[Review] – The Avengers

27 Apr

Title: The Avengers
Year: 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon, based on a story by himself and Zak Penn, based on the comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference
Runtime: 142 min
IMDb Rating: 8.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Metacritic: 71

Since Marvel started to produce their own films, the ultimate goal had always been assembling all of their superheroes into one huge omnibus-style movie with The Avengers, to maximize fandom and thus maximize commercial potential. That idea, of course, entirely depended on the success of the superheroes’ stand-alone outings, and on how successful the studio would be at creating a universe in which all of these characters co-exist, which was dubbed the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The first test came with Iron Man in 2008, which was a huge success both commercially and critically, and paved the way for more Marvel films with this kind of approach to come, and essentially resuscitated the career of Robert Downey Jr., who was showered with praise for his portrayal of the genius playboy billionaire Tony Stark. As great as that film is (and it undeniably is indeed pretty great), the big score with fanboys that sent the internet abuzz was a little post-credits scene that featured Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, showed a glimpse of Captain America’s shield, and effectively served to tee up The Avengers, when and if that film ever came.

Then that same year came The Incredible Hulk, a reboot of the franchise that discarded what Ang Lee did with his ambitious-yet-disappoint 2003 film, and brought Edward Norton into the fold as Bruce Banner to tie his character story into The Avengers. Once again, the post-credits scene was there, with Tony Stark telling General Ross that a “team” was being formed. The film was undeniably a step down from what Iron Man gave us, and it seemed that a full film featuring the Bruce Banner character was a tougher feat to pull off; but things had been set into motion, characters, locations and other small details were starting to form a connective tissue of sorts that tied up the Marvel universe splendidly well.

The great thing that those two films proved is that the filmmakers were really just making their own film; stylistically, tonally and visually The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man were two totally different beasts that can stand alone, but the little things that were thrown in there for fans to follow up on and that tied the two together were great. When the The Incredible Hulk came out on DVD, there was an alternate opening that showed Captain America frozen on ice, and that’s when you knew that this was all getting closer to happening.

First though, came the first sequel of this universe, with Jon Favreu back to direct Mr. Downey in Iron Man 2. That film wasn’t nearly as great as its predecessor (I gave it a B+), mostly because it didn’t expand on the character from the first one all that much, but it once again more than proved that Robert Downey Jr. really was the perfect Tony Stark. And, again, there were allusions to Captain American in there, and a post-credit sequence was there, with Clark Gregg‘s Agent Coulson reporting the discovery a hammer in the New Mexico desert, which of course set up Thor brilliantly for 2011.

2011 always was the big make-or-break year for Marvel movies. Iron Man had been a hit and Tony Stark was adored by fans, that’s for sure, but The Incredible Hulk hadn’t been such a massive success, so they depended upon the Thor and Captain America stand-alone films to really get a sense of how much fans would clamor The Avengers. Well, any worries were obviously put to rest when they were released; Thor was great (I gave it an A-), especially in how Kenneth Branagh handled the family dynamic and showed the world of Asgard, and it had Hawkeye in it for a scene and another post-credits sequence that would then inform the plot of The Avengers. Captain America: The First Avenger, was also great (I gave it a slightly higher A-), with the patriotism and loyalty themes of it speaking loudly. And the end of that movie got Cap to the modern era, and the post-credits sequence once again had Nick Fury in it, proposing him to join a mission that would change the world.

I know I’ve spent nearly the length of a regular review of mine just recapping all the Marvel films that led up to The Avengers without actually speaking about the film itself. But I think this film warrants it, because this really is something special, something that’s never really been done before in movies, and a task that Marvel ever so cleverly decided to hand to Joss Whedon, geek god extraordinaire. The fact that Joss Whedon was tapped to helm The Avengers totally calmed any doubts I had that they wouldn’t be able to pull off a film with so many actors, characters and personalities. This is a man that’s incredibly well-versed in the world of comic books, having written the Astonishing X-Men comics, which are some of the best out there, and he also knows how to handle huge casts and storylines as evidence on his work on his TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and, of course, the cult hit Firefly.

