By now you've clearly heard the news that The Avengers is, simply, awesome. But we've heard that about a lot of superhero movies in the past, right? The arrival of Iron Man was greeted as the perfect introduction of this new hero, Thor was heralded as an operatic and adventurous action film, and Captain America was praised for its old-fashioned production values and earnest spirit. But even if you loved all of those films-- and Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk, for that matter-- you are still probably going to have a new favorite Marvel movie after this weekend.
Don't believe me? Here are five very solid reasons why The Avengers isn't just a great superhero movie, but the best movie we've seen yet from Marvel Studios. If this is the future of where superhero movies are going, we really have a lot to look forward to.
It's funnier than all the others.
Think humor isn't the most important thing in a superhero movie? Wait 'til you miss entire chunks of dialogue because the audience is laughing so hard, or find an entire new appreciation for Tony Stark or the Hulk because Whedon has included an extra second for them to bowl the audience over. All of the previous Marvel films have done a really good job injecting humor into the proceedings, and it all pays off here-- Tony Stark's quips, Thor's fancy old-school language and Captain America's earnest heroics mesh with Bruce Banner's forced calm in a way that's volatile but extremely funny to watch. And with Whedon writing and putting every ounce of his famous wit into the script, the humor unfolds so naturally it won't even feel weird to burst out laughing in the middle of a tense action sequence. Oh, and speaking of action…
The final action sequence is better than all the others combined.
Marvel movies are famously made on a tight budget, and while the previous movies have generally gotten away with it, the final action sequence always seemed to suffer-- Iron Man was the dull clashing between men in iron suits, The Incredible Hulk the monster vs. monster brawl, Iron Man 2 the CGI mess at the Stark Expo, Thor the barren battle in the suspiciously empty town, and Captain America the aerial battle that ended with our hero plummeting inside a cockpit. Who knows what happened to allow The Avengers to expand its scope so much, but the final fight scene, with all of our heroes on the ground in New York, is completely worthy of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Not only does Whedon take great advantage of the city location, but the sequence is paced and shot so we can tell exactly what's going on, and so every single Avenger gets their moment of heroics. In a time when so many action sequences are muddled by shaky direction or a need to mask a low budget, the finale of The Avengers is a revelation, both in its craft and how unbelievably fun it is to sit through.
It builds off the character development of the others and expands on it.
It's an open question as to whether you can enjoy The Avengers without seeing the previous movies. You don't exactly need to know about Thor's complicated relationship with Loki, or Tony Stark's substance abuse problems, to understand what's happening in The Avengers, but it sure does help to have all of that in mind when you watch these characters meet. Without being too beholden to the plot threads from the previous films, Whedon takes what we already know about these guys and makes a game of seeing how it all combines. What weird nickname will Stark have for Thor? How will Cap respond to Stark's flippant attitude? How does Banner keep his cool amid all this conflict? The more you remember from the previous films, the more fun it becomes to watch it all unspool.
Side characters each get their moments and help flesh out this world.
Whether it's Agent Coulson pestering Thor after his arrival in New Mexico or Nick Fury dropping by after the credits in Iron Man, supporting characters have always had crucial but somewhat sidelined roles in the Marvel films-- at their worst, like in Iron Man 2, they feel like tedious scene-setting for The Avengers, not actual story elements. But from the moment the action kicks off at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, it's clear that Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, Black Widow, Maria Hill and Hawkeye aren't just going to be the ordinary humans carrying water for the superheroes at the center, but real, fully developed characters with desires and motivation all their own. Whedon's proven skill with directing ensembles is on full display here-- you don't have to chase unnecessary plot threads or overwhelm the audience with detail to develop the supporting characters, but just give them a moment to become real people, all important parts of this ambitious mission to save the world.
It raises the stakes without overdoing it.
Each of the previous Marvel movies have put the entire fate of the world at stake, whether it's superpowered war-mongering billionaires or superpowered Nazis or superpowered government programs or superpowered demigods from space wreaking havoc. Clearly The Avengers had to operate on the same global scale, and by tossing in S.H.I.EL.D.'s snazzy technology and Loki's alien army, the movie makes everything a bit bigger and more expansive than what we've seen before. But all of the action scenes are so character-focused, and so many of the best scenes not action-heavy at all, that The Avengers somehow also feels a little intimate, with a clear story to follow even when all hell is breaking loose in New York City. These heroes are saving the world, sure, but we also know what the fight means to them, and that makes it a whole lot more interesting than just bigger and bigger chaos.