The Avengers is ridiculously entertaining. It’s pretty much a perfect summer movie.
The movie’s tone is perfect Marvel; the characters are completely true to their previous movies; the balance of wit, charm, intelligence, drama and poignancy is lovely, and both the tease for The Avengers 2 and the tag following the end credits are amazing. Even the 3D is effective – though it only really gets to shine in the last act.
The first half hour of The Avengers sets up the situation – Loki [Tom Hiddleston] has enlisted the aid of an alien armada to conquer the Earth for him in return for securing the Tesseract that was first seen in Captain America: The First Avenger. His theft of the Tesseract – in spite of the efforts of Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye [Jeremy Renner] leads to the evacuation and destruction of the SHIELD [Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division] facility where it had been stored.
Along with introducing Loki’s plan, the first act also introduces all the principal soon-to-be members of the Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man [Robert Downey Jr.] talking business [and, potentially, other things] with girlfriend/business associate Pepper Potts [Gwyneth Paltrow]; Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow [Scarlett Johansson], who’s a bit tied up when Agent Coulson [Clark Gregg] calls to get her to bring in Dr. Bruce Banner [Mark Ruffalo]; Captain America [Chris Evans] working his way through a series of heavy bags before Nick Fury [Samuel L. Jackson] appears to whisk him away to save the world, and Thor [Chris Hemsworth], who seems to stop Loki, but we always get the sense that the god of mischief is exactly where he wants to be – even in a cage constructed for something even more powerful.
Writer/director Joss Whedon has said that the fun of The Avengers is that these are a handful of individuals who ‘have no business being in the same room together’ – let alone being a team. He skillfully shows us that in a series of encounters that pit untrusting hero against untrusting hero before getting them all in one place for Fury to lay out the situation. And what a place! For fanboys and girls, seeing the SHIELD Helicarrier is a breathtaking moment [as it will be for everyone else, though for completely different reasons].
Even knowing that they should work together, though, they find it difficult – said difficulty being exacerbated by attitudes and misunderstandings [Cap’s demanding what Stark is without his suit; Thor noted that ‘you’re all so petty… and so tiny!’]. They are provoked by an attack by Loki’s alien allies that is calculated to split them up before they can even be a team. Unfortunately, he inadvertently does the one thing that guarantees they will come together [if with a tiny bit of a push by Fury].
The fun of The Avengers is not that they are going to open a can of whoop-ass on their foes, it’s the way their essential humanity both gets in their way and then overcomes their disparity allowing them to actually work as a team – when all indications are that they should not be able to do so.
Whedon understands how to work with a cast of many. His best loved previous work includes teams of disparate individuals in TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly [and the Firefly spinoff film, Serenity]. He gives each character their moment, and makes us believe it when they [however reluctantly] become a team. He keeps them relatable – even when they’re gods and super-soldiers.
While most of the heroes are firmly the people we know and love from earlier movies – only more so – Loki has changed. He’s no longer the confused, lost, identity seeking anti-hero type he was in Thor. Now, while he’s still dealing with abandonment and inferiority issues, he’s no longer confused, or lost. Now he’s focused and ready to, literally, take on the world. Hiddleston has great fun chewing the scenery and giving Loki’s conflicting megalomania [‘I’m a god!’] and other issues life.
The one hero, sort of, who is a bit different is The Hulk. Ruffalo is terrific as the scientist, Banner, whose loss of control means releasing The Other guy [as he’s taking to calling him]. Banner can be seen as the dark version of both Stark and Captain America – unlike Stark, his experiment failed terribly, and that experiment was an attempt to recreate the super-soldier process that created Cap.
The CG Hulk is more believable than previous versions for one major reason – he has Hulkish variations on Ruffalo’s [and therefore Banner’s] features. Ruffalo did motion capture for the character, so he’s a much better realized character than previous versions, too. Hulk’s tussle with Thor is one of the best hero-on-hero fights and sets up a memorable moment in the final act. There may have been no plans for another Hulk movie but, after The Avengers, I expect Marvel to rethink that.
Downey continues to make Tony Stark a compelling character with his energy and wit – combined with just enough of a hint of humility to make it believable that the ultra-sensible Pepper would be his girlfriend. Evans plays Cap’s man out of time is a good soldier – and a good man frustrated by a world that seems to lack the moral compass of his own time.
Hemsworth manages to capture a mix of pride and humility as well as Downey – though in an entirely different manner. It’s amazing how his Thor continues to remind of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. Renner’s Hawkeye gets the short straw here but, despite getting fewer lines and/or memorable moments than the others, Renner makes him memorable with a steely presence that is second to none in the film.
Finally, Johannson’s Black Widow is both deadlier and more vulnerable than we’ve seen her before – though that could be a front. She can beat the snot out of three trained men while strapped down on a chair – and with both hands tied behind her back, though, so I’m guessing that even when she’s feeling a bit vulnerable, she’s still not someone to cross – as Loki discovers to his chagrin.
As usual, the glue that holds The Avengers together is Fury’s right-hand man, Coulson – who has never been dryer, funnier or more heroic. The Avengers also introduces Agent Maria Hill [Cobie Smulders], who seems a bit of a devil’s advocate as she questions fury at the beginning of the film, but becomes a firm ally in the trenches [so to speak]. Both Smulders and Clark Gregg give their characters a level of ferocity [understated, as usual, in his case] that belies their lack of powers or super skills.
The action set pieces [and they are many] are all constructed in ways that the characters’ characters shine through the mayhem. The humor ranges from great one-liners [‘…and I love the way you become a big, green rage monster’] and action [Loki’s posturing before someone with rather insurmountable anger issues], to entire conversations [the rhythms of the Stark/Pepper conversation make the whole conversation a thing of beauty].
The Avengers is a near-perfect melding of action, character and heart – and like I mentioned above, you need to stay to the very end of the losing credits. The tease for Avengers 2 suggests a villain of incomprehensive power – one that will be very familiar to fans pf Avengers comics. And that final scene is a perfect cap to the film.
The Avengers sets the bar really high for blockbusters to follow. If any of them come even into the vicinity of The Avengers, it will be a very good summer for blockbusters.
Final Grade: A+
Photos courtesy Disney/Marvel