monday morning movie club

Is The Avengers Marvel’s Best Comic-Book Movie?

“Marvel's The Avengers”
Photo: Film Frame/MVLFFLLC

Well! That sure went well for The Avengers, huh? Marvel’s Joss Whedon–helmed blockbuster raked in $200 million this weekend, which means that a record-breaking number of Americans spent all of Sunday trying to figure out who that last guy was or how, exactly, one spells tesseract. Were you among them? And do you have some opinions to share with like-minded individuals? Great! Vulture now calls to order our latest meeting of Monday Morning Movie Club to break it all down. Spoilers, they shall follow.

Is this Marvel’s best movie?
Out of the movie prequels that preceded it, the fun, expertly juggled Avengers easily tops all but the first Iron Man, and it may even come out ahead on that count owing to better-plotted action sequences. The movie’s greatest achievement may be the one that goes the least acknowledged: almost every character shares a significant moment with every other character. It’s a lesson Whedon surely learned from his days in TV (although some shows, like Glee, have multiple characters who’ve never really interacted), and it pays off in spades here. Sure, there are the fun scenes where the superheroes fight each other, but there are also plenty of telling conversations where they get to test their chemistry in nearly every combination. And every single hero gets a notable moment with Loki, which helps put him over the top as an adversary. Compare that to Iron Man 2, where villainous Mickey Rourke is basically kept in his own B-plot far away from the heroes (and shares only two scenes with Iron Man himself), and you’ll see how savvy a script-writing move that was.

Black Widow, redeemed
In Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow had a problematic introduction: Little was required of her but standing around all poutylike and occasionally flipping a man over on his back. Oddly enough, she’s better served in the much deeper ensemble of The Avengers, where she gets the backstory and smart dialogue that went missing before — so much so that we’d actually be keen on a stand-alone movie now, something we never would have expected to say going into The Avengers. (Still, did she really have to play secretary when the whole group initially got together?)

Thor, ignored
Poor Chris Hemsworth: It’s not an easy gig to play the Stentorian Norse god in a group of otherwise wise-cracking superhumans with more accessible mythology. Avengers didn’t make it particularly simple for him, either; when Thor actually was onscreen, he was either alone in a random field, wrestling with his faulty hammer, or getting punched back off the screen by Hulk. This maybe explains why Hemsworth spent most of the movie looking a little lost, like he didn’t quite understand when the camera was on him, or how he ended up in this bang-em-up space alien movie. Too many universes for one Thunder God.

This is a really fun movie with amazing set pieces, so why didn’t anyone try to fix that first sequence?
The movie effectively opens with Loki’s siege on the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, and the stakes are low, low, low: None of our heroes are present, and the supporting characters who are (Nick Fury, Hawkeye, Stellan Skarsgard, and Cobie Smulders) are virtually sleepwalking through the scene. Whedon is great at investing his other action moments with genuine emotional moments, so what happened here? When Loki brainwashes a couple of characters and implodes the base, we felt … nothing. It’s a good thing the superhero-introducing scenes after that are so assured, because the beginning of the movie digs a small hole that the movie quickly needs to clamber out of.

R.I.P. Agent Coulson, we hardly knew ye
Sure, Agent Coulson was the man who dared to dream of a superhero squad, working together to defend freedom and such, but in practice, the Avengers got together because a normal guy with some trading cards met an untimely end. It was the ultimate fanboy sacrifice but — at the risk of sounding callous — it felt a little small, even with the blood-spattered collector’s set and the cellist backstory. Also, who will wrangle RDJ in Iron Man 3? Surely not Gwyneth Paltrow, who can’t even be bothered to dress properly. Which brings us to the next question …

Where were Gwyneth Paltrow’s shoes?
Answer: not on her feet. Paltrow’s Pepper Potts had three scenes — only one with actual dialogue — and we can definitively say that she was shoeless for two of them. The third scene, a quick shot of Paltrow on a private jet, did not offer a clear look at Paltrow’s feet, but would you wear shoes on a PJ?) Is this some sort of barefoot image rehabilitation effort? Does Iron Man have a fear of clogs? Discuss.

We know, we know: It’s a comic-book movie! Still, some of the internal logic set up by this movie (and its prequels) didn’t quite make sense. The Hulk is a rampaging monster who will attack his allies … until the last act, when he seems smart and sensible and only chases after villains. Thor can’t travel between worlds after the Bifrost is destroyed … except he apparently can, since he comes back for The Avengers. Several of the closing credit scenes from the other films don’t quite make sense: The tag to Thor seemed to indicate that Skarsgard’s character was already possessed by Loki when asked to work on the Tesseract, but he’s just fine at the beginning of The Avengers. We realize that it’s hard to set up a multi-film franchise without a couple of do-overs, but maybe another pass over the scripts could have fixed some of these problems?

Other stray observations …

  • Which was your favorite character introduction? It’s okay, you can say, “The one with Captain America’s ass.”
  • What mammal did those skeletal alien beasts most closely resemble? Vulture’s going with prehistoric piranhas.
  • Once again: Was the 3-D really necessary?

Is The Avengers Marvel’s Best Comic-Book Movie?