Marvel has always managed to surprise the fans with their choices for who will direct their big-budget superhero adventures. Jon Favreau was still best known as an actor when he signed on to direct Iron Man, although he had directed the comedy Elf and the board game fantasy Zathura. Louis Leterrier had the modest hits The Transporter, Unleashed, and The Transporter 2 under his belt before directing The Incredible Hulk, and Kenneth Branagh and Joe Johnston didn't exactly have fanboy-friendly resumes intact before making Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. With all that being said, they all turned out quite wonderfully, and set the stage for the ultimate superhero ensemble that is Marvel's The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon, who is best known for a string of cult TV favorites like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse. Now, I'm not saying they were all bad filmmakers before stepping into the Marvel universe, not at all, but I myself was rather surprised by all of the directorial choices. That being said, Marvel has proven, once again, that they know what they're doing. The Avengers is the final piece of Marvel's heroic puzzle, and it might just be the best superhero movie of all time.
The individual movies before Avengers had a number of its own obstacles to overcome on the road to blockbuster status. Iron Man was perceived as a B-level hero, and The Incredible Hulk had the painful Ang Lee debacle to get past. While they all triumphed in their own unique fashion, the Avengers posed the greatest challenge of them all: making an ensemble work with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, each playing a beloved character with their own fan base intact. While I once questioned whether or not a director like Joss Whedon could surmount such a daunting challenge, after being blown away for 142 straight minutes, it's hard to imagine it any other way.
One of the things that makes this movie work so well is the long road these superheroes have to travel down before they become a cohesive unit. They could have easily just made them a team firing on all cylinders from the get-go, ready for their next mission, but they didn't, and the film works so much better because of that. These guys (and gal) essentially don't want to come together, and they clash quite often in the earlier stages of the film. The exchanges between Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man and Chris Evans' Steve Rogers/Captain America are fantastic, as is Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) fight in the woods with Iron Man. They need this to set up how great a team they become, and there even seems to be a bit of a Star Wars influence thrown in as well, with Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury constantly trying to convince the council that this team is a good idea, and he is eventually proven right. Fair warning, I haven't read the comics, so if that aspect exists in there, I apologize for my ignorance, but I definitely got a bit of a Star Wars vibe during scenes when Fury addresses this shadowy council.
I'm not sure why I was surprised at the amount of humor in The Avengers, but perhaps that is because it might be the funniest superhero movie I've seen (purposefully funny, anyway). The film isn't chocked full of slapstick moments, but there is a healthy dose of humor sprinkled throughout this adventure, which also lends itself to the volatile nature of the team before they truly come together. I've been to actual comedies that didn't get the laughs as big as this movie, which tickles the fanboy funnybone better than any superhero movie before it.
The acting is as wonderful as you'd imagine it would be, with this host of fantastic movie stars, but it should be noted that, without spoiling anything, Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson might have one of the most important roles in the movie, which was incredibly surprising and awesome, for me. No, he doesn't put on a crazy costume and fight alongside the heroes, but he has an integral role in bringing them all together. Robert Downey Jr. is at the top of his game, with witty one-liners aplenty, Chris Evans is great as Cap, who has a chip on his shoulder for missing out on the last 60 years or so. Chris Hemsworth shines as Thor, who is even more driven since his brother Loki (the equally wonderful Tom Hiddleston) is behind this threat, and Jeremy Renner is superb as the low-key archer Hawkeye, who has a unique relationship with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. The guy who steals the show, though, is the newest cast member to this team, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk. You have likely seen all the stories pop up lately about Marvel doing yet another Hulk movie with Ruffalo, and after you see The Avengers, you'll be chanting for this Hulk movie yourself. He brings a wonderful amount of gravitas to Banner, which is the perfect yin to his CGI green side yang.
The true star of this movie, though, is Joss Whedon, who not only manages to give each of these massive stars equal and meaningful screen time, but dazzles us with some jaw-dropping action set pieces. You have probably watched that 360-degree shot showing all the Avengers ready to do battle, in any number of trailers or TV spots. While that is a cool shot on its own, it is an exceedingly gorgeous, movie-defining shot once you see it in context, and you see them truly assembled for the first time, after everything they have gone through. It's that kind of simple, poetic gorgeousness that Joss Whedon brings to The Avengers, and fanboys throughout the world will surely be thankful for.
With Christopher Nolan's final Batman movie lurking later this summer, it might be premature to call Marvel's The Avengers the best superhero movie of all time... but as of right this moment, I believe it is. This movie gives you an overdose of everything we go to the movies for, action, adventure, humor, drama, and even a tiny little bit of romance, kind of. I didn't find a single frame out of place, which is saying an awful lot for a 142-minute movie. Fanboys, nerds, and geeks, prepare to bow before the majestic superhero adventure that is Marvel's The Avengers.