Review – Marvel’s The Avengers
Title: The Avengers
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth
In 2005, the folks at Marvel had a crazy idea. Introduce some of Marvel’s comic book characters in a slew of movies, and have them finally meet in The Avengers. So far, there have been six proceeding films – two Iron Man movies, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and two Hulk movies that never captured the public’s imagination. Marvel has created a movie universe much like its comic book universe. The characters cross over, but are individually still part of the same story. The Avengers is both a sequel and an origin story. ‘Avengers’ director Joss Whedon, is one of Hollywood’s most prolific writers, having written or directed everything from TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Toy Story. Whedon blends so many elements together, without letting The Avengers is smarter and surer than Thor, without the fresh kick of the first Iron Man.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of secret spy agency SHIELD has a problem. A powerful energy source, the tesseract, opens a gateway through space, allowing Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – fresh from a beating in last year’s Thor – to step through. Loki steals the tesseract, and takes over the minds of several SHIELD agents, including Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). To defeat Loki ad retrieve the tesseract, Fury revives the Avengers Initiative. He sends Agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to enlist Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), while Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) goes to Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr). Fury goes after Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans). Loki’s plan is to give the tesseract to an alien warlord, in exchange for an alien army t help him take over Earth. Enter Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki’s brother, who wants to appeal to Loki rather than harm or imprison him. The Avengers are soon fighting one another over how to deal with Loki and his army.
Everything about The Avengers rests on the characters. Marvel has wisely chosen the right actors – there are at least four Oscar nominated actors in The Avengers (Robert Downey, Jr, Ruffalo, Jackson, Renner). They’ve all been tested and mostly accepted, but the question is – how good are these characters together? Whedon subtly pits the Superheroes and SHIELD agents against each other. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers don’t agree on anything. Tony is sure of himself – Downey Jr adding his usual intelligence and bravado. Naturally, Tony has a beef with all-American boy scout Steve Rogers. Captain America doesn’t have Iron Man’s arrogant swagger, and instead has the confidence that only military training can bring. Chris Evans makes him endearing, almost naïve in his belief in right and wrong.
Brother Thor and Loki remain polar opposites. Thor hasn’t changed much, but Loki sure has. Instead of being focused on irritating his brother, Loki has much bigger plans. He isn’t the petulant, hurt child he was in Thor. Subjugating humans makes him fiendishly happy, and Hiddleston’s evil grin is unsettling for most of the Avengers. Loki is a bad guy who needs to be destroyed. Hemsworth gives Thor a soft spot for his beloved brother, no matter how bad he gets.
Of all the actors, Mark Ruffalo has the toughest job. Bruce Banner and the Hulk might have appeared in two previous films, but Ruffalo hasn’t. Eric Bana and Ed Norton played the character previously, yet it’s Ruffalo who finally gets it right. Part of it is Ruffalo’s scruffy, geeky, forlorn performance. Dr. Banner is only interested in his work. How he refrains from changing into the green “other guy” is a mystery. Banner protects himself with humour and a devotion to science that even Tony Stark respects. Ruffalo is also perfectly suited to the character, partially because he’s the only actor to use motion capture to also play the Hulk. The Hulk’s movements are all Ruffalo’s, which humanizes him.
Despite the egos, none of the Avengers is the lead. They all answer to Nick Fury. While Iron Man and Captain America battle to guide the team in their own way, none of the characters gets extra screen time. Problem for them is, most of these freaks have more in common with one another than the rest of the world, but they spend as much time fighting among themselves as they do fighting Loki. Fight scenes are obviously a given in comic book movies, and here, the fighting usually comes after too much talking.
The predictability of it all keeps the movie from being original. An arch-villain plans to take over the world. Hulk smashes, Captain America tosses his shield, Thor throws his hammer. Manhattan is flattened. It’s predictable, so what keeps it from being a snoozefest are the characters. It’s the same old story with well-written, layered, distinct heroes. Loki’s desire to take over the world, the gadgets, even some of the dialogue is a little silly. But, the movie’s absurdity is a part of its appeal. Unlike last year’s Thor, The Avengers doesn’t take itself too seriously. Each serious moment gets smoothed over with Stark’s snark, or Banner’s self-deprecating wit.
After having been converted to 3D in post-production, The Avengers isn’t a cartoonish eyesore. The iron suit is new and improved. Actual on-set New York shots of Park Avenue and Central park blend seamlessly with added CGI.
The Avengers has been done before: superheroes, explosions, vile villains. But it’s been worth the wait to watch familiar, beloved characters. It’s the blockbuster equivalent of comfort food. The movie is probably Marvel’s ploy to sell more comic books, cars, and junk food, but it’s a blast.