Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Avengers, and Other Marvelous Things

So yes, this is old news, but The Avengers is amazing. It takes everything that was good about the previous half-dozen Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and concentrates it down into two-and-a-half hours of what may be the best superhero movie to date.

If I had to pick one word to sum up the film, I think I would choose balanced. There are several ways that this is relevant - in terms of spectacle vs. plot, for example, the movie manages to excel at the former without it being (as is too often the case) at the expense of the latter. Also applicable is the way the film balanced the hitherto unprecedented - so far as I'm aware - team-up of heroes who previously carried four individual franchises, a feat made even more extraordinary by its success. Each one got some time in the spotlight, simultaneously continuing their stories from previous outings and emerging ready to slip back into solo-dom with minimal disruption.

Iron Man, having had around 100% more prior movie time than almost any of his team-mates, seemed to me to be the most static in terms of development, though his introduction would certainly seem to indicate his relationship with Pepper has developed from what I remember. There was also that nifty armor upgrade, which makes a nice midpoint between the backpack-armor we saw in Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3's rumored nano-tech-armor. Finally, he did have a bit of a character arc in his response to Captain America's remarks about sacrifice, and I really liked the way he insisted on interacting with Dr. Banner as a fellow scientist rather than a potential Hulk.

Then again, Hulkbuster!
Speaking of the Hulk, in some ways he had the most to overcome, with his multiple actors and somewhat uneven prior films. In a lot of ways, however, he was the breakout star of the film - certainly he was responsible for many of the film's most popular moments (such as the punching the first giant robot dragon-fish, and of course his "Puny god" line). Would these moments be enough to carry a solo film? I'm sure we'll find out eventually, but in the meantime I'm looking forward to Hulk and/or Dr. Banner making cameos in his team-mates' movies. I'd like to think, giving him going off with Tony at the end of Avengers, that Iron Man III is the most likely candidate for this, but given the trailers and early reactions to III so far I'm not holding my breath.

Other solo sequels are sounding equally good. Despite the fact that Thor was not really my favorite of the "Phase One" Marvel films, I'm very excited about the direction that the sequel is taking. Of course, part of this is because I somewhat jokingly predicted this back when the first film came out, but hey - Space Elves are cool anytime. Thor's appearance in The Avengers itself was not quite that exciting, unfortunately - his biggest roles, it seemed, were facilitating hero-on-hero brawls and contributing secondary characters, namely Loki and Dr. Selvig. Not that either of those is unimportant, but they just didn't have quite the same focus as some of the other members. It didn't help that Thor was the one who delivered what I thought was the worst line in the movie - though funny, "He's adopted" was a rather out-of-character statement, in more ways than one.

Rounding out the "Big Four" of the team is Captain America whom, more than the others, ended his last solo film on a bit of a cliffhanger. He didn't get a whole lot of a chance to catch his breath and adjust to the 21st century, either, though there are a few signs that such an adjustment is taking place - note his mention of feeling at home on the Helicarrier. More than adjusting to the times, though, we saw Cap adjusting to being part of a different team than he was used to.
This will be important later, as 2014's scheduled film Captain America: The Winter Soldier sounds like it will feature not only the titular Solider (no spoilers, but that title's a giveaway for something we all knew would happen), but also Black Widow and a new hero, the Falcon. How exactly this will shake out remains to be seen, but it can't be harder than Cap learning to work with Tony and Thor (the latter of whom, incidentally, prompted Cap to utter my absolute favorite line in the whole film: "There's only one God, Ma'am, and I'm pretty sure He doesn't dress like that").

For all the appropriateness of Black Widow appearing in Winter Solider, it does seem a shame that it probably means she won't be getting her own movie. Both she and Hawkeye, in fact, managed the jump from "secondary character" to "ensemble lead" quite well, especially considering the latter's post-production introduction into Thor. Spending half the film mind-controlled was perhaps a bit of a heavy-handed way to generate audience sympathy for a relative unknown, but revealing and drawing on a shared past with Natasha made his integration surprisingly easy. And of course the Widow herself had a great second appearance, being an effective Avenger even with a slightly out-of-genre skillset.

Finally, Agent Coulson. From the moment that Joss Whedon was revealed as the film's director, speculation ran rampant that Phil "First Name Is Agent" Coulson wouldn't make it through the film. It was such an obvious ploy that when it actually happened, I was actually a little surprised. That didn't make it any less meaningful, of course, either to the audience or the other characters - it helped that Phil had some great character-building scenes before getting killed, especially the ones opposite Captain America.

Happily, in true comic-book fashion it appears that the Son of Coul has cheated death (exact method unknown, though I lean towards the "Nick Fury exaggerated the extent of his injuries to give the team something to Avenge" theory) and will be taking the lead in a Marvel Cinematic Universe TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D:

Not quite the SHIELD movie I was hoping for, but it has promise. I'm especially intrigued by the idea of the apparently anti-SHIELD organization The Rising Tide. Other details are sketchy at the moment but I'm definitely willing to give this show a try.

In a way, The Avengers was really a transition point not only in the development of the MCU, but the superhero-film industry generally. The effects of showing that such an elaborate project could not only work, but work well, remain to be seen - but in the meanwhile, bring on Phase II!

EDIT: Typically, just a few hours after I posted this another, much longer promo for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D went up. My interest is not reduced: