Let me just start my review of the most eagerly awaited film in quite some time by saying that it will not disappoint. Die hard Marvel fans or just the average moviegoers who have enjoyed the standalone films up until now will be very entertained by the finished product put together by director Joss Whedon and company. Taking on a project such as this is not an easy task for any director. Finding just the right ‘balance’ for all of these superheroes requires, first of all, a solid script…which The Avengers has. Secondly, making sure that each character gets ample screen time is very important. Finally, it is also key that the actors are allowed to stay true to what made them so memorable to begin with. The characters need not be changed so much as to where the don’t resemble what we’ve already seen. Up to this point, each Avenger has had a successful turn with audiences and with box office receipts. Only one of them has been unable to continue continuity due to a lackluster first offering that most would like to forget about, and because one good actor had to be replaced by another. Of course, I’m referring to the Hulk. One of my biggest worries going in was that seeing Mark Ruffalo rather than Edward Norton as Bruce Banner would really bother me. More on that later. Zak Penn and Whedon wrote the story, which combines basically everything we’ve seen in the solo films (especially Thor) and puts it all together to form an easy to follow plotline that allows each superhero to do what he or she does best. Another nice aspect of the movie is that it gives Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye much more opportunity to make their presence felt. A smart move on Whedon’s part considering that those are the two characters we’ve seen the least of in action. Both of them make the most of their added screen time.
The story, which has been building since Iron Man came out in 2008, involves S.H.I.E.L.D, an international peace keeping agency put together by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Fury calls the Avengers into action when global security is threatened by Thor’s vengeful brother, Loki and his cohorts. The unique talents of each Avenger are needed to stop the threat and save the world. Fury also gets some much needed screen time here and Sam Jackson is perfect in the role. He is the leader…the man that has put this all together. And who better than Jackson to portray that. Fury has a lot on his plate here. His plan is crumbling around him and he appears to be losing faith as the film goes on. Loki has manipulated the mind of Hawkeye and Dr. Erik Selving. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is the key to Loki unleashing his army on Earth. He possesses the knowledge as to how to use the Tesseract (Cosmic Cube) to open the wormhole from our world to Loki’s. It is a dangerous article and is really the thing that binds all of the films together. It was an important part of both the Captain America and Thor storylines. Tom Hiddleston as Loki has a lot more fun here than he did in Thor. Far more serious in that film, he gets to really get under the skin of our superheroes. For most of the movie, he mentally has control over them. Hiddlestone proves himself worthy of acting along side the likes of Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Chris Evans. In fact, he steals several scenes just by personifying the creep that he is so efficiently. By the end of it all, you really hate Loki and look forward to seeing him fall.
Let’s discuss some of the other players here. Robert Downey, Jr., who fits his role as Tony Stark better than any of the other actors fit their roles, is such a necessary component of the film. Not only does his Stark bring the wealth, the style, and his engineering brilliance to the table, but most of all he brings his quick wit and sense of humor. Those two things are important because it lightens the mood of a film that might take itself too serious otherwise. Downey is probably the only one of the main superhero actors that absolutely can’t be replaced if they continue making these films. I know that one day they probably will have to, but good luck to anyone filling his shoes. He is an actor that has an amazing screen presence and Tony Stark is a man that demands an audience…it’s the perfect fit. Chris Hemsworth physically embodies Thor to perfection. Not only that, but Chris has a charm about him that makes the character very likable. He is the complete opposite of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and it makes the brother vs. brother battle even more enthralling to watch. Chris Evans (who I was completely against when I heard he was being cast as The First Avenger) is even more comfortable in his role of Captain America. That makes sense due to the fact that he wasn’t ‘really’ Cap but for a few minutes in his solo film. Much of that film focused on the backstory of Steve Rogers and he really didn’t begin fighting as Cap until the last half hour. Evans establishes Cap as the leader here. He is the war veteran, so to speak, and he manages to make the others believe in him. With the egos that surround him, that’s a rather tough task in itself.
Mark Ruffalo is the best Bruce Banner to date. I may get some argument on this one, but after watching The Incredible Hulk prior to The Avengers, I stand by my decision. Why? It’s not that Edward Norton is a worse actor than Ruffalo. In fact, Norton is the better overall actor of the two. It’s the way the character is written that sells it for Ruffalo. Norton’s Banner spends basically the entire movie on the run. We don’t see him as this brilliant scientist…in fact, it’s hard to believe that he is such a thing. Ruffalo has a quiet ease about him that fits the character nicely. Bruce Banner is a man who has a secret that’s not really much of a secret to the men and women he finds himself working with now. In Mark’s performance, you can see Banner trying to keep ’the other guy’ from coming out. Ruffalo’s Banner now has kind of a sense of humor about what he is. It’s a refreshing and different take on the character. One we have not seen until now. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye spends the first half or so of the film under Loki’s mind control, so it’s really hard to analyze his performance during this part. He’s like a robot…basically just does what he’s told to do. However, once Hawkeye becomes Clint Barton again, Renner gets a chance to really show some physical skills as the master bows-man. This performance bodes well for his upcoming turn in the new Bourne film. Ahhh…Scarlett, oh Scarlett. I’m so glad she accepted the role of Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. Not only is she extremely nice to look at, Scarlett proves that she can hold her own fighting the same battles as her male counterparts do. It’s a lot of fun watching her kick ass throughout the film. The character also gets the opportunity to show more emotion here. A backstory involving her and Hawkeye is discussed and Scarlett gets a chance to show just how fearful she is on several occasions. Her biggest fear comes in the form of Bruce Banner. It’s obvious that she really worries that he will turn into ‘that other guy’ at any moment. Well, that moment does happen…right in front of her. Another character I’ve enjoyed throughout this Marvel marathon has been Agent Phil Coulson. In the standalone films, he has been a real straight arrow who seems very mission oriented. He is Nick Fury’s right hand man for a reason…he gets the job done. Possessing no superpowers, he relies on pure work ethic and determination to complete a task. In The Avengers, Coulson gets the chance to show more of ‘his’ personality. Still focused on the task at hand, he allows himself to get a bit giddy at meeting and working with Captain America. It’s like a child who meets their childhood hero for the first time. Funny thing is that Agent Coulson is much older than Steve Rogers…but Rogers is sort of his idol. It’s fun to hear the dialogue between the two of them. Lighthearted and sweet…it really is. Clark Gregg’s performance is quite good and it’s nice to see the character show a bit more of himself this time around.
That brings us to the man of the hour…Joss Whedon. I’m not sure any other director out there would have done such a fine job bringing The Avengers to the big screen. All of these actors…all successful individual movies…arguably, the most hyped up film project in decades. The pressure was on. It had to be good or fanboys would have rioted. There is so much to praise Whedon for here. You can tell he poured his heart and soul into making this a blockbuster of epic proportions. The impressive thing is that he managed to also keep the storylines intact, without changing what we have seen up until this point. Another positive aspect is the fact that all of the superheroes personalities remained as they were…and were even enhanced a bit. Some of those personalities are stronger than others. Tony Stark basically demands attention every time he’s in the room. The same goes for Captain America, so when he and Stark butt heads, it’s fun to watch. The dialogue between all of the characters is smartly written, as we get several humorous turns from each Avenger. Everyone has at least a couple of moments of levity. Now, if you have seen all of the individual films, you will recognize that some of the players in them are absent here. Most notably, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster (from Thor) and Don Cheadle’s Lt. Col. James Rhodes aka War Machine (from Iron Man 2). Both characters could have been added to the mix without much effort, but I’m sure Whedon and Co. had a good reason to leave them out. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts (Iron Man) makes an appearance as does Jarvis, Tony Stark’s what-would-I-do-without-you robot.
The Avengers excels in screenplay, but it really knocks one out of the park with incredibly detailed, highly entertaining action sequences. The script itself gives each Avenger the chance to shine and gives them all at least one ‘big’ moment in the film. The Hulk gets several. Tony Stark actually becomes more of a hero in this film than in either of his solo efforts. He literally sacrifices himself during the heat of battle, only to be saved by the Hulk in a real stand up and cheer moment. Speaking of standing up and cheering, the Hulk gets the bulk of those situations…and deservedly so. Due to the fact that we get to the third act of the film and have yet to see The Hulk, it’s nice to see him gets an abundance of screen time towards the end. All of the action heavy scenes are so well filmed, that it’s hard not to be impressed by them. Even in this day and age of mega budget productions that feature tons of CGI, the attention to detail given to each character is astonishing. Never has there been a film that features so many superstars who are on screen at the same time. There is so much activity, or destruction, going on around them…it’s just shocking how good it all looks. The final half hour of The Avengers ranks up there with some of the best finales in film history. Seriously, it’s just that good. This film is going to be a monster at the box office…there is no doubt about that. In fact, I see it being the biggest film of the year, even over the likes of The Hobbit and The Dark Knight Rises. The eagerness to see it was already built in, but considering how impressive the finished product is will only make people want to see it again…and again…and again. Like the standalone films, the end lends itself to a sequel…in fact, it’s a rather big middle-end credits scene that sets up just who our heroes will be battling next time around. Also, stay until the very end, after all of the credits roll to see a very funny scene involving all of the Avengers…where not one word is spoken. It’s hilarious and ties in to something mentioned mid-way through the film. Joss Whedon has done a great job here. He is the only person that could have handled this abundance of material and characters so well. The film has the proper balance that gives ample amount of screen time for each Avenger. Loki also proves to be a solid villain. It’s not a perfect film, because there are a few moments in the first hour that tend to drag…but just a bit. About midway through, the movie hits it’s stride in spades and delivers on every level. It is a triumph…and will definitely make the fans happy, as well as make some new ones.
The Avengers Rating:
I did attend the Marvel Movie Marathon, so here are my ratings for the standalone Avenger films -
Iron Man Rating:
Iron Man 2 Rating:
The Incredible Hulk Rating:
Captain America: The First Avenger Rating: