“Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel,” says Loki.
Until 2008, the idea of a live action feature film featuring the Marvel Comics superhero team known as the Avengers seemed destined to remain an impossible dream. That notion changed in May 2008 when Marvel Studios saw the release of its first production, Iron Man, which featured a post-credits scene featuring S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury mentioning the Avenger Initiative. The release of The Incredible Hulk the following month certified the formation of a bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Those two films were followed by Iron Man 2 in 2010, and Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011. Phase One of the MCU would culminate with The Avengers, bringing Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye together on the big screen for the very first time. To ensure the success of The Avengers, Marvel Studios hired an unlikely but logical director: Joss Whedon of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly (not to mention the director of Firefly‘s feature film continuation Serenity). I saw The Avengers on the big screen four times during its original theatrical run and for a fifth time last Fall at the School of Visual Arts Theater in New York City (it was awesome every time!).
2012’s The Avengers follows Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury as he assembles the heroes Captain America, Iron Man, Bruce Banner (aka the Hulk), Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye to combat Thor’s adopted brother Loki, who plans on unleashing an extraterrestrial army upon the Earth once he’s managed to open a wormhole to outer space using the energy cube known as the Tesseract. Whedon assembled a fine cast that includes Robert Downey Jr. (as Tony Stark/Iron Man), Chris Evans (as Steve Rogers/Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (as Bruce Banner/the Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (as Thor), Scarlett Johansson (as Agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (as Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (as Loki), Stellan Skarsgard (as Dr. Erik Selvig), Cobie Smulders (as Agent Maria Hill), Clark Gregg (as Agent Phil Coulson), Gwyneth Paltrow (as Pepper Potts), Paul Bettany (as the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S.), Alexis Denisof (as the Other), and Samuel L. Jackson (as Nick Fury). The main cast of heroes work very well as an ensemble, with each getting their moments to shine (I loved the rapport between Downey Jr. and Ruffalo as well as the fiery exchanges between Evans and Downey Jr.). Hiddleston is wicked fun as the god of mischief (but thankfully doesn’t go over-the-top). Jackson continues to be a bad-ass as Fury, and Gregg is the heart of the film (no offensive joke intended; if you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean).
Whedon’s experience with ensemble casts pays off as he masterfully handles the large ensemble assembled for this film. He rewrote Zak Penn’s screenplay (Penn still got a story credit), carefully balancing the heroes and slowly (but steadily) build up to the alien invasion sequence (which more than delivered the goods). It also contains a lot of humor that is derived from the dramatic situations rather than at the cost of them. James Chinlund’s production design is top-notch (I loved the design and layout of the Helicarrier), as is Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography and Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs. John Blake’s make-up design is first-rate, and the Oscar-nominated special effects were incredible (one of my favorite moments in the film is the sight of the Helicarrier rising out of the ocean; it is just a sight to behold). The editing by Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek guides the film steadily. Alan Silvestri delivers an excellent, action-packed score filled with several new motifs (including a heroic theme for the Avengers) while making sparing use of his Captain America theme from Captain America: The First Avenger. The Avengers could have been a total disaster, but thanks to Marvel Studios’ plan to build up to it (and largely to Joss Whedon, whose writing and directing made the film work), it was a giant critical and box office success that has led to the continuation of Marvel Studios bringing more of its characters to the big screen.