[The scheduled review of Dream Reavers #2 has been preempted right now. Apologies to everybody, and I'll get back to it next time! In the meantime, this review is 99% spoiler free!]
That was a good movie.
No, wait. That wasn’t just a good movie; that was a great movie.
But “great” still doesn’t quite cut it — “awesome”, maybe? Or perhaps “epic” would be more fitting.
Whatever. Nomenclature aside, the Avengers was simply cool. More than that, it is without a doubt the best Marvel Studios production to date. Coming from someone who loved Captain America, and thought highly of both Thor and the two Iron Man films, that’s not something that’s said lightly. Marvel Studios quite simply nailed it with this one, fusing the disparate elements of their previous movies into a cohesive whole, creating something that is currently rampaging through the box office like the Hulk through New York City.
Oh, and it’s also arguably the best superhero team movie. Ever.
Again, that isn’t a claim I can make flippantly. The first two X-Men films, and the recent First Class reboot captured the spirit and essence of the mutants’ storied history and characters nearly perfectly, but there is a strong argument to be made that the guys at Marvel have outdone just about every other team film to date. For one, even with a comparatively large ensemble cast, the field never feels crowded. Even Robert Downey, Jr.’s personality, though it dominated close to every aspect of the earlier films, fits in just as well with the other characters in a team situation. Chris Evans is at least his equal when it comes to on-screen gravitas, and Chris Hemsworth is… well, he’s Thor more than anyone else could have been.
Newcomer Mark Ruffalo also puts up an admirable performance as Bruce Banner. Though he doesn’t quite convey the full emotional complexities of the character, that is easily forgivable given his portrayal of Banner as the super-scientist known to geeks everywhere. And when the Hulk comes out, he steals the show all over the place. I could try describing what he does to Loki at the beginning of the third act, but I wouldn’t come close to doing it justice. The action is big, widescreen in every meaning of that term, and the characters genuinely work together in the action scenes, something sometimes lacking from team films in the past.
And not only do the characters gel on an action level, but their personalities also play off against each other in an interesting way. Before the team-up comes, there is the obligatory scuffle among the big three — Iron Man, Thor, and Cap — that reads like a scene out of a modern-day Avengers origins comic.
But here’s the kicker — Marvel haven’t just build a team with this series of films; they’ve built an entire world. Tying the films together with the character of Nick Fury and the connective tissue of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, the movies have been built to be organically interconnected. Even though we’ve seen the characters done individually in film, there’s still something immensely satisfying about knowing that Joss Whedon and his team of filmmakers managed to pull it off, putting these characters next to each other while barely straining our suspension of disbelief any more than any other superhero film. A Norse god exists next to an exoskeleton-wearing high-tech knight; a brawny green gamma gladiator fights alongside a formerly Russian super-spy, and it all feels amazingly natural.
Because, of course, as geeks we know this world. For others it may not be all that different than other films, but we as a group are in a unique position to appreciate how truly unique this film is, not just for superhero films, but for the medium of film in general. This is something that, without resorting to hyperbole, has quite literally never been done before. Never has a full-fledged shared universe been built from the ground up, and what amount to individual film franchises brought together to form one. Not only can these characters work on their own, in stories focused directly on them and their supporting cast, they can also work together. After the Avengers, no one will be think twice if Black Widow drops in on a Captain America sequel, or if Hulk shows up in Iron Man 3. Collaboration and cross-over between these characters, and between other characters in the future, can become commonplace.
You know. Like in comics.
The world of the Avengers is a huge one, but as anyone who reads Marvel Comics knows, it has a lot of room for growth. If Marvel can acquire the rights that they have auctioned off over the years, their universe can get even bigger. The time may come when Mr. Fantastic can talk science with Tony Stark at the Avengers Mansion; Spider-Man and Hawkeye can team up to take down a common nemesis — you know. Like in comics.
And that, right there is the secret behind Marvel’s success with these films. Even with occasional tweaks for modern audience sensibilities, the characters on screen in Marvel’s films are, for all intents and purposes, the same characters who have adorned the pages of their comics for nearly fifty years. The characters work together on film because of the rich history they already have in comics. Rather than turn their backs on the rich heritage of characters and stories, Marvel Studios have wholly embraced it. Though the Avengers are new to a mass audience, the dynamics of the characters are not new at all; they are tried and true, forged by dozens of creative teams across decades. It is possible to think of the last five decades of Avengers comics as a dry run for this very film, and others would do well to take notice.
The critical and commercial success of comic book films, in many cases, can be viewed as directly proportional to the movie’s faithfulness to its source material (or lack thereof). The formula for success is there, and it’s the same formula that has allowed Marvel and DC to survive economic ups and downs for years and years. It may be old, but the reason it’s stuck around so long is because it works. The formula exists, so use it!
Marvel has finally cracked the riddle of building a superhero franchise that makes money and generates mass appeal while simultaneously respecting the legacy of their characters. Warner Bros. has an opportunity here, not only to learn from Marvel, but to outright copy them. DC and Marvel have existed for decades as separate universes, eternally distinct but always mentioned in the same breath together. They’ve coexisted in comics, sharing an audience and learning from each other’s successes and failures.
If Warner’s filmmakers decide to follow suit with the inevitable Justice League film (and in my opinion they would be fools not to), nothing bad will come of it. It is a no-lose situation — Marvel have proven that if you build it, and especially if you build it in a way that is respectful of the past, they will not only come, but they will rush the theater and shatter box office records left and right. If a Green Lantern-style flop for Warner can be avoided in the future, and if Marvel’s own success isn’t bogged down by trite, hackneyed sequels, then it will become financially impossible for the comic book movie trend to slow down. In fact, it will only get bigger. The worlds will grow, and with any luck more characters will make it to film in a way as well-deserved as the Avengers. Characters can work together; the idea of the shared universe concept being unworkable in film has been utterly, totally disproven. Characters can work together, and the worlds can grow, and the stories will be better for it.
You know. Like in comics.