I have a confession to make.
I never read comic books as a kid.
The earliest I remember was picking up an issue of Star Brand for 35 cents in junior high, trying to get into it, and failing. I always liked the Hulk, but that was from the TV show. Same with the Superman movies, and the Batman TV show. I came into it second hand. I’ve enjoyed many comics and graphic novels since, from The Dark Knight Returns, to the first Marshal Law books, to Kurt Busiek’s excellent Astro City, which remains my favorite superhero series. And if you don’t like superheroes, his standalone “The Tarnished Angel” is a great noir story.
But as someone who didn’t grow up with comics, or love them wholeheartedly later, I have some unpopular opinions. I think Zak Snyder’s ending to Watchmen was an improvement. I like Ang Lee’s Hulk movie better than the Ed Norton one. I find the X-Men annoying, because the mutie as race minority allegory is patronizing and doesn’t make sense when mutants can zap you to dust by forgetting to wear their sunglasses. We have reason to fear them. But that’s an argument for another day, maybe when the Wolverine movie comes out.
I was not sold on Marvel’s lead-ups to the Avengers. Iron Man, I loved that movie. The rest were all flawed in some way. Captain America probably the least, but it needed more action and less montage. And he should have punched out Hitler. Thor was good fun, but there was a lot of running and silliness and the Devastator was a boring villain. The Incredible Hulk had its moments, but I doubt I’d watch it again.
I was worried about the Avengers when the opening and villain introduction were rather tepid. Nick Fury and SHIELD were not sufficiently bad-ass. That is rectified by the end of the movie, thank goodness. My review will be short and sweet. Every character shines in this one. Much has been said of the fantastic interplay of the heroes, and that is a great strength. But even alone, they are the best incarnation on-screen, even Stark as Iron Man. Let’s face it, they all have issues and spending time with any of these guys gets tiresome. It’s a testament to Robert Downey Jr.’s characterization that we don’t want Rhodey to drop a deuce in every one of Stark’s suits by the end of an Iron Man movie. And that’s fine, he should be a flawed man.
But in the Avengers, they can be more annoying than ever, because the doses are smaller. Cap can be an out of touch goody-good. Banner can be aloof, condescending and always have “You won’t like me when I’m angry” unspoken, on the tip of his tongue, a passive-aggressive bully. Thor’s elevated speech and godliness can be more than a joke. The best scene is likely when the gang is all arguing due to trickster god Loki’s manipulations, aboard SHIELD’s hovercraft air carrier. And that includes the Hulk going apeshit, which should be my favorite scene.
Well played, Whedon. That’s confession two. Despite being a Firefly fan, I’ve always been very critical of Joss Whedon’s writing. It’s very good, but there was always fan service, which rubs me the wrong way. I find it condescending, especially when superhero movies have been blockbusters for a decade. But I will humbly say this is his best script yet. I forgot he was attached to it until an hour in. He’s very subtle, he is respectful to the material, but makes it his own. And he has given us iconic characterizations of superhero icons that will be the measuring stick for many years to come; they all come into their own. He makes Black Widow much more than sexy kick-ass window dressing, and damn, he knows how to use effects. This is the first movie in years where the CG effects haven’t required me to forcibly suspend disbelief.
And this is a comic book movie. It is not a movie with superheroes in it. The heroes clobber each other, change sides multiple times, begrudgingly become a team, just like they do in the comics. It’s like pro wrestling. They get a lot of things pitch perfect. The Hulk is played as terrifying to anyone who’s not a god or wearing armor. The bad guys, armored aliens, aren’t just ugly, violent and stupid, but they have a goofy menace to them like all good comic book cannon fodder does, laughing and shooting their laser guns right up until the Hulk pops their head like a grape. The dialogue is fantastic, and the back and forth banter in battle makes the long, repetitive slugfest remain exciting.
The film is full of nice touches, and I plan on watching it enough times to catch them all. Now if you don’t mind, I want to go get some shawarma.