Superhero movies are nothing new. Adventures of Captain Marvel debuted 71 years ago as a film serial, followed soon after by serials starring Batman, The Phantom and other heroes. But more often than not, the superhero genre has been dismissed, with films often playing for camp and laughs, as with Batman and Robin.
In the last 12 years, however, the genre has been reborn with bigger budgets, more dedication and a greater scope. And of the superhero films coming out this year, The Avengers aims to do something no other film has done: bring together heroes from established, successful films and put them in one movie designed to top them all.
The Avengers debuted in print in 1963, uniting the biggest heroes of the newly successful Marvel Comics brand. The team differentiated itself from DC’s Justice League by depicting its heroes butting heads and clashing over their course of action.
The film version has been in the works for more than four years, with the groundwork being set by Samuel L. Jackson’s cameo as Nick Fury at the end of the first Iron Man movie. It’s taken four more films to build to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly-creator Joss Whedon’s most-antipated film yet. But even with a great cast of characters and Whedon serving as writer and director, it was still a difficult task to put the movie together.
“One of the only fears I had was the whole thing would collapse under its own weight,” said Kevin Feige, the producer behind many of Marvel’s films.
His fear made sense: The Avengers tries to thematically intertwine films grounded in science, Norse mythology and war, on top of a cast of wildly different heroes. It worked on the comic-book page, but ran the risk of being too over the top and disconnected on the big screen.
Thankfully, Whedon manages to tie the film around what made the original comic so unique: the character drama.
“Joss said it early on: [It’s] a dysfunctional family,” said Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor. “We somehow belong among the fact we don’t belong anywhere else.”
Jackson, who plays the authority figure and superspy Nick Fury, added that the family dynamic helps keep the film grounded.
“The family feeling was there. Joss set up the rules and we showed up and played by the rules of that world,” he said. “OK, these guys have superpowers, but they all have normal kinds of attitudes.”
Whedon also worked to strike the right balance between introducing the subject to newer fans and progressing the storyline, all while making it feel natural to viewers.
“I have to know how much people need to know,” Whedon said. “You don’t necessarily have to lay everything out, but organizing that is, and was, the most exhausting part of the film. Writing the stuff between the characters? That’s just candy. That’s just booze and candy all day.”
There’s a saying that a hero is only as good as his villain, and when it’s seven heroes against one, that villain needs to be epic. That’s part of what makes Tom Hiddleston’s performance as classic supervillain Loki — Thor’s arch-nemesis — so excellent. He stole the show once already in Thor and manages to not only keep up with every member of the Avengers on screen, but to also add a fascinating hint of insanity to his entire performance, from line delivery to body language.
“I never get afraid of things, only excited. It’s just so much fun,” Hiddleston said. “[Loki’s] just such a great character. Nevermind the iconography. It’s like playing an iconic Shakespearean character. When I read it, I couldn’t believe my luck.”
More than anything, The Avengers is an action film, and it shows off spectacle. Almost by nature, the film had to be bigger in every way than its predecessors; thankfully, the third act thrills and fits more action and a grander sense of scope into the film than ever before.
“The most important thing was that it not be a spectacle for its own sake — that it be earned and understandable,” Whedon said. “I tend to be very pedantic about that. I don’t want a blur of things crashing around. I had to just give myself up and realize that every time a car is hit by anything, it blows up and flips over. A hamster could hit it, and boom!”
The Avengers drips with ambition — and lives up to it too. Is it the greatest superhero film ever made? Maybe not. Still, there’s something about Whedon’s storytelling skills — and the interplay between the actors — that overcomes any narrative holes or flaws. It’s a film that manages to show superheroes at their finest and, in the process, offers a stunningly fun time.