The Avengers were a team of Marvel Superheroes that first came together in Avengers #1 in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby inspired by DCs Justice League. Their tag line was : "Earth's Mightiest Heroes", and the original members were Iron Man, Ant Man (Henry Pym), Wasp (Janet Van Dyne - later to become Janet Pym), Thor and Hulk. Captain America was discovered by the team in issue #4, trapped in ice, and he joined the group when they revived him. The Avengers have become known for a rotating roster that has essentaily included almost every Marvel character at one point or another. The team, famous for its battle cry of "Avengers Assemble!", has featured humans, mutants, robots, gods, aliens, supernatural beings, and even former villains. The point of the Avengers has always been to fight "the foes no single superhero can withstand". This allows them to "assemble" when needed, but also allows each individual character to break off and have their own adventures, returning to the Avengers when needed. If you are curious as to more of the backstory of the comics - and it is worth a read - here is the Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avengers_(comics).
In 2006, Marvel released the Animated movie, Ultimate Avengers - and shortly thereafter, Ultimate Avengers 2. They are really well done, and worth Netflixing (I'm making Netflix a verb, just like I'm doing with Palpatine). In 2010, Marvel began a new Avengers Animated series - The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Season one is available streaming from Netflix in it's entirety, Season 2 is currently airing. This series features great stories, tons of Marvel Characters, and a really catchy theme song. I recommend it highly.
There have been many Marvel Character movies released under various studios: Blade 1,2,and 3, Fantastic Four 1, and 2, Spider Man 1,2,and 3, Ghost Rider 1, and 2, Punisher 1, and 2, Daredevil, Elektra, etc. The was even a David Hasslehoff Nick Fury movie released a long time ago. Disney acquired Marvel and Marvel Studios became an independantly operating piece of Walt Disney Studios, able to control it's own property, and back in 2007 announced plans to release several movies featuring some of their biggests characters to culminate in the Avengers in 2012. Hearing this, I was excited, but concerned. Putting a hard date on all the releases really kept them on pace, but what if some of the movies weren't good, and people didn't like them? Ang Lee's Hulk from 2003 was terrible - not because of the story, but because Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) was the worst possible choice to direct a Hulk movie. Then Marvel chose Jon Favreau to direct Iron Man, cast Robert Downey Jr., and any questions I had were eliminated. RDJ was the perfect person to play the snarky, hard-drinking, womanizing Tony Stark ("billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthopist?"). The movie was outstanding, fun, action packed, and featured what has become a Marvel Staple, the post-credit tag that teases the next movie and continuing storyline. In this movie - it established Samuel L. baddest Jedi in the galaxy Jackson's new ultimate Nick Fury.
This was followed by Iron Man 2 in 2010, and Thor in early 2011. I have never been a Thor fan...he's basically a demi-god, and therefore, not all that relatable or interesting. But then, Marvel hired Kenneth Branagh to direct and there could not have been a better choice. Branagh has made his career by making Shakespeare into interesting movies (who knew Shakespeare could be interesting?). See his version of Othello - it's impressive, but even better is his version of Much Ado About Nothing, which has been my favorite Shakespeare thing ever (You should also check out the movie he did with then wife Emma Thompson called Dead Again - it is absolutely fantastic). He treated Thor's story like a Shakespeare work - and the result was so good, I was really pleasantly surprised.
The final entry into the pre-Avenger codex in late 2011 was Captain America: the First Avenger. Directed by Joe Johnston, a Spielberg protege, with great skill. It was the perfect orgin story, and surprise of surprises: despite much doubt, Chris Evans was perfect as Captain America.
That brings us up to the present, and the cinematic perfection that is the Avengers. When they announced Joss Whedon as the writer/director, I literally jumped up and down with joy. If you are, for some reason, not a fan of his work (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse), you are missing out. There is no one, NO ONE, that writes a group of strangers that come together to form a strong family unit better than him. It is a recurring theme in all of his work, and is perfectly suited to the Avengers. However, I did question one thing. Joss, by his own admission is a writer first and foremost. He can get very very talky. Critics mentioned this so often with the Buffy series, he countered with the Emmy-winning episode "Hush", in which all characters lose their voices, and are unable to talk for the episode. It is genius, so while I originally thought the Avengers would be the most talky superhero movie ever, I also knew he was capable of doing visuals.
