Bottom line? The Avengers simply shouldn’t have worked. No, seriously, why should it have?
Usually slamming characters together from multiple franchises either means said franchise is finally spluttering to a halt (Universal with their Classic Monsters line back in the 30’s) or you’re a guaranteed shoe-in for a critical drubbing (Aliens, Predator, Freddy & Jason, take a bow), so despite the inclusion of geek overlord Joss Whedon overseeing things in the director’s chair, I personally was preparing for the worst during the summer of 2012. But lo, said train-wreck never came to pass, Marvel made ALL the money and the MCU successfully changed the way movies were made for better or worse (depending whether or not you’re Martin Scorsese).
Loki, the Asgardian God of mischief and adopted brother of the luxuriously maned Thor, was last seen being being cast off into space through a cosmic rift but after he reappears in the middle of a SHIELD installation he steals the Tesseract (the glowy blue macguffin from Captain America) in order to launch a massive assault on our world with an alien army. Bummer. However, fresh from finally graduating from a string of cameos, Samuel L. Jackson’s super spy Nick Fury assembles Marvel’s various leading men and supporting characters to collectively open a superhuman can of whoop-ass(gardian) all over this would-be despot, but there’s a bit of a snag. They’re all kind of egotistical butt-hats and they all sort of hate each other… Notorious straight arrow Captain America clashes with the war-suit wearing, man-child Iron man while Bruce Banner’s jade hued alter ego The Hulk adds extra beef into his beef with Thor. On top of that, no one trusts Fury or his most trusted agent the duplicitous Black Widow and master assassin Hawkeye has come down with a major case of mind altering hocus pocus which has aligned him with the enemy. As Loki only seems to have to do the bare minimum to push this unstable superhuman collection of a hot mess into a full on brawl, Fury has to find a way to get these virtual Gods onto the same page before an alien army descends upon New York and turns it into crushed gravel. So can this clutch of immortal idiots and powerful pricks possibly find enough common ground to assemble in time?
And that’s the key behind the success of Marvel’s all-or-nothing gambit; having all these accomplished actors in such charismatic roles isn’t actually worth a damn thing unless they’re pushing each other’s buttons and that they do, magnificently – and a lot. In fact even if The Avengers didn’t have amazing action (which it does, the whole last 40 minutes is a 12 year old’s fever dream fantasy made flesh) the true selling point is watching all these freaks interact for the first time, and yes, fight. Watching Chris Evans’ Cap America punch out alien shock troopers is great, watching Downey Jr’s Tony Stark relentlessly get on his tits is immeasurably better. In fact ALL the interactions are great and everyone gets to have their moment, Stark and Bruce Banner’s “science bros”, Thor and Hulk’s uber-posturing (Whedon and brand new Banner, Mark Ruffalo finally crack the jade giant better than anyone else before them) and Black Widow and Hawkeye’s “pro”-mance are just three of the many intersecting relationships, but the two most successful ones aren’t technically superheroes at all.
Both Tom Hiddleston’s emo-mulleted fan favourite Loki and Agent Coulson (played by Clark Gregg) literally have screen time with EVERYONE but in very, very different ways, acting as two sides of the same coin and bringing out the best and worst of the burgeoning Avengers. Coulson fan-boys all over everyone (especially Cap in a fantastic running joke), bringing out the warmth in these disparate warriors whereas Loki’s gleefully hissable villain jousts physically and verbally with absolutely anyone in earshot and is a hoot to watch, especially when he’s getting frequently knocked on his ass in a variety of supremely satisfying ways.
Visually the movie is shiny and crisp and makes everything look like an action playset (but in a good way), which fits the tone nicely, I mean, what else are these characters but living, breathing, life-sized action figures?
There are a couple of minor missteps here and there, Captain America’s costume is fine, kinda, from the neck down (ugh, that helmet!) and more non-mind wiped Hawkeye would have been appreciated by myself and Jeremy Renner, but these things aside, Hollywood would be a very different place if the Avengers hadn’t gelled the way it did both on-screen and with audiences.
Warm, funny and with an insane rewatch value, The Avengers pretty much secured Marvel Studio’s future and allowed them to take the chances they take on both sides of the camera.
It’s a group effort.