I feel like I’ve waited my entire life for “The Avengers.” Of course, that isn’t possible. Rumors of its production didn’t really start circulating until 2007, which was approximately when I started following the movie’s progress. Remember back in 2008 when Eva Longoria was spotted exiting the Marvel Studios offices carrying an Avengers comic and everyone was certain she would play Janet Van Dyne AKA The Wasp? No? Well, that totally happened.
Warning: Major, Hulk-sized spoilers lie ahead. Proceed at your own risk.
Last week, the wait was over for myself and the millions of other Marvel maniacs. We donned our spandex and capes (personally, I attended the midnight showing as Agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow) and tried not to explode from excitement as that iconic Marvel logo sequence flickered across the movie screen.
“The Avengers” has received nearly unanimous approval and praise from critics and viewers, but does it pass the slightly harsher litmus test of a seasoned comic book connoisseur? If you want to take this nerd’s word for it, the answer is yes: “The Avengers” does these beloved Marvel characters — and the realm of comic books in general — complete justice.
The second Joss Whedon’s attachment to the project was announced, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that “The Avengers” would deliver. Ah Whedon, the Asgardian god of screenwriting, the Nick Fury who was mighty enough to direct a band of bold actors in one of the most ambitious films of the year.
There were changes made to the original Avengers origin story, but with all the alternate universes and retconning that happens in comic book series, it’s no surprise that movies take a similarly liberal approach to continuity. It’s a fact I’ve had to embrace: Movie adaptations can’t adhere too closely to their comic book predecessors. In fact, David Hayter and Alex Tse’s too-close adaptation of “Watchmen” led to a less-than-satisfying film. There are some things that just work better on the page.
But Whedon’s adaptation got the most important details absolutely right: the characters. You can change the story, you can even change the universe (the “Iron Man” films seamlessly transferred their hero’s origins from the Vietnam War to the War in Afghanistan). But changing the characters — their powers, their desires, their psyches, anything that makes them who they are — ensures fuming fans.
Whedon’s Avengers fight, speak and think exactly like they are drawn and written in Marvel comics. Captain America has an old-school, born-leader way of doing business, seen when he gives orders to the others in the final battle. Black Widow is a master of manipulation and her movements are unmistakably spider-like. As a trained sniper, Hawkeye prefers to keep a distance when fighting. It appears that Whedon considered all of these details when penning his versions of the heroes.
The stunt choreography looks like it was lifted right from the page. When Thor, Iron Man and Captain America all duke it out in the woods, it feels exactly like “Civil War,” a crossover series from 2006 that pits Marvel heroes against one another, the epic “World War Hulks” crossover series, and the more recent “Avengers vs. X-Men” It’s an overused but entertaining comic book trope: When heroes meet other heroes, they fight each other, sometimes as a power play but most often over a miscommunication. And the character clashes continue, even when the heroes aren’t in uniform, as we get in the hilarious back-and-forth banter Whedon has written for these characters.
And the actors do their part to bring the characters to life. Chris Evans knows how to command a scene. Scarlett Johansson can switch between icy and fragile in a flash. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, best Marvel alter-ego ever. Are we sure that Chris Hemsworth — his bright blue eyes rivaled only by the glow of the Tesseract — is an excellent Thor because he’s talented and not because he’s actually part god? Mark Ruffalo shows up out of nowhere as the best embodiment of Bruce Banner there has ever been. And Tom Hiddleston gives the film’s most captivating performance with his wit and that terrifying, perfect Loki grin.
Since the time of silent war films, moviegoers have loved to watch things go boom. And “The Avengers” certainly satisfies that thirst. The effects are incredible: The CGI for the Hulk is the best it has ever been, and Thor swinging his precious Mjölner at Hulk’s jaw earns its slow-motion. But just like in the comics, the huge action sequences aren’t just spectacle — they’re embedded and enhanced with emotion. When Banner transforms into the Hulk for the final battle, it’s not just beautiful to watch, it’s a powerful revelation: Perhaps the Other Guy and Banner aren’t as separable as the troubled doctor pretends to believe they are.
And there were plenty of other details to tickle the spidey senses of any comic lover, like the stunning live-action incarnation of S.H.I.E.L.D’s badass Helicarrier and Stark’s reference to Life Model Decoys. Most recent superhero movies feature a predictable, melodramatic love story, but those are rare in actual comic books, and you certainly won’t find one in “Avengers.” Instead, there are much more intricate relationships at play, such as the deep friendship between Hawkeye and Black Widow, the instant bond and trust between Stark and Banner, and all of the characters’ strong reactions to Agent Coulson’s death. Whedon loves to get you attached to a character and then tear them away from you, but this is a necessary death, both because it was the catalyst for the Avenger’s assembly and because it reflects what happens frequently in comics: people die.
Like any strong comic series, the film has resolution but just enough of a tease to keep the story going. One of the benefits of being a comic book wizard is holding the answers to the post-credits secret scenes and if the scary red dude’s monologue and brief appearance left you confused, you’ve probably already turned to Google. But in the event that you haven’t, here are the cliffnotes: His name is Thanos (a derivation of the Greek word for ‘to die’), he loves death (quite literally) and he is stronger than any foe these Avengers have faced (sequel possibility!). The second post-credits scene is significantly simpler to break down: Who doesn’t love shawarma?!
“Iron Man” used to be my gold (and red) standard for a comic-book-based film. It’s equal parts heart and action, exactly what I look for in a superhero tale. “Avengers” is all that and more, with layered, crisp dialogue and characters that are super and human all at once. It’s a box-office-record-destroying summer hit, but more importantly, it’s the film lifelong comic fans deserve.