It’s finally summer blockbuster season, and here to send off the summer with a bang, is the first of many hotly anticipated movies this year, The Avengers. In what will be the first ensemble comic book movie, and the penultimate result of the unprecedented scale of interconnected Marvel superhero films kicking off with 2008’s Iron Man, the hype and potential surrounding this movie is thick enough to cut with a map, and has had myself and millions of others chomping at the bit to see it since Iron Man’s post-credit scene.
Beginning with that post-credit scene, and built up through a string of interconnected movies, in the process providing the first serious crossovers in cinema, to say The Avengers has a lot of potential, and a lot of expectations is obvious. Save for swapping Edward Norton for Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, the various cast members from the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have assembled here at last to form an ensemble cast. Helming the project as both director and screenwriter is Joss Whedon, whom as mentioned before, has a reputation for delivering work to please everyone from the critics to the comic shop. Top it off with a string of superbly handled teasers and trailers, and to say the least I was thrilled, and hearing that the movie had already made back its budget in its overseas release before it opened in the US, a rare feat for an American film, only made me more thrilled to see it for myself, and see if The Avengers can deliver on all of that promise.
So do the heroes live up to the hype, or will we need somebody to avenge the moviegoers? Suit up and get ready to soar, as I review the long-awaited superhero ensemble, The Avengers.
The movie kicks off with Loki, exiled-Asgardian super-villain, who as an agent of an unknown alien threat, promises to claim for them the Tesserect, in exchange for being allowed to rule Earth. After Loki single-handedly taking the Tesserect from SHIELD, and devastating the group and destroying their base in the process, Director Nick Fury reactivates the Avengers initiative, calling for Steve Rogers (Captain America), Bruce Banner (The Hulk), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Natasha Romanov (Black Widow), and after he comes to collect his brother, Thor to defend humankind from its would be ruler. Of course, to do so, the group must put conflicting ideas, values and inner demons behind them, and come together as a team – that and defeat a few legion of alien warriors Loki commands.
While many feared the movie could have quite well been a cliché origin story, it was actually handled masterfully, largely helped by Joss Whedon’s script and direction. There were so many notable scenes and awesome moments of the movie that its honestly hard to pick from them for your favorites afterwards. Just as hard to choose a favorite or notable bit from is the dialog, which overflows with both it and humor, with entire scenes filled with choice one liners. One thing I felt worth special mention was that unlike so many movies these days, especially blockbusters, it actually followed the traditional intro-tension-conflict-conclusion storyline formula, allowing for the story to start small and build-up to the finale, and the result is immensely satisfying to watch.
Of course, like the other recent films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the focal point of the story is the Characters, and here they are better acted, better fleshed out and batter showcased than we’ve ever seen them. Robert Downey Jr., as Tony Stark/Iron Man, having gone through quite the character arc in two Iron Man films, showcases a bit more humility and humanity here, yet has more snark, ego and edge then ever. Chris Evens, as Steve Rogers/Captain America, we get both the first few subtle hints at his struggle to adapt to a world 70 years past his own present, and the signs his old-fashioned boy scout mentality have found a place in the world, as well as his coming into his own as de-facto team leader. Chris Hemsworth delivers once again as Thor, more humble than last time, clearly torn over his brother’s heel-face turn, and he is at the center of many of the films best fight scenes. Both Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanov/Black Widow get more screen time then ever before, and both make amble use of it to flesh out the characteristics and motivations of their characters, as does newcomer Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgård and Gwyneth Paltrow reprise thier roles from prior films, yet don’t get lost in the sauce, despite less screen time.
Two members of the cast however steal the show however, which is no small thing in a film filled with actors and characters both giving their A-game. The first is Tom Hiddleston as Loki, whom after the events of Thor, has finally gone into full villain territory, and has done so gloriously. I’ve always been a fan of the dramatic/deluded power-hungry villains seeking self respect of the Scar/Tim Curry school, and Loki here is one to remember. Fans of Norse Mythology should also take note as the Trickster God is on full display here. The best of the bunch however, is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, far surpassing either the Edward Norton or Eric Bana attempt at the character. As Banner, he shows a struggle to cage his literal inner demon, and providing a soulfulness both lacked. At the same time, there’s hints of his rage, and that he revels in it, that get to come out in moments as Banner, and full force as the Hulk, which was performed here by motion capture by Ruffalo. Any scene with Banner/Hulk is one to remember. I don’t want to spoil anything, but watch for a moment when Huddleston and Ruffalo share the screen, it’s a standout moment in a film brimming with standout moments.
For the cinematography, director and screenwriter Joss Whedon proves that his talent for both three-dimensional characters and clever scripts are worth their weight in gold, as both were highlights of the film, and his experience with ensemble casts was no doubt key to the delicate balancing act done with the cast here. The fight choreography and scene work is also very well done, with every fight scene of the film being an utter joy to watch, yet no conflict felt forced in. Of main note, are the special effects, which looked real, and were supportive of the film, rather than the showcase, something many movies would do well to remember. There were three effects of special note however, the helicarrier, the Hulk and the alien/alien attack. The first time you see the helicarrier, your jaw will drop, and every scene its in looks real. One of the things that helped Mark Ruffalo’s performance as the Hulk was that it was done by motion capture rather than CGI, giving as a Hulk that looks as real as a giant green rage monster can look, far better than the Gumby-looking 2003 model or the clumsy 2008 version. Notable too, are the aliens, and their attack on New York City. I won’t spoil it, but ever you’ve seen it, compare it with the attack on Chicago from last years Transformers movie, and take note of the right and wrong way to do such a scene, you’ll know which is which. As a whole, between the action, special effects and dialog, I haven’t been to a movie to get this much of an audible reaction from the audience since the Expendables, ranging from fits of laughter to shock filled ‘Oooohs’, with a few scenes even earning cheers.
So does the Avengers deliver? Perhaps more importantly, was there ever any doubt it would? The script is so self-aware and brimming with wit that its hard to pick single lines that stand doubt for wit or humor, both of which the movie had in spades. Just like its predecessors, the characters form the centerpiece of the story, yet here are better acted, smarter, and more human than we’ve ever seen them. The direction, the cinematography, the special effects and the fight scenes were all masterfully handled, making the two-and-a-half hour film a joy and a thrill from start to finish. Add all of that together, and not only did it deliver everything it promised and more, but it’s by far the best of the recent Marvel films, and it even it brought all of the rest up to a higher level, making them part of a wider mosaic – a mosaic filled with wisecracks, brilliant fight scenes, and explosions. And with a couple of post-credit scenes that make the jaw-dropper from Iron Man seem small in comparison, I get the feeling we haven’t seen anything yet.
In the end, I may need to revise one of my old top ten lists, because I personally would say this is the best comic book movie ever made, Dark Knight be damned. While there may be room to debate where it ranks among the all-time great comic book films, there is no doubt it is one of the all-time greats, and anyone who says its anything less than an utter joy to watch is just trying (and utterly failing) to sound cool. Between the action, the acting, the script and the special effects, it’s one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen in a long time, the best movie of the year so far, and has raised the stakes for all the movies to follow this year. In short, go see it, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.