Perfectly Assembled

by Diane Duane

So we saw Marvel’s Avengers Assemble last night. (Aka The Avengers in the US.)

Don’t ask me why we get to see this first, instead of North American audience  getting it now: but I am so emphatically not complaining. (I should add this: I can think of several marketing/rollout strategies that would explain why this move makes sense for this franchise, but I have no data to suggest that what I’m thinking has any connection to reality in this case, so I’ll just shut up about that now.)

Let me say right here that I come from a position of bias. I have been actively reading comics since I was eight, and have been reading the Avengers characters (separately and together) since my teens. But I can normally put bias aside sufficiently to tell other people whether the film I’ve just seen is any good or not.

Anyway: we saw it at an eight PM screening in center-city Dublin last night. The audience was thoughtful (not a single damn mobile phone went off during the performance) and well-behaved, which always helps. There was a line of people twenty deep at the concession stand when I ducked out for popcorn before things started, so I went back in, resolved to find a screenplay “quiet moment” to go out and get some later.

It never happened, because there are no quiet (read “boring”)  moments in this screenplay. Not to say that there aren’t lulls in the action (sensible: incessant action is fatiguing and tends to do the storytelling harm) and pauses to handle character business: but regardless of these, the script clicks along at an amazing rate. The dialogue is crisp and the “smart lines” feel natural: characters sniping at each other because that’s what they would do, rather than because that’s what they should do now. The pacing is just faultless. And most importantly, the characters are perfectly introduced, so that whether you know them or not when you sit down, you know them quite well enough when you leave.

This is always a problem with ensemble films: getting everyone introduced and getting the character interactions sufficiently well laid down that the action which should flow from them does so naturally when it starts moving. In this case, the characters start feeling out each others’ weaknesses and picking at each other in absolutely natural and understandable ways, to the point where you do start wondering whether this team is going to come together correctly. (And the acting is almost certainly helped by the fact that all these actors seem to genuinely like each other.) There was — to my mind — a sort of thematic breathing space almost exactly in the middle of the film where the viewer is allowed a few moments to mull over the possibility that things are not going to go according to plan. And then plans start going wrong, very wrong indeed, and things come together, very believably, more in spite of what’s happening than because of it.

This is storytelling of a very high level indeed. But then, this is Joss Whedon we’re talking about: so, ’nuff said. (And though this is not a place where the majority of viewers will be coming from, let me say now that there’s a tremendous pleasure as a writer in sitting back and watching a fellow professional, who has finally been given enough money and enough time, just do his thing and knock the story and the visuals right out of the park. It is — if you’re a baseball fan like me — the visual equivalent of hearing the batter hit the ball just that way and produce that particular CRACK that gives you warning enough to sit back in sheer pleasure and watch the ball start describing that long lazy arc up and out.)

I don’t dare go into too much detail here about the film: it’s so tough to tell what people consider spoilery any more that it seems better to say too little than too much. But I don’t mind sharing a few general personal opinions.

  • Mark Ruffalo picks up this film, stuffs it into his pocket and runs off with it in some of the most charming ways possible. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Hulk, and the portrayal of his Bruce Banner side is just winning: dry and witty and so enjoyable. I could have watched Bruce sparring with Tony Stark for hours. (I leave aside the wonderful snarkfest with Loki. I was privileged to see some of this material at an advanced trailer showing in Munich in November of last year, courtesy of our old friend and fellow film fan Torsten Dewi at Wortvogel.de… and it’s been preying on my mind and making me grin mindlessly at things for no particular reason ever since. You have no idea what a pain in the butt it is to see something so marvelous and then have to keep quiet about it for five months. God, how I suffer for my art.)  (Heh.)
  • I also couldn’t get enough of Chris Evans’ innocent — let’s just say the word — beauty, and the way he carries himself and his character: to my mind he’s even better as Captain America here than he was in his own movie, which is saying something. For me at least he’s always been at the core of the Avengers concept, a character with his own special something, akin to what Superman has — that quality of just being good — and it’s marvelous to see Cap so well played.
  • I want to have Agent Coulson’s babies. (Perhaps fortunately it’s way too late for this. But still.) I have always loved the character, and I now love him, if possible, even more. You’ll find out why.
  • And a side issue: I don’t think I’ve ever seen New York so beautifully destroyed. (Disclaimer: I am a native Manhattanite, born on East 86th Street.) If you’ve read much of my novel work, you know that in fiction I occasionally destroy cities, or bits of cities, that seem to need it. I once dropped an alien spacecraft on top of the main train station in Zürich because I didn’t like the floor tile they’d installed during a renovation. (…Well, I mean, who installs tile that’s going to be slippery when it’s wet, in a space where people are going to be tracking in snow for a third of the year? I ask you. It made me cranky.) But the outdoor CGI during the whole climactic sequence was utterly believable. I know that lighting: I’ve been there when the weather’s like that: it felt real. The whole thing was magnificently done — the cinematographer deserves an Oscar. And as for details… I won’t go into too much here. Let”s just say that I’ve trashed Grand Central in my time, but boy, not like this. I was awed. (And can’t wait to see it again.)
  • Pepper and Tony have a moment while they’re working on something. Watch what Pepper does to what they’re working with.  😉 This throwaway, wide-angle moment perfectly sums up why this will go down as a classic “four-quadrant” film.

…I may add some notes  to this posting later as things occur to me that I haven’t mentioned here.  However: one of the blurb sources presently being mentioned in the European trailers says of the film, “Possibly the best superhero film of all time.” Now, that’s a pretty high bar to jump. (I hold the original Superman in high regard.) But it’s possible, just possible, that this opinion is correct. In any case, there are relatively few films that I buy on DVD, not just to watch repeatedly for pleasure, but to study so that I can better understand the reasons why a movie works so well. This is going to be one of those films. And it’s going to take me weeks to get to the studying part, because this film is going to keep sucking me into Insane Enjoyment mode time… after time… after time.

Whether it’s “the best superhero film ever made” or not: you have a truly superior viewing experience ahead of you. The characters work together, they care about each other, and the Spectacle kicks right in on schedule in the proper ancient Greek sense….so as a result, this whole damn thing is unmissable.

Enjoy!

I intend to, again, as soon as possible.

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