This movie delivers on every level. It is an insane undertaking to get 7 heros in one movie and still give each one their due. And yet, somehow it happens. Each character has an "entrance" and is treated as important. There is just enough story on each that you probably could see this and understand it without seeing any of the individuals films. Each character is established - each one is clear about not necessarily wanting to work together, but they soon see that the threat is so real, there is no choice but to suck it up, and work together.
The movie is long - 22 minutes past two hours, but I never felt the length. In terms of tone - it maintains the same tone that the previous movies have established. The threat is real, and the action serious, but there are tons of jokes sprinkled in throughout. There are some moments so funny, I missed the next line because I was laughing so hard. Even the scenes that you saw in the trailers delivered in the movie, nothing was ruined. All the actors delivered - even Scarlett Johanssen, who I personally cannot stand - did a great job, and was given a great couple of scenes. She and Jeremy Renner both did well with characters that have previously shown up briefly, but haven't really had establishing moments (please do not give them their own movie, though - not interested). And for all the complaining that Renner's Hawkeye was not used enough - I disagree, I thought he was perfectly used. Evans, RDJ, Hemsworth, were all fantastic. Wisconsin native (yay!) Mark Ruffalo did a wonderful job with the difficult task of taking over Bruce Banner from Edward Norton, and I have to say - if any one of the heroes stood out in this - it was the Hulk. He was built up and built up, and when he finally goes green - the payoff is amazing! Also impressive, because I was concerned, was the fact that Evans did go toe to toe with RDJ, and held his ground. RDJ has nailed Tony Stark and is such a big presence, I was concerned he would overwhelm the other actors....that did not happen.
If there is another stand-out performance, it is from Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki. He did a good job with Loki in Thor, but really grows the character in this movie. It takes a great deal to carry off a villian who is a serious threat for 7 heroes, but he does turn the volume up on his Malkovich-y-ness just enough to be creepy, weird, over-the-top, and threatening. Also, he is hilariously pompus, to which the Hulk has an appropriately hilarious response ("puny god").
In terms of Whedon-y style, it's all over the movie, and if you are a fan of his work, you will see it in the long single shots through impressive sets (remember the opening shot of Serenity?), mulit-character dialogue scenes, the humor - it's really funny, and the credits post script. Stay all the way til the very, very end.
Okay - I'm not going to get into the story in depth. SHIELD has the tesseract, which was seen in both Thor and Captain America. Loki is getting backed from some mysterious person who is supplying him with a "chitari" (skrull?) army. He comes to earth and proceeds to raise all kinds of hell in the process of stealing the tesseract and creating a doorway to bring forth this army to conquer/destroy the humans. Only by working together can the Avengers defeat such well-planned crazy. The first end credit post script sets up the villian for the next Avengers movie (I wasn't familiar with him - but I looked him up, and he's a big time heavy-hitting threat. And his gauntlet, which he will doubtlessly start looking for, was pictured in Thor in the vault.) The second end credit post script is just plain fun and very Whedon.
If you haven't seen it already - you should soon - and in 3D. Yes, I know the glasses make it darker and they hurt your head, and the fast motion makes you nauseous, etc. etc. Those of us who have worn glasses all our lives don't have those first two issues, and in terms of the motion sickness - sit further back in the theater, and don't go see the new Spider-Man in 3D. Because from what I hear, that makes you feel like you are web-swinging, but there's nothing that drastic in Avengers. See it - you'll love it.
11 out of 10. It was everything I wanted it to be and more.
Bonus video - this whole blog has been videos...but - everyone loves videos, right? This is the DVD extras blurb about the Buffy episode "Hush", which, in my opinion, was the best episode of the series. Yes, I know you loved "Once More With Feeling", but having already seen the 'musical' plot device done on Xena, I didn't think that one was all that amazing. Plus, "Hush" featured Doug Jones as one of the Gentlemen (the tall one), and I love him, and guess what? He played Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four 2! Ha! Another cyclical movie connection!
Bonus Video 2: Joss Whedon talking :)