I’m a lightweight fan when it comes to movies about comic-book characters. I usually enjoy superhero movies, but all the backstory and history and in-jokes go over my head because I’m not a comic-book reader. That goes double for The Avengers, because I managed to miss all the lead-in movies except for the first Iron Man. After The Avengers became the next must-see movie, I read enough online to pick up the gist of who most of the characters were, but for the most part I was flying blind.
So how well does The Avengers work for a complete and utter newbie?
The answer: surprisingly well. Yes, I was lost for the first chunk of the movie, but it follows the genre conventions and structure closely enough that catching up wasn’t too hard. Bad guy steals MacGuffin, head of supernatural organization calls in scattered superheroes to save the day, off we go.
That’s when the Joss Whedon magic touch kicks in. Unlikely ensemble casts are his forte. In fact, some of the characters would have been annoying on their own, but when brought together and allowed to play off one another, they shine. (For example, Tony Stark rubbed me the wrong way when he was starring in his own movie, but he’s fantastic here.) Mismatched band of heroes…excellent dialogue and banter…character arcs for every single member of the ensemble…kick-ass female action hero…self-referential humour — all reasons why I’m a Whedon fan, and all present here in spades.
Better still, Whedon doesn’t lose sight of these things during action sequences. A lot of directors seem to think the characters are just stunt people, and the bigger the explosions the better. Don’t get me wrong, I like visually stunning action, but I still need the action to tie in to emotional/character arcs. I need to be reminded that the characters are not interchangeable — they’re different people with different strengths and ways of reacting, and the action affects them in different ways. Whedon’s pretty good at all that, too.
By about halfway through the movie, my lack of previous experience didn’t matter at all. I knew everything I needed to know from how the characters acted and what they said. (Aside from a certain confusion about the Hulk, since he doesn’t show up for a while and I couldn’t figure out who Bruce Banner was or who “the other guy” was that he kept mentioning!)
My main quibble is with Loki. He’s not strong enough to present a real challenge to our band of heroes. Of course he’s not going to win, but it’d be nice to at least pretend to worry about our heroes for a little while — and I couldn’t. The main reason is that Loki doesn’t use his own strengths. (And here I’m going to go all mythology-fangirl for a bit, since I don’t know the story from the comics.) He’s a trickster god. He should be pulling the rug out from under everyone’s feet, making sure nothing is as it seems, making them question themselves and each other. Instead he meets them where they’re strong. Sure, it takes them a while to start pulling in the same direction, and yes, watching that develop was a lot of fun. But the only trickster character in the movie is Nick Fury, and it should have been Loki.
I haven’t talked much about the plot, and that’s because in this kind of movie, it really doesn’t matter. All the expected set-pieces are there and in the right order and interspersed with quieter scenes at just the right pace. That’s all you need to know.
What did you think of The Avengers? Did you go in knowing some of the backstory, or did you walk in clueless like I did?