Loki, the evil half-brother of the Asgardian thunder god, Thor, seeks revenge against his brother by allying himself with aliens to take over the Earth and rule the planet that Thor has vowed to protect. Now, Nick Fury, the director of S.H.i.E.L.D., gathers together Earth’s own superhumans as the planet’s line of defense.
That’s the simple premise to The Avengers, the newest movie from Marvel Entertainment and the culmination of an ambitious undertaking by the studio since the first Iron Man movie. Nothing like this has really been done before theatrically (in America anyway, I suppose you could say Japan did this years ago with their giant monster films) and it truly is ambitious. You start movies featuring individual characters like Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor and Captain America, all with connective tissue between them, yet still standing alone as thoroughly satisfying films. Then you build to a point where the logical thing to do is to bring all of these characters together in one film for one big adventure. And it’s one hell of an adventure…
Joss Whedon is the director and one of the writers behind the movie, and he’s truly the right man for the job. Thanks to his past television work (and theatrical work as well- projects like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse and the films like Serenity and his scripts for things like Alien: Ressurection, and even the first Toy Story amongst others), Whedon has proven himself to be adept at bringing together disparate characters and making them work in true ensemble pieces. Last week, I was certainly critical of his work with director Drew Goddard on The Cabin in the Woods and I wasn’t exactly that thrilled with Buffy The Vampire Slayer from season five on, but for the most part, I consider myself a fan of his work, and with The Avengers he’s hit a big home run.
The Avengers of course has all of the prerequisite big action and effects that you expect from a movie like this, but most importantly, it never loses sight of it’s characters within that framework. The “voices” for each of the characters are true to what you’ve seen in the prior individual movies and yet Whedon makes them all come together seamlessly and with some truly interesting play. Some real standout character moments for me in the film include the following; scenes between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner as they’re working out the scientific solution to their problem, another scene between Stark and Steve Rogers (Captain America) that tests Stark’s true motivations and if he truly does have the selfless intent to be a hero, and a nice moment between the Black Widow and Hawkeye after Hawkeye’s recovery from being used as a pawn for Loki. It doesn’t just stop there either; S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson is given some terrific depth that’s only been hinted at in the prior films and he’s made Loki into a truly malevolent menace, something which I think was little lacking in the Thor film.
And then there’s the technical side of things. The film just looks fantastic with plenty of terrific set pieces, fantastic visual effects and some really well-choreographed action scenes. One of my favorite moments in the film (and believe me there are plenty) occurs in the third act of the film and the battle with Loki and the aliens in the heart of New York City. This scene is a continuous action piece that shows all of the Avengers in individual action but also going even further with having them teaming with each other as well. How can you not get a thrill when you see Iron Man blasting his repulsor rays off of Captain America’s shield to take out some aliens, or seeing Thor and The Hulk fighting side-by-side high atop a giant alien beast? This is just fantastic stuff.
Whedon’s certainly got a first rate cast, no doubt about it. Everyone has returned from the other films with the one notable exception being Edward Norton from the Hulk movie. Norton’s been replaced by actor Mark Ruffalo, but I’ll get into that even further in a moment. Robert Downey Jr. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner along with Ruffalo make up the core team and they’re all fantastic, with the standouts for me being both Ruffalo and Evans. The thing that I really admire about what Evans does here (and in the Captain America movie) is his stoic quality and being your literal “old-fashioned” hero who does the right thing without question. Evans looks great in the costume and to me anyway just commands the scenes when he’s in them. As far as The Hulk and Bruce Banner are concerned, well if I had my druthers, I would’ve rather have had Edward Norton here to maintain the continuity, but with that said, Mark Ruffalo does a truly fantastic job as the character. So even with my preference, I don’t want to slight anything that Ruffalