Marvel assembles a near-perfect super hero film.
May 08, 2012 – This review has been a few days coming at this point. That time was necessary to separate my pure fan-boy enthusiasm from my critical side, even if this is never entirely possible. But a few days is nothing for a film that has been so long in coming. It has been long waited for by the fans who had faith that it would work. It has been long due for the characters and franchises who have been building ever so steadily up to this moment, and it has been long past time for Joss Whedon to get the spotlight he deserves. All of that time was well spent, and for everyone involved it paid off in grand fashion.
Part of Marvel’s cinema success story, and what makes “The Avengers” possible is the long road of films that lead to this point. Each one gave time to flesh out the heroes in their own way, showing their inner conflicts, expanding on their relationships, and letting the audience get to know them. And strung through them all was the hinted promises of the “Avengers Initiative.” Because of these little links, and the time dedicated to each character’s backstory, “The Avengers” film isn’t forced to labor over each character, giving lengthy exposition over who each person is and why they are here.
If any of this may seem to indicate that the film is not concerned at all with characterization, then you would be terribly mistaken. As Joss Whedon has proved through his small-screen efforts like “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly,” he has a knack for using the smallest pieces of dialogue and body language to layer the characters in every scene they inhabit. All of the characters, from Tony Stark and Thor to Steve Rogers and Loki, are given depth that either compliments or excels the same seen in their own films.
The actors all give their very best in these performances. The actors must feel these characters as second clothes by now, as each one inhabits their respective roles perfectly. The prime example would be Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, who manages to not only have the best lines and scenes in the entire film, but also manages to outperform both previous film incarnations of the angry green giant.
Edward Norton’s portrayal had a good angle and approach, but Ruffalo’s is by far the superior, with palpable undercurrents of emotion and tension, alongside a dry wit and world-weary struggle.
Even the second stringers on the Avengers line-up, Black Widow and Hawkeye, manage to find additional layers while looking extremely bad ass, with some of their fight sequences being the most interesting in the entire film. The Hulk can just plow through his opponents. Black Widow and Hawkeye have to outwit and out maneuver them, and they do so with amazing style and skill.
One of the best things about the Avengers is how these disparate individuals and personalities interact with one another. Captain America’s honest integrity, but simplistic worldview clashes headlong into Tony Stark’s narcissistic playboy attitude. Thor’s otherworldly perspective feels very alien, foreign and even vaguely threatening to the other Avengers, and Bruce Banner, as likeable as he is for everyone involved, nevertheless creates tension as a ticking time-bomb of rage.
All of this interaction, with heroes sparing both verbally and physically, could have ended up a horrible mess, but again Joss Whedon turns it into a strength through the skills he honed on television. The dialogue is a particular stand out of the film. Almost every line of dialogue manages to feel completely natural, meaningful and interesting. I have to say “almost” because some of the lines in the first twenty minutes of the film were jarring, largely because they were for exposition’s sake. The contrast between these few lines and the rest of the film makes them stand out like a sore thumb.
While we’re on the subject of the first twenty minutes, there is no getting past the fact that the beginning is slow and doesn’t do the rest of the film justice. Most of this can be laid at the feet of necessity. There has to be set-up so that the film makes sense. But somehow that set-up, for all the crumbling S.H.E.I.L.D. facilities and character introductions, never managed to grab my attention. However, from the reveal of Fury’s incredible flying ship on, the film started picking up momentum and didn’t stopped until the end.
And what an end. The fans have been promised awesome set-piece action and fights in this film, and Whedon delivers. If Joss Whedon is not somehow heralded, finally, for all the amazing work that he has done it would be a crime. Does the film have perfect casting? Yes. Does it have a lot of talent in every area of the film? Absolutely. But if I were to lay the success of this film at the feet of any one individual, it would be Joss Whedon. Without him at the helm, this whole film would have almost certainly been a completely garbled mess.
I haven’t seen this must fantastic action and choreography in a summer blockbuster in a very long time. There are inevitable comparisons to the Transformers series of films, but the Avengers comes out on top. The cinematography captures every leap, punch and energy blast in a way that is comprehensible and understandable in the context of the larger battle. The Transformer films only ever got lost in the sound of screeching metal and unidentifiable alien beasts thrashing one another in poorly framed sequences. The Avenger’s action is clear and crisp, allowing the audience to feel the excitement and awe of the spectacle, rather than confusion and frustration.
Above that, the action in this film has meaning. Even if we never truly worry about the fate of these heroes, there are stakes involved beyond mere life and death of the major players. Their motivations are based in their characters, and by losing, they would be losing themselves. The “Avengers” isn’t just a name, it’s who they are. They have found themselves members of a very dysfunctional family, and doing this – saving the earth from invaders from another world, is what they are meant to do. It isn’t a duty. It’s who they are.
Perhaps the greatest surprise is how funny the movie is. I laughed more loudly, and more honestly than I have in any comedy I’ve seen in the last decade. The laughs don’t come from forced pop culture references, or the lame sight gags that passes for good humor. They come from pure character moments. It’s practically liberating.
I struggled to come to a conclusion over what score I would give this film. The fan-boy in me is still giddy from seeing these characters on screen together giving the bad guys a good thrashing. The critic sees the little tweaks of dialogue that felt too much like exposition, and the very slow first twenty minutes. But the more I thought about it the more I was convinced. This is what a summer blockbuster is supposed to be. This is what action really looks like. This is the sound of humor. This is what excitement and satisfaction feels like. “Marvel’s The Avengers” not only outdoes the best of modern summer action flicks, it harkens back to a time when going to the theaters to watch a movie on a summer evening was one glorious thing: unadulterated fun. There are very few people who won’t enjoy themselves. Hollywood, it’s okay to take notes.
Oh, and give that Whedon guy a freaking medal, alright?
STAR RATING: (5)
For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a extra segment for you called Spoiler Talk. It’s a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story or themes that are too spoilerish or high-concept for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.
Man, I could talk about the Avengers all day, but honestly I don’t have that kind of time, so lets work our way from the end backwards and see how far we go.
One word: Shwarma. What is it? What does it taste like? I don’t know, but I sure want to find out. That very last scene after the end credits was absolutely priceless, and probably the most Whedonesque thing in the entire film. It simply showed our exhausted heroes, our dysfunctional family who stand for everything that is “us” sitting around a table enjoying the silence, the food and each-other’s company. I loved it. Oh, and the people cleaning up in the background were awesome too.
Of course before there was Shwarma there was… Thanos!
This is big news to us comic geeks. I mean, of all the Avenger’s villains, only Ultron or Galactus comes close in my books, and Thanos is the only one that makes sense at the moment. (Ultron would make a good third movie after being introduced through Henry Pym who would be good to introduce in the second movie, and Galactus is tied up at Fox anyway, but I digress).
Thanos could certainly provide the kind of threat that it would take to bring these guys together again. I could see him stealing the Infinity gauntlet from Odin’s vault and attempting to wipe out the population of Earth in an effort to court Death (a female entity in the Marvel universe). Good stuff.
Speaking of Thanos, his Chitauri underlings who worked with Loki are a version of the same villains in the Ultimates line of comic books. It was a smart move because going with the Skrulls invites its own barrel of expectations, while there isn’t nearly as much Mavel history tied up with the Chitauri, and in general they make decent minions. That being said, I feel like the villains are criminally underused in comparison to the threat they represent in the Ultimates comics.
That is actually my only other gripe in the film. Loki and his minions never seemed to be all that threatening. Of course they really weren’t the point of the film, and it’s not like they were no threat at all, but it seemed like in most cases the Avengers thwarted them easily enough. Despite this, Tom Hiddleston continues his great performance as Loki, a god with serious daddy issues. Seriously, can somebody give him a hug already? On the other hand, he should just get over himself too. Poor little rich kid raised as a god has issues. Wah-wah.
The fact that I’m this involved in Loki’s character actually says something really positive, I think.
Despite the villains somewhat lackluster threat, they provided a really satisfactory target for all of the heroes in the final fight. I mean that was a seriously fun fight.
Every character had a chance to be a badass. There are so many little moments, there are too many to talk about, but I will single out one amazing sequence. A single, uninterrupted camera shot follows the various heroes around the battlefield, showing them work together and off of each other I turn. It is one of the most fantastic pieces of team choreography in an action sequence I have ever seen. I want to see the entire film again just for this one shot.
When I said earlier that the Hulk had the best moments, I was thinking specifically of two things, and if you don’t want it spoiled for yourself… then you are a moron for reading this far.
When the Hulk grabs Loki and starts smashing him around like a rag doll, I was in stitches laughing. It was perfectly timed, and perfectly executed. And again, when the Hulk punches Thor out of no-where, I busted up laughing. It was perfect.
There are so many things I could talk about, but really I think I touched on all the bigger elements. So really, go watch it again. Or if you haven’t watched it yet… What are you doing here!? Stop! Now! Go watch it already! Man… some people.