REVIEW: Marvel’s The Avengers

Directed by JOSS WHEDON
Written by JOSS WHEDON & ZAK PENN
Starring ROBERT DOWNEY JR, CHRIS EVANS, CHRIS HEMSWORTH, MARK RUFFALO, SAMUEL L JACKSON, SCARLETT JOHANSSON, JEREMY RENNER, TOM HIDDLESTON, CLARK GREGG, COBIE SMULDERS

Never before have expectations been so high. Since the post-credits sting in 2008’s Iron Man, when Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury invited Tony Stark to talk about the Avengers Initiative, fans have squealed at the prospect of seeing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes together, united against a threat they could not face alone. But even among my excitement, I was anxious about whether such a thing could ever exist in the Hollywood template. I foresaw studio disputes, actors’ overinflated egos and too many other factors getting in the way of an Avengers movie actually hitting screens. And even if it did, all the hype could never make for a good movie, right?

Wrong.

The Avengers brings recent Marvel movie superheroes Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor together with S.H.I.E.L.D. (consisting of Nick Fury, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Maria Hill, Agent Coulson and a helicarrier full of nameless agents) to take down Loki, who has possession of the Tesseract and plans to use it, along with an alien army, to conquer Earth. That may sound like a lot to take in – and it is – but I’m glad to say it is one helluva ride, and one of the most fun action movies in a long while.

If The Dark Knight is the king of superhero movies, Avengers is the perfect antithesis to it – a fun, actioned packed romp that translates these colourful, larger-than-life characters straight from the page. In that respect, it is tonally a very standard Summer blockbuster, with lots of explosions and punching, but the execution of it is so brilliant that it is difficult to see anyone not being entertained, from hardcore fan to uneducated average movie-goer.

A large portion of Avengers’ success can be placed on one man, the lord of the nerds, Joss Whedon, co-writer and director of Avengers. Whedon is no stranger to handling ensemble casts (Buffy, Angel and Firefly all featured a wide cast of different characters,) but many questioned whether he could apply that to the big screen (Serenity doesn’t count, it’s basically one long Firefly episode.) It helps that many viewers will already know these heroes from their solo efforts, but the joy here is how Whedon brings them together, allowing them to play off one another.

There are two main aspects to discuss in the execution of this movie: the action and the bits-between-the-action-bits. Often in a blockbuster one of these will outshine the other (or, in many cases, both will be terrible,) but what’s noteworthy is that here both are equally entertaining. I was never bored, waiting for someone to throw a punch, nor was I waiting for characters to settle down and move the plot along.

I was a little wary of how the action would play out. Action scenes in Whedon’s TV work, while competent, was rarely extraordinary or particularly inspiring, but here it is bombastic and loud without being silly. Many modern action films choose to focus in tight on fight scenes, making it difficult to tell what is going on, but Avengers gives it room to breathe, allowing the audience to see every moment clearly. Whether fighting each other, or even faceless goons, the heroes all have memorable individual moments that will make audiences happy. These scenes are not just there because they are expected, they help us see why these people are considered extraordinary. It’s remarkable that these parts are so fun to watch, and handy considering how much action is packed into the last third.

Meanwhile, many fans will be watching to see their favourite characters interact with one another. One thing I did not expect is for Avengers to be so funny. Heroes butt heads and generally have issues to resolve with one another, but there is still room in the script for a lot of jokes to hit their mark. Whether Coulson is asking Cap to sign his trading cards or Stark is allowed to slip in a quick quip about Thor’s speech patterns, the laughs don’t stop coming. Don’t get me wrong, when it needs to be serious and moving, the story is heartbreaking – and I mean that, one scene will break your heart – but the humor is an important part of this film, and Whedon blending this into the world-changing life-or-death plot is a stroke of genius.

It would have been easy to make this the Tony Stark smile-time variety hour, especially considering the success of the Iron Man films, but the whole cast does a great job, with not a single weak link in the team. Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr) is as charming as ever, but Captain America’s (Chris Evans) struggle with being in a new era is equally interesting. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) gets more to do than in Iron Man 2, as Whedon knows how to handle female characters well (which is rare in mainstream cinema.) Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) fans may feel a little short changed, but even then those characters get moments to shine, and it’s hard to say that anyone is really brushed to the sidelines.

Make no mistake though: this is Hulk’s finest moment. Mark Ruffalo brings a sweeter side to Dr Banner than we have seen before, giving the character less of a tense edge, which counterbalances the monster within him perfectly. It’s a side to Banner the audience will like, making his eventual transformation all the more frustrating. Hulk himself looks better than ever, interacting with the other characters in a very real and believable way. Hulk even steals the show in a couple of scenes, and gets some of the film’s best moments.

Even among all these heroes is their nemesis, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has a great balance of unnervingly creepy and comic-book silly. Even when his chips are down, Loki knows how to play the Avengers against one another, and feels like a genuine threat. Instead of just making a villain that is stronger and more powerful than the heroes, here is a villain that is clever and plotting, earning his title of trickster.

The only complaint about the ensemble is that Loki’s alien army feel a little generic, with little substance. They are mainly fodder to show our heroes in action, but we don’t really understand their viewpoint significantly. Still, they allow for a lot of great action, so this is a minor failing in the grand scheme of things.

Additionally, the plot revolves around the Tesseract, essentially a somewhat generic MacGuffin with no real weight or value to the audience. It helps to give the Avengers something to aim for (‘find this and save the world’), and the only real solution to this problem would be to add more to this already busy plot, so again, this is forgivable.

On paper this sounds like a crowded movie, but it manages to pack a lot into it’s 2 hour 20 minute span without feeling too dense. Whedon’s biggest accomplishment is making a balanced film from a wide variety of diverse elements, and having it all make sense. Holes can be picked in small parts of the plot, but you won’t really care as it’s all just so much fun. It’s fan-pleasing without being fan-servicing, and I don’t think you could ask for a better Avengers film.

Until Avengers 2 maybe, which if the mid credits sting is anything to go by, is going to be a doozy.

OVERALL: 4.5/5

About David B. Cooper

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