Back in January I was a little anxious about The Avengers. I feared that Joss Whedon’s writing/directing talents would be subject to the whims of a studio intent on making all the money in the world. To cope, I offered a few ideas on what Marvel’s flagship super hero movie could do to keep the audience, both fans of the genre and relative newcomers, happy with the final product. After six weeks, 1.3 billion dollars in gross box office returns, and what I imagine to be at least one money fight between various Marvel executives, I’ve finally seen Earth’s mightiest heroes in action.
So rather than offer my two cents in the form of an incredibly late to the game, and arguably pointless therein, review, I thought it would be fun to look at my concerns from five months ago and see how they lined up with the final product.
January point #1 – Don’t mention the Fantastic Four, not even a little.
Check and mate. Though if I had my head screwed on when I wrote that post, I would have realized that Fox owns the film rights to the Fantastic Four. Ergo, there’s no way they could have popped into Avengers. I suppose Whedon could have snuck in a shot of the Baxter building at some point, if only for the sake of Marvel universe continuity.
January point #2 – Keep it on Earth.
Let me further quote myself on this point:
““While the modern audience has embraced super heroes, a general desire to explore Marvel’s cosmic canon doesn’t quite seem to be in play. Much as I want to see it, bringing the Kree into this movie would probably be a huge mistake.”
Joss Whedon, you magnificent bastard. Ages ago Whedon announced that the Avengers’ foe would be neither the Skrulls nor the Kree. There was some outrage from among the fans, myself included, who assumed that the film’s antagonists would default to the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. Wrong. Whedon pulled a fast one and gave us Skrulls who aren’t Skrulls.
The Chitauri are the “Marvel Ultimates” answer to the Skrulls. Even though Whedon ignored their shape shifting abilities, he managed to conjure up an extra worldly enemy that put almost all interested parties on the same level. Perhaps the purists will cry, “You’re doing it wrong,” but considering the disastrous attempt to bring Galactucs into contemporary cinema, I’m going to call the Chitauri a win. Whedon kept the story on Earth, but also brought in an enemy that would require the combined might of SHIELD and the Avengers. His success here paves the way to triple down on the cosmic forces in form of Thanos. Oh and for the benefit of anybody who doesn’t know, in the comics Thanos once managed to kill pretty much all of the Avengers, X-Men, and anybody else who had super powers. Just sayin’.
January point #3 – Do something epic with the Hulk.
I do believe that Captain America said it best with the immortal words, “Hulk. Smash!” The Hulk then KO’d a giant flying Chitauri space worm thing. Later, he sucker punched Thor for comedic effect. If punching a god and a bunch of aliens all in the same movie isn’t epic, I don’t know what is.
January point #4 – Give us some tension between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.
Quoting myself again: “I could envision Cap snarking to Tony that he’s no Howard Stark; to be followed by Tony punching Cap for even daring to make the comparison. Even better, Cap gives Stark a lecture on personal sacrifice.”
Wrong on the punching, right on Cap calling out Stark vis-a-vis understanding what it means to be a hero.
The Avengers does a great job bringing out a laundry list of interpersonal conflicts between the would-be team as well as SHIELD Director Nick Fury. The various members may not be Watchmen-esque with their flaws, but they’re about as damaged as one could expect from a PG rated movie. If we stop to consider the first ever Avengers story, wherein Ironman, Wasp, and Thor easily mesh to work for the greater good, Joss Whedon and Zak Penn’s story becomes something much more original. After the fashion of the Marvel Ultimates’ universe, the film tracks closer to what reality would be if these heroes actually existed.
January point #5 – Don’t forget about Black Widow and Hawkeye.
I can’t imagine a way that Avengers could have been more balanced. Everybody, including the two least super powered members of the team, had a role to play. Jeremy Renner’s acting chops were not wasted as he alternated between Loki’s thrall and SHIELD’s operative. Nor was Scarlett Johansson reduced to a walking talking piece of token cleavage as a means of appealing to the 13-18 year old male demographic. The implied back story between the two characters was carried with such magnificent gusto that I now find myself wanting a more sophisticated film dedicated to these two characters.
January point #6 – No more SHIELD jokes.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know that we’re never going to get another SHILED joke again, ever. It’s inevitable, really, that when Joss Whedon is about, somebody is going to die. Since Marvel wouldn’t let him kill any of the actual Avengers, it was a coin toss between Maria Hill and Phil Coulson. Still, shooting Loki with the BFG 9000 after getting shived through the back has got to earn him a place at Odin’s table in Valhalla.
Bottom line: Mr. Whedon managed to keep this Marvel fan a happy camper. Not simply because he pulled off a challenging ensemble piece, but because he broke Marvel’s cosmic curse. So long as Avengers 2 is managed with a similar hand on the tiller, this story’s introduction of Thanos paves the way for all manner of yet to be explored Marvel properties. Perhaps we could have a proper Dark Phoenix story replete with the Shi’ar Empire. If we consider that the “Mojoverse” created reality television long before Survivor ever came along, a Longshot movie could probably work.
Likely, we’ll just get more sequels with proven characters. However, Joss Whedon’s triumph in something that could have gone wrong on so many levels at least opens the door to some interesting new possibilities.