good movie, perhaps one of the all-time best popcorn films. And it is setting the stage for more films to follow. And based on the quality of output from Marvel Studios the last few years, that’s definitely a good thing.