So I guess now is when I actually talk about the film at hand, The Avengers, and let me just start by saying that if whenever someone asked you what the best comic book movie were you started your list “The Dark Knight…” and then proceeded to name the rest in whatever order you choose, now it’s going to have to go “The Dark Knight, The Avengers…” and then the rest. Because that’s how good this film is, it’s by far the best Marvel film that’s ever been released, and it really all boils down to the genius of Joss Whedon, not only because his direction effectively managed so many characters and personalities and gave us kickass action sequences, but because his script always remembered that these superheroes had those personalities in the first place, paying a lot of attention to how human they really are and adding a lot of really great humor in the midst of all the insanely awesome and huge action set pieces.

This is the movie that has just seriously raised the bar for any upcoming Marvel movies, a movie that rewards having seen all those others films and that serves as the highest class of sheer entertainment out there, made by a man who’s managed to provide something that will please the hell out of huge comic geeks and regular movie fans alike; there’s something for absolutely everyone here. And that’s really the big thing to take out of this film, that it is such an event of sorts that pretty much the whole world is going to consume. That it merely exists is a feat in and of itself; the fact that it’s this good is just unbelievable.

What’s so great about the approach Joss Whedon takes with this film is that it’s so much more than just the sum of its parts. When you look at the stuff he’s done before, particularly Buffy, you realize that he really was the perfect man for the job; he knows what it is to assemble a team to defeat a common foe, and he knows how to use this huge scale storyline to actually get us to know the characters, to invest in them emotionally, so that when the big action set pieces come around, and the stakes are upped and everyone’s at risk we’ll actually really get to care for what may happen to these characters. This is the ultimate dysfunctional team/family Mr. Whedon has crafted; and how every little thing in this film is structured, how every character is developed, is pure Whedon genius.

The Avengers begins with Loki, Thor’s brother, who’s played so marvelously well by the terrific Tom Hiddleston, as he invades S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and sets into motion his plan to invade Earth so that he could conquer and rule over it. But what’s cool is that even though the film does start with a nice little entrée of sorts to the huge action sequences we’ll be getting as Mr. Whedon stages a great fight and car chase, after that it’s all about him introducing and forming these characters.

He does that by giving these characters a voice, by writing in typical Whedon fashion; by which I mean two things. For one, he’s super witty and funny and he uses that to the film’s fullest advantage. You have the typical pop culture zings that are such a trademark of his, and you have a lot of humor going on even in the middle of the hugely tense action sequences, which is great because it both manages to get huge laughs and sort of ease us back down, but never, not once, does it take away from the stakes at play, he’s always very serious about what’s going on, even when he’s making a joke about it.

Secondly, what Mr. Whedon does that gives these characters a voice and gets us to invest in them, is that he gives them depth and humanizes them a whole lot. There are a lot of very simple moments, many of them of the lighter and funnier type, that he uses so smartly to say a lot about one character. And what he does with these characters is great; especially with Black Widow and Hawkeye. Hawkeye was seen just in one scene and for a short while in Thor, and Black Widow was just hugely underdeveloped in Iron Man 2, and yet here he gives them a lot of depth and makes them feel just as real and important as their other four, more well-known counterparts.

By giving them all such fully-formed personalities, by making their egos clash and appeal to their hearts just as much as he appeals to their superhuman abilities, Mr. Whedon makes us care more about the huge action stuff than we would if it were just fluff to fill the movie with. The little nuanced, inner battles these heroes have between (and sometimes with) themselves are just as great to watch as the big ones.

The stuff between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, arguably the two leads amongst the ensemble, is terrific; with Stark’s charming and reckless ego going against the more traditional sense of idealism of Rogers, not to mention that it’s all tainted by the unresolved daddy issues Tony no doubt takes out on Steve, who knew his father way back when. Mr. Downey should get as much props as he’s gotten in the past for how he plays this character here,. And Chris Evans as Steve Rogers really is great, because he plays a character from another time and he really sells it; there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek or ironic about his performance, and he gives us the best Captain America I think we could’ve gotten.

The other characters are also really nicely written and portrayed. Scarlett Johansson‘s Natasha Romanoff, as I said, is given more depth in her first scene here than she did in the whole of Iron Man 2. And Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye is great, getting himself his second big franchise after his turn in last year’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (which I gave an A to), with a third possibly coming as he takes the lead in The Bourne Legacy later this year; you get to feel Hawkeye’s anger and his need for revenge, and it’s all because of how well he’s written and all the stuff Mr. Renner brings to him.

Mark Ruffalo represents our third Hulk in a row, after Eric Bana and Edward Norton, and he also represents the best. What’s awesome in the way he plays Bruce Banner is that you’re interested in Banner for Banner and not just because he turns into a green monster, and the human moments he shares with Tony Stark are just awesome. That said, when he eventually does turn into the green monster, it’s a hugely satisfying moment, and the Hulk provides some of the most awesome sequences in the film. Gets you thinking that when they do a stand-alone Hulk movie with Mr. Ruffalo in the lead it will finally be the movie the green guy deserves.

And then we have our remaining Avenger: Thor. One could argue that Chris Hemsworth is the least talented out of these actors, and one would maybe be right. However the stuff he does to show Thor’s more human side is nice, and this really is the toughest of the roles to play, that of a god. Plus he gets quite a lot of good stuff because, like I said, Loki is the villain of this film, and their brotherly dynamic is front and center. Tom Hiddleston obviously owns the scenes they share, because he’s just so good at playing Loki, doing some truly awesome stuff with his evilness and how damaged a person he is, but Mr. Hemsworth should also get his due for what he does to humanize Thor.

I’ve gone on for too long about this film by now. Just rest assured, The Avengers was totally worth the wait. Hell, had the rest of the film been just okay but that final action set piece remained, it still would have been worth the wait. That final sequence is so insanely balls-out in its action that it’s just a thrill to watch, and when you consider that Mr. Whedon also uses it to get in some character development in it, it becomes all the more stunning a feat. This director is, finally, headed for the big leagues, and hopefully he’ll now get to the do the projects he really wants to.

This is the best film I’ve seen this year so far, and I really wasn’t expecting it to be, as I excited as I was for this film. Because this had to work in so many levels for me to consider it to be this good. It had to work on the sheer level that they had to pull it off in the first place, getting all the pieces together they needed to make this; which they did. Then it had to work on a fanboy level, and having been reading comics for years I can tell you it does work on that level, there are little things here and there that you obviously don’t get, but it would be impossible to get years of comic book stuff into a two-hours-and-twenty-minute film, so it’s a stupid complaint, plus apparently there’s half an hour worth of deleted scenes we’ll get in the blu-ray, so maybe we’ll even get that stuff there. And then it had to work on a regular level, as a piece of entertainment, and as that it surpasses any kind of expectations one may have. Again, this was more than worth the wait, and it sets a whole new bar for superhero movies to come.

Grade: A

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4 Responses to “[Review] – The Avengers”

  1. 7theaven April 27, 2012 at 11:53 pm #

    Great review!

  2. fluffrick April 28, 2012 at 12:55 am #

    The only negative thing that I can say about “The Avengers” is that it makes the prospect of solo adventures featuring the characters a little less attractive – ‘This THOR movie is good and all, but can we have The Avengers levelling a major city and fighting aliens, please?’

    Great review, by the way.

    • ArtfullyBedraggled April 28, 2012 at 10:50 am #

      Yeah, that’s somewhat true I guess. Plus it wouldn’t make sense that if Cap is in true danger in his sequel he wouldn’t be able to call Hulk or something like that.

      Kevin Feige said that Iron Man 3 (which is the next Marvel film we’ll be getting), would be super centered on just Tony like the first half of the first film, and that he’ll be “backed up against a wall, and he’s gotta use his intelligence to get out of it. He can’t call Thor, he can’t call Cap, he can’t call Nick Fury, and he can’t look for the Helicarrier in the sky.” So it’ll be interesting to see how that shapes up. Plus, I’m all for that sequel if Jessica Chastain gets involved haha

      Thank you for reading!

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