The Avengers / Joss Whedon / 2012 /

Active Ingredients: Split time between heroes; Individual arcs; Hulk
Side Effects: Villains; Humor; Samuel L. Jackson; Pacing

It seems obvious now that The Avengers was going to be a huge success. Drawing on fans of both the previous Marvel Comics films and of writer/director Joss Whedon, the film has shattered box office records. There’s no doubt The Avengers was intricately planned, with belabored tie-ins in multiple films all culminating in one action epic. Still, it surprised me that the film works as well as it does. Dividing screentime between at least 6 main characters is no easy task, but the amount of narrative threads isn’t a hindrance to The Avengers, it’s an attribute. Working on established backstory from the previous films, Whedon gives each Avenger precisely one personal element to explore, and since there are so many characters, when one thread loses steam, he simply switches to another. The Hulk has his rage issues, Iron Man is selfish and Captain America is old-fashioned (a bit thin, but OK). It doesn’t matter that there’s not much depth to these storylines; when one doesn’t hit, there’s another to replace it shortly.

This may seem like a backhanded compliment, but the vaguest characterization is all we need—The Avengers is the rare film for me where more is actually more. Of course, there’s action too, mostly coming from two extended setpieces, and Whedon executes his large-scale battles nicely, catapulting from one hero to another, as exemplified by one stylish long take. It all seems a bit silly (Why are they saving one busload of civilians when there most be thousands dead all over the city?), but silliness has proven to pair nicely with superheroes. Still, I’d prefer the old-fashioned fun that this film, and Captain America before it, think they deliver to Whedon’s snarky humor, all of which misses the mark for me. He’s known for his ironic comic voice, of course, but I wish he would play up the greater writing skill he’s shown in work like Serenity: a good eye for group dynamics.