Review: Avengers

So I saw Avengers over the weekend.

Relax, I didn't think it was crap. There will be no ripping apart of the movie today, folks. It has jumped to my number two spot on good superhero movies, just behind Iron Man. Why, you may ask? I got two words for you: Joss Whedon.

Yeah, the guy who was asked 'why do you write strong female characters?' and his famous response was 'Because you're still asking me that question.' He doesn't always get it right, in my opinion, but I don't know any other writer at his level who tries as hard as he does to get more real female characters into his stories. Every time I go into a movie, I'm prepared for the usual reaction when I see women on the screen, if they're present at all; over-sexualized, half-naked, mobile cardboard cutouts around which the men move, that make my stomach clench and drive a spike through my enjoyment of the film.

The highest praise I can give to any movie, especially a superhero action movie like Avengers, is that I watched it and I enjoyed every second of it. I never got that feeling in my gut. I attribute that solely to Joss and his influence.

Some of the highlights, in no particular order

Can I just say how much I loved that Black Widow got such a big part of the story? She's there from the start and she makes things happen, all the time. I always thought Scarlett Johansson could act, and damn did she do a good job of playing up the calculating Russian spy. She got more screen time than Hulk and Hawkeye, maybe more than Thor and Captain America. And she fought - how I loved the way she fought, and how much she fought, and how she took the hits like the guys and got back up and got into the fight like them. The choreographer needs an award for those scenes. She does martial arts the way I think a woman would; with a terrifying level of fluidity that baffles an opponent used to the stop-start nature of a guy throwing punches. My favorite scene was between Widow and Loki (which I just don't have the heart to spoil on you, but you'll know it when you see it), and it was character defining for both of them as well as being a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Widow.

And, bless Joss and his hand in all this, her costume does not sexualize her and it never shows off her boobs.

To be honest, everyone seems to be talking about Mark Ruffalo and his portrayal of Hulk, and I'm a little confused as to why they missed all the awesome that is Black Widow. I mean, I thought the Hulk was done well, but it wasn't anything special and he didn't have enough screen time to really play with it.

I judge movies pretty harshly based on the Bechdel test, and Avengers predictably fails. I was expecting this, to be honest, because you've got five main and two secondary male characters, versus one main and two secondary female characters in different places in different times. Black Widow never gets to talk to Pepper Potts, or to Nick Fury's second in command, Lieutenant Hill. If they had brought back Jane from Thor's movie, I expect they would have passed, but that would have changed the dynamic of the plot and getting Natalie Portman would have cost too much for a bit part. Still, I'll take what I can get at this point, and considering the usual level of female presence in any action movie, I'm not going to mark Avengers down for it.

The action was awesome, and there was a minimum of shakeycam. The CGI was as good as you'd expect for something this big. There were several really funny and awesome moments, and several scenes that had Joss's stamp all over them. The plot was the usual 'bad guys attack the earth, superheros stop them' kind of thing you'd see in any comic book series - nothing you haven't encountered before, but you'll be watching this for the characters and the set pieces if anything.

This was an ensemble movie and I doubt it'd make as much sense to anyone who hasn't seen Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America. This was Marvel's Hail Mary, the culmination of years of setup, and it was a test to see if such a movie could work at all. If the opening weekend is anything to go by, it's succeeded. I would also say that it's pure gold to the fans, and they've responded with the kind of cash that movie studios can only dream about, so hopefully there will be more like this in the future.

I'm just praying that Joss Whedon will be writing them. Can we get a Widow movie? Maybe a Scarlet Witch movie?