Review: Marvel Finally Assembles 'The Avengers' to Awesome Results
by Jeremy Kirk
May 3, 2012
Chris Evans as Captain America. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. And they're all under one roof. Since 2008, The Avengers has been on the minds of moviegoers everywhere. Thanks to deft screenwriting and a grandeur Joss Whedon brings to its execution, that film is here, and it delivers. It may not be the most accomplished of comic book movies or even the best Marvel Studios has to offer from recent years, but The Avengers blazes a trail like few others, satiating the appetites of superhero junkies the world over.
Padded though it is - Much of that comes from building the aforementioned characters as well as various others - the story is somewhat stripped of convoluted twists and overly expanded ideas. Loki, the God of Mischief played once again by Tom Hiddleston, has found his way to Earth. His alien benefactors wish to invade our planet, and the one item Loki needs to open a portal to their world is in the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D. Naturally, once comic book ink starts hitting the fan, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, brings his Avenger candidates together to try and thwart Loki's plan.
It's realized very early on in The Avengers that Whedon was a great choice to handle this material. The man who brought us Serenity and "Firefly" clearly knows how to construct a team-oriented narrative. He has a grasp for relationships, which characters get along with which, and which of these superheroes literally go hand-to-hand in steam-blowing combat. Each of them have their built-in qualities that obviously must be addressed. Steve Rogers/Captain America is still playing the "fish out of water" role while he adjusts from a 70-year nap in a block of ice. Bruce Banner/Hulk, after being pulled in by S.H.I.E.L.D. from hiding, is just trying to keep himself calm. The arrogance level between Tony Stark/Iron Man and Thor is enough that it's a sure sign these two will butt heads even though Stark's cynicism puts him in the driver's seat for comic relief.
The handling of the rest of the team, with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, is more than satisfactory, as well. Whedon and co-screenwriter Zak Penn find a way to keep all of these characters busy without making it look like they're just spinning their wheels, biding their time before the action kicks in. This is particularly true in the case of Hawkeye, a character who we've only seen for two minutes before now. Without knowing much about him, Whedon and Penn drop him straight into the thick of it from the get-go, the design of the character and Renner's performance making him as believable as a character we know through and through.
The intros for the other characters are spot-on, too, with one, glaring exception. The way Thor makes it back to Earth after the dramatic conclusion to his own film is rushed, explained away in a single line of dialogue, and forgotten about. Basically they didn't have a good enough reason for him to show back up, so they hide the lack of explanation as well as they can. It's a minor quibble that comes about early in the film, and you quickly forget about it with the action coming right around the corner.
That action is paced smoothly, smaller battles coming in here and there before major set pieces begin showing themselves at the mid-way point. However, soup to nuts, The Avengers looks and feels like an action movie. Much of the film involves two or more characters bickering and bantering, but unlike some of the pre-Avengers movies, the scope when things being to explode is undeniable here. When Loki's plan begins moving and the Avengers are forced to suit up and save the world, it feels precisely how it should feel. The world is at stake, this group of special individuals is the only thing that can save it, and some of them may be forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. Whedon knows emotional weight when it comes to group efforts. Serenity and the state of the crew when that film was over is a testament to this opinion. He brings that same level of attention to drama in Avengers, and more than a few moments will have you tearing up.
But it's the excitement you get, the chills brought on by wanton enthusiasm, that places The Avengers so high in comparison to most superhero movies. With this many, different characters to jump between, Whedon and, to some extent, Penn do a masterful job giving each their own wow moments, those points in the film where something awesome happens, and you're left mouth agape with only one desire, to see that moment again. The team behind The Avengers admires all of these characters, villains included, and no one's favorite is left out out in the cold.
Chief among these is the Hulk, who shines brightest among them. Aided by Ruffalo's nebbishy but brilliant portrayal as Banner, you discover early how great of a choice he was to replace Edward Norton, though the familiarity of the latter in the role would have added to the weight. It's an absence you forget about, especially when it comes time for the character to Hulk out. From there on, Whedon and Penn give the character so many grandiose flashes of destruction, you can't help but want to see more. If another Hulk movie gets underway, it'd be best left to this team to bring it to the screen.
Everyone else gives fine-to-extraordinary turns in their respective roles. What might shock is finding out Downey Jr.'s Stark, funny as he is attempting to be, has more misses than hits when it comes to the quips here. The actor doesn't seem tired of the role, yet, though, and it's worthwhile just to see him embodying this character once again. Hiddleston's Loki is also especially worth noting, as he gives the best performance of the film, holding his own against every one of the good guys, looking comfortable and compelling every second he's on screen.
The Avengers had a lot to live up, four years of anticipation leading to this one film, and that's not even counting all the years fans of the comic have been waiting. With enough attention given to each character, the sharp performances that create these characters on screen, and the epic nature of the action therein, the experiment Marvel Studios has conducted finds its result. This one film has so much riding behind it that it's a wonder anything as grand and awesome as The Avengers movie we've gotten is possible at all. This isn't the end, though. Another post-credit sequence sets the stage for what is sure to be The Avengers 2. If that future film delivers similar entertainment value, by all means Marvel Studios should assemble away.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10