The AVENGERS: A super review
The Black Widow
Robert Downey jr as Tony Stark
The Avengers: (4 stars out of 5)
An extended review of the Avengers film.
If there was ever an ultimate dream movie for comic book fans, this is it! The Avengers is possibly the best comic book adaptation ever made, and may become the gold standard for all future super-hero films. It may not be a perfect movie but it delivers everything you could want from a comic book adaptation or an action film. On that level, this is the ideal genre movie. The Avengers is fantastic fun and a great summer blockbuster.
This film is a unique moment in Hollywood history, because it’s the first time anyone has ever combined four separate franchises into one epic movie. Mostly a sequel to Thor and Captain America: the First Avenger, both of which came out in 2011, this film not only features the eponymous heroes of those two films, it also gathers the valiant protagonists from a pair of 2008 films, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk, as well as two other costumed adventurers. This all-star team of comic book heroes has been highly anticipated since it was first teased in the closing moments of the Incredible Hulk. The results don’t disappoint. It helps for the viewer to have seen the earlier films, particularly Thor and Captain America, but even if you haven’t, the plot isn’t that hard to follow.
The guiding hand behind this massive two-and-a-half-hour film is director/co-writer Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. He’s the perfect choice for this movie. Fans of Whedon know that his specialty is combining lively action with witty dialogue, character-driven drama and campy humor. Also, he is excellent at handling large casts of eclectic characters and bouncing their varying personalities off each other. That’s exactly what he does in this film and it makes for some wonderful character interactions and laugh-out-loud moments of humor.
The story begins where the after-credits scene of Thor left off. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), head of the top secret Para-military and espionage organization SHIELD, finds out there is a problem with the powerful cube/tessaract which was such a big plot-point in Captain America and is now in SHIELD’s possession. Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)—last seen in Thor—is now examining the cube, which seems to be responding to unseen orders. Those orders are coming from evil Loki (Excellently played by Tom Hiddleston), the Norse God of Mischief. Last seen getting sucked into a black hole in Thor, Loki is back, freed by an unseen power (more on that later) and looking to use the eldritch powers of the cube to rule the world. Taking hypnotic control of Selvig and the SHIELD archer/assassin Clint Barton, code-named ‘Hawkeye’ (Jeremy Renner), Loki and his slaves escape with the cube to fulfill Loki’s master plan.
It’s time to call in a team of specialists to deal with the major menace, so Nick Fury begins recruiting super-heroes as part of his Avengers Initiative. We meet sexy spy and former Soviet hit-woman Natasha Romanoff AKA ‘the Black Widow’ (Played by gorgeous Scarlet Johansson), last seen in Iron man 2.; The Patriotic super-soldier with a red/white/blue shield Steve Rogers AKA “Captain America” (Chris Evans) who was awoken after 70 years in suspended animation, as seen in the film Captain America; and narcissistic genius/millionaire Tony Stark, AKA “Iron Man”, (Robert Downy Jr.) who has an endless supply of those cool armor battle suits. Fury also needs the help of brilliant Doctor Bruce Banner AKA “the Incredible Hulk” (Marvelously portrayed by Mark Ruffalo) since Banner is the world’s foremost gamma radiation specialist and knows how to track the ambient energy of the cube. The fact that he can transform into “a giant green rage monster” is a bonus.
The assembled heroes find out that someone else is after Loki, too. Loki’s noble brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned from the realm of Asgard (where we left him at the end of the film Thor) and is determined to bring his mischievous sibling back home to face justice for his crimes in a previous film. (In one of his funniest moments, Thor responds to reports of Loki’s criminal actions by saying “He’s adopted”.) His unexpected appearance leads to the first of several slug-fests between the heroes, as Thor gets into a brawl with Iron man. (The members of ‘the Avengers’ spend almost as much time fighting each other as they do the bad guys.) Cooler heads prevail and Thor joins the team, just in time to help SHIELD and the other heroes battle Loki’s alien allies, who have been sent by their mysterious master to help Loki conquer the Earth.
The film is broken into three clear sections. The first hour sets up the plot and introduces our large cast, which is a rather laborious effort with so many characters to round up. The second hour, after the Avengers get together in SHIELD's flying war ship, is by far the best part of the film. This segment of the movie allows Whedon to do what he does best—he just allows the eccentricities and diverse personalities of the characters to clash, with amusing and sometimes hilarious results. There are also some excellent moments where the imprisoned Loki plays Hannibal Lechter-like mind-games with the good guys. (The scene where he tries to psych-out the Black Widow is a highlight.) When Banner finally ‘rages-out’, we are treated to a Hulk vs. Thor punch-up, that will surely delight comic book lovers. The final half-hour of the movie is an extended, non-stop action sequence, where the Avengers fight off the attacking aliens. This segment of the film doesn’t stop for a breath, as our heroes battle endless hoards of ugly invaders, with Manhattan again suffering the consequences. Poor Manhattan Island hasn’t been treated this badly since Cloverfield stomped across it. (Whedon does one excellent panning sequence that takes in all the characters fighting across a wide area. It’s a great shot.)
Robert Downey gets most of the best lines, as the snarky Tony Stark; Chris Evans shows strong presence as Captain America, who steps into the leadership role of the team; Scarlet Johansson gives her best performance in quite a while as the wily Black Widow. She is well-used in this film, and she looks great in her skin-tight outfit; Chris Hemsworth gets the least to do as Thor (Which is strange considering his brother is the main villain); Jeremy Renner spends too much of the film as Loki’s pawn to really establish the character of Hawkeye but toward the end, he gets some fun moments; Tom Hiddleston once again makes for a worthy and interesting bad guy as Loki; Samuel Jackson is full of intensity as he spouts dire warnings about the end-of-the-world. Best of all is Ruffalo, who gives the best interpretation yet of Bruce Banner (Sorry Bill Bixby, Eric Bana and Ed Norton). His version of the character is soft-spoken and rather zen on the surface, but inside, he is terrified of the uncontrollable power he possesses. Clark Gregg returns as SHIELD agent Phil Coulson and Gwyneth Paltrow is back in a small role as Iron Man’s girlfriend Pepper Pots, (both of whom were seen in the Iron Man films). Paul Bettany reprises the voice of the computer JARVIS.
All the characters get their moments to shine, some more than others, but the real scene-stealer here is the Hulk. The green-skinned ‘rage monster’ is portrayed through motion capture by Ruffalo, who gives the Hulk a more menacing edge than we’ve seen before. When the Hulk leaps into action, he hogs the spotlight, blowing everyone else off the screen. (His confrontation with Loki at the end delighted the audience.) If seeing Ruffalo/Hulk doesn’t convince Marvel and Disney to make a sequel to The Incredible Hulk, nothing will!
There are a few flaws here. The early chase scene is not very well done; Hemsworth’s Thor is poorly used; and (without giving too much away) the defeat of the aliens is disappointing. The plot is a bit thin and some of Fury’s speeches are clichéd and redundant. And if the SHIELD flying carrier had cloaked itself (we see it become invisible earlier), why was it visible when it was attacked? All in all, though, these are fairly minor quibbles and the good far outweighs the bad. The Avengers is pure popcorn fun and this is a terrific action flick. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better comic book movie than this.
I mentioned above that there was some mysterious mastermind helping Loki out. Stick around during the closing credits, for a brief scene, and you’ll see the face of a popular comic book villain, which sets the stage for the next Avengers film.