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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – The Avengers, Joss Whedon’s contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been a smash hit worldwide—becoming the highest grossing film in 2012. With a cast featuring (among many) Robert Downey Junior, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and others, incredible sets, breathtaking special effects and a fine-tuned music score, it’s easy to see the appeal.
The Avengers is an interesting addition to the collection of superhero movies that have become so popular in the last decade because it’s a team movie, rather than focusing on a single hero—something only shared by the X-Men films, which weren’t nearly as well-received. On top of that, many of this movie’s protagonists—Thor, Captain America and Iron Man—have already had their own solo movies, featuring cameos from other members of the team. With this clash of movies, tie-ins and characters, it seemed almost impossible that The Avengers could succeed.
But succeed it did, for one key reason: This isn’t your typical super-team movie. The Avengers are a group of deeply flawed individuals. Bruce Banner puts it best: “We’re not a team, we’re a time bomb.” It’s a clash of egos, of people who were used to going it alone and having things their own way being forced to work together as a team. And Joss Whedon doesn’t shy away from exploring that. For a large part of the movie, the heroes aren’t fighting the enigmatic Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston with mischievous glee and a touch of madness), they’re fighting each other. That’s what makes The Avengers so compelling—it’s not just another superhero smash-‘em-up movie. At its core, it’s not about the external battles but the internal ones. Joss Whedon delights in pointing out how very messed up his team—the god-like being forced to defend mortals, the genius who has to be very careful not to get angry, the man who’s missed the last seventy years, the billionaire with ego problems, the former Soviet agent—really is. The Avengers are more unstable than one would hope for in a super-team tasked with defending the earth—but they make it work.
The amazing performances in this film are worth a mention. Mark Ruffalo in particular does an amazing job portraying both Bruce Banner and (thank to the magic of CGI) the Hulk. His interpretation of the character gives a new outlook—a Bruce Banner who is tortured, yes, but unlike too many “gritty” films these days, it’s not dwelt upon. Whedon slips in references to the darker sides of being a hero, but he doesn’t dwell on it.
At its heart, The Avengers is a movie about the characters—not the setting, the explosions, or the effects, but the people behind the mask who had to put aside their differences and deal with the hardships of working together. The Avengers promises us “Earth’ s Mightiest Heroes” and it does not fail to deliver.
By Kerry Ditson