So I saw the Avengers last night, at midnight, like a true nerd. At least I had some friends with me. Overall, I agree with the current 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s good; action-packed and with loads of comedy (no doubt the result of the wise choice of having Joss Whedon helm the project.) However it seemed somehow different from other superhero movies. I’ll explain how in a moment.
Now before the movie, of course, there were trailers. The two most notable ones (to me) were for Expendables 2 and The Dark Knight Rises (touted as the epic conclusion to the Batman trilogy–because everything has to be a trilogy, even something like Batman which has never been a trilogy). I would just like to note that the audience (mostly teenagers, making me feel a little out-of-place) cheered when Van Damme was revealed to be in Expendables 2, because Van Damme is awesome, and became dead silent when the Dark Knight Rises trailer began, showing the stunningly high position the character of Batman holds in the cultural zeitgeist.
Now, Batman is an interesting thing to bring up here. I had the less-popular (but now unknown) opinion that the first Iron Man movie, which came out a month or two before The Dark Knight, was the superior superhero movie of 2008. Why? Because it was more fun. The Dark Knight was a good movie, but I have not seen it again and have little desire to do so. It was just too damn gloomy for a superhero movie. In fact, its superhero aspects seemed to clash with the general tone of the flick. While the Joker was believable as a somewhat eccentric terrorist, the image of someone in a Batman outfit running around in a world that seemed so real just came off as awkward.
That’s sort of a continuation on a theme, though. Up until now, many superhero movies have been somewhat restrained, either as a result of writing, design, or budget. For instance in the first and last Superman movies (to date) it was about the title character matching wits with Lex Luthor, combating giant islands, nuclear explosions, and time itself. Superman’s exploits were less heroic and more miraculous. Nonetheless, not they weren’t the knock-down drag-out superheroics that one would expect from reading comics (where it’s about him brawling with Doomsday, Mongol or Darkseid.) The Smallville series finale retreaded Superman Returns by having Superman push a planet away from Earth, and when he did fight Darkseid it was just a possessed person with black mist swirling around them rather than the giant, stony character from the comic books. In Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the planet-devouring Galactus was represented not as a gigantic man in a funky helmet, but as a cloud. In the first Sam Raimi Spiderman movie, the costume designers felt a need to give the Green Goblin a more “realistic” outfit by explaining that it was the modified version of some prototype armor built for the military. Last year’s Green Lantern also pulled its punches by representing Parallax as another giant cloud (although this one had a face) as opposed to the bug that was in the comics. I suppose that might have been deemed too “weird.”
This movie, though? This didn’t pull any punches. This was just a comic book brought to the big screen. It honored long-standing, if idiotic, traditions of superhero team ups by having the heroes fight each other before facing down their foe. And once the shit hit the fan in the third act (in a way that I was almost certain they were going to avoid, given trends in other superhero movies) it was nothing less than everything you would expect to see after reading a comic book.
So yeah, it’s very good. It’s also, quite possibly, one of the first real superhero movies we’ve gotten to see in a long time.