So, I suspect I’m quite possibly the very last person with any substantial interest in the franchise to have finally got around to watching The Avengers (or as it’s called in the UK Avengers Assemble). This is therefore not what you’d call a finger-on-the-pulse movie review type thing; more just a reflection on the fact that I kind of think this movie is something of a masterpiece, if considered strictly on its own terms.
Thing is, I’m surprised to discover that I called this one pretty much just right, way back in February, on the basis of the trailer. In fact, I’m so pleased with myself that I’ll quote what I said about the trailer:
“What could anyone want from an Avengers movie other than snappy character interactions, spectacular action and tingly moments of superheroes doing cool and heroic things? Pretty much the best thing a trailer can ever do is say to its potential audience: ‘We know what you want and expect from this movie, and we’re going to give it to you. Big time.’ “
And boy, did the film deliver on that promise. Never so much as a hint that the viewer might have to engage the thinking parts of their brain. The objective was to super-saturate the audience’s senses with the tropes and visuals and bombast of pure spectacle, leavened with the precisely judged delivery of ‘moments’. It’s those two things – the visual spectacle and the moments – that make the film, and it’s so abundantly clear that Joss Whedon knew precisely what he was aiming for, and how to hit the target, in terms of delivering them that it really is an amazing achievement on that level.
There’s no shortage of holes you could pick in it if you wanted to – the hand-waving gibberish of the psuedo-science, the inexplicable transformation of the Hulk from mindless rampager to obedient, articulate soldier, the horribly Independence Day-style nonsense with the nuclear missile at the end (seriously, an alien invasion that’s designed to overwhelm the whole planet is undone by a single nuke?) – but I really don’t think any of that matters one little bit, because it’s all like water off the duck’s back of the movie’s bravado and utter commitment to delivering mindless entertainment on the grand scale.
For all the triumphant spectacle of the thing, though, I really don’t think it would work as it does without the aforementioned ‘moments’. They’re the single lines of dialogue, the gestures, the vanishingly brief scenes, that tie the whole thing up. They deliver the humour, or put the tingle in the viewer’s spine, or reach back to satisfyingly close a loop with some earlier plot element or comment. They are, in many ways, the essence of this kind of movie-making, and The Avengers is utterly stuffed with them.
There’s Captain America casually and silently handing Nick Fury a ten dollar bill in settlement of an earlier bet; Bruce Banner’s ‘I’m always angry’ line as he literally turns into a smooth Hulk transformation; the Hulk’s later interruption of Loki’s (third? fourth?) arrogant explanation of why all of humanity is so far beneath him; Hawkeye shooting off arrows without even looking at the target. I could go on and on. It’s all very simple, quite silly stuff, but it’s what this film is all about, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done so well and so heavily.
So: masterpiece. Just so long as your definition of masterpiece is … narrowly constructed. And for once – very sad how rare this is – the trailer was an abosultely 100% accurate depiction of what the film itself was to deliver. If for some strange reason you haven’t actually seen the movie, despite finding the following visuals appealing, take it from me: you will not be disappointed.