I know I probably should have gotten this out there on, oh, Friday before everybody went and saw it. I know that. But at the same time, I think this is a film I needed to digest a little bit before I put my thoughts down on it. And by “digest” I mean, see it again. As of this writing I’ve experienced the film in both standard format and 3D. Each of these showings was packed to the brim. The first was on Friday at the first showing of the day at 10 in the morning. The next was a Saturday show at 1 PM. I need to point this out because the biggest surprise about The Avengers is that it even exists in the first place. The amount of planning and preparation that went into developing a crossover of this magnitude is mind boggling. There have been crossover films before this. Godzilla and King Kong fought it out, Freddy and Jason slashed at each other, the list goes on. It’s not that big a deal for cinematic properties to come together. What is unique is the idea of using individual characters and their films as a roadmap to an eventual crossover. In the world of cinema, it’s a miracle that it ever got made. Even more impressive is that Marvel was able to bring the viewing audience around as well. They sold the idea of this being on of the biggest movies ever and the audiences turned up. They invested their time in it. This is a movie that has been on everyone’s minds for close to five years. Ever since the end of Iron Man when Samuel L. Jackson walked in the room and told the world that the Marvel universe was going to be a shared experiment. This film is important.
That having been said, is it any good? I’m happy to say that everything you want out of this movie you will receive. Joss Whedon handles it as well as you would expect and we may finally have the shining definition of what it means to bring a comic book to life on screen. The final act is like watching a collection of “hell yeah” splash pages from a Marvel crossover brought to life. The film does not skirt the fact that comic books are writ large and with joyous bombast. The action sequences are everything that Michael Bay wishes he could accomplish. They are loud, they are big and at the same time they have a sense of direction that is managed and easy to follow. You never get confused watching the carnage and for that we should be thankful.
But what I really want to talk about is the character moments. The time between Norse gods fighting men in iron suits. Joss Whedon gives us a movie where the time spent with these character simply talking to each other are as gripping as the action sequences and set pieces. The interplay between these actors is something that holds the film together in a way that without it, the whole experiment would fail. Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo’s respectful banter is a highlight. Hell, anything Mark Ruffalo does is a highlight. I know folks liked Edward Norton but Ruffalo brings something that has always been missing from the big screen portrayal of Banner in the previous incarnations. He manages to portray Banner as a person who is angry at his own anger and yet somehow accepting of it all at the same time and he may very well be the MVP of the film. Downey does his usual great work with Stark, but here he really sells the trans-formative arcs that propel his character forward, and seeing him bounce of Chris Evans’ Captain America is a joy to watch. I will admit that I feel as if Evans didn’t get much to do until the final act when he really gets to shine as a team leader, but in a movie with this many characters to juggle it is a small conceit. Also, Tom Hiddleston needs some awards. All of them, really. Loki was a great villain in Thor, mainly because of Hiddleston’s ability to play the wounded creature. He was a tormented soul and that made him fun to watch. Here we get to see what happens when the soul is tormented for so long that it snaps. He plays the broken soul just as well and he sells it like nobody’s business.
The film is everything it needs to be and then some. There will be those who complain about the run-time or the way characters are handled but in the end this is a big win for Marvel and a bigger win for people who still enjoy the spectacle of seeing a true summer blockbuster on the big screen. I do not doubt that I’ll see it at least one more time in the theater because this is definitely a film that benefits from a big screen. I might even shell out the cash to see it in IMAX. It’s that good.
Did you guys see Jurassic Park III? You know the guy who directed that also helmed this. He was also responsible for The Wolfman last year. Though that won an Academy Award, so I won’t be cruel to that one. Plus, much like Captain America, the best part of that film was Hugo Weaving straight up chewin’ scenery. My point is that Joe Johnston was a bold choice to direct what would be the final piece in Marvel’s film-puzzle before The Avengers hits next may. At the same time, much as Kenneth Branaugh was an inspired choice to take up Thor Johnston is one of those directors who, when on his game, would be perfect for something like Captain America. The number one reason that people have been giving since the day he signed on the dotted line was the fact that he directed The Rocketeer which shares some similar themes as well as the “period piece” setting. Well, Captain America is decidedly better than The Rocketeer. Though to be honest I’d love to see Timothy Dalton hamming it up against Hugo Weaving. That would be golden.
The film begins in the present day, where a team of scientists drilling in the arctic find something unusual. The story is familiar to anyone who has a basic knowledge of Captain America beyond “he fights Nazis.” From there we fade back to World War II, where we meet up with Hugo Weaving’s Johann Schmidt laying siege to a village in Norway hoping to obtain some ancient Norse artifact supposedly taken from Odin’s throne-room. At this point we must accept that if you’re not seeing every Marvel Studios film you’re not getting the full experience. The item in question is of course the Tesseract, or the cosmic cube, which was actually glimpsed by keen eyed viewers in Thor earlier this year. We’ve finally reached the point where everything has come together and while if you missed Thor you can still enjoy Captain America, the sense of connectivity will be an added bonus for fans who have been following the buildup since Iron Man.
I have to say that this is probably the best origin story comic adaptation to date. Only Iron Man really comes close. There have been some complaints that Steve Rogers doesn’t really have a character arc, he just has a physical transformation. Those people clearly missed the point of the film. Steve was always a good man. His discussion with why he was chosen to be a super-soldier with Stanley Tucci’s Abe Erskine (another standout among many) touches on this quite effectively. Steve’s real arc doesn’t get a chance to begin until he reaches the future. With this being a true origin story, we don’t get to deal with that yet. A good portion of that will be dealt with in The Avengers I would assume. And that is the only downside to Marvel’s interconnected universe. There will always be things that get lost in the shuffle. In a movie like this you can’t get everything in a two hour time-span.
But they do manage to work in a good number of things that work, a truly epic villain who isn’t afraid to go big in a way that most villains have been lacking for a while on screen now for one. Hugo Weaving is perfect as the Red Skull and it’s good to see a true, and pardon the term, “comic-bookey” villain on screen and done well. He’s what the scenery chewing villains of the 90’s Batman franchise aimed for but missed entirely. Much credit must be given for making a character that could have been hokey and downright lame into a memorable character.
Chris Evans also does a good job portraying Steve Rogers. He’s almost too likeable. He brings that sense of honor and duty that Steve Rogers has always had as well as a truly great degree of charm. After seeing him in the role I’m not sure if any of the other names on the shortlist to play the character would have worked out near as well. This is the first time where I watched Chris Evans and didn’t see Chris Evans. I saw Captain effing America. As much as I enjoyed him in Fantastic Four, his Johnny Storm was much like the wise-cracking characters he had played in other films. In Scott Pilgrim, I got a feeling he was mostly just Chris Evans making fun of Chris Evans trying not to be Chris Evans. Here, he was Steve Rogers. The earliest parts of the movie where they used all the CGI left in the universe to make him a skinny little runt seemed to distract from the fact that this was an actor playing a part. I was greatly impressed.
But one of the things that truly stunned me, especially coming off of something like Thor, is that the romance element of the story was handled organically and sincerely. Hayley Atwell, who will likely become a lot of young men’s new celebrity crush after this film, plays a fully developed character in her own right whose relationship with Rogers is given time to shift and grow in a way that feels very real and genuine. Compare this to Chris Helmsworth’s attraction to Natalie Portman in Thor that was basically boiled down to “She’s Pretty, He Has Muscles.” Granted sometimes that’s how real relationships do happen but it doesn’t make for the most satisfying cinematic experience. The Rogers/Carter romance is definitely more interesting. Steve’s jealousy of the attention Tony Stark’s dad keeps throwing her way over the course of the film is one of the more entertaining aspects and shows that even though Steve is a good man at heart, he’s just like you. He hates it when good lookin’ dudes start eyeballin’ your girl.
Personally, this is my favorite of the Marvel Studios entries. I’m a big Cap fan and I feel they nailed it with this one. Iron Man comes very very close. But there was something about this film that just felt more like a Marvel comic come to life than any of the previous entries. Iron Man II attempted that feeling but in the wrong manner. Cameos out the wazoo do nothing. But capture the tone and feel of the page and translate it to screen, and you’ll get something truly special, which Captain America is. I plan on seeing it again very very soon.
The word going around the web the last few days is that Marvel is very keen on Joss Whedon possibly stepping up to the plate to direct the live-action Avengers movie. The reaction to this little tidbit falls on a scale that starts with fanboy nerdgasm and ends with teeth gnashing and caps-locked ranting. Either you think he’s perfect for the job based on his previous ensemble work or you think that he’ll suddenly turn everyone gay and have them speak like hipster high-schoolers.
There’s also been complaints that he’s not a big enough name to anchor Marvel’s flagship film. Who the hell cares? You think the average Joe Schmoe really knows one director from another. I mentioned to a customer at the shop that the guy behind Batman was going to be heading up the new Superman film and he replied; “Christian Bale?” Let’s not assume that everyone knows or even cares about the behind the scenes aspect of film production. I don’t think it was Jon Favreau’s name in the director credit that sold Iron Man to the masses. And with a movie like The Avengers I don’t think it will take much selling at all. You throw a bunch of superheroes into one film and the novelty alone is enough to give it some amazing numbers.
My take on this is that both sides would really benefit from Whedon’s involvement as director. Serenity shows that he can work some amazing big-budget action sequences. And the man practically made his career on ensemble character moments. It’s like this was the film he’s been waiting for his entire career. Plus, he has a working history with Marvel, having done amazing work on the X-Men. And maybe this would be the film to make him a more mainstream name. He could probably garner enough goodwill to put together more projects of his own if he was attached to a film that made more money than God.
Honestly, I think if Whedon is in serious consideration, it’s not a bad idea. It’s actually a pretty good one. But it all really depends on the script anyway, if that thing sucks, it doesn’t matter who is behind the camera as nothing will be able to save it. Gavin Hood is an excellent director but he couldn’t save Wolverine Origins. So meditate on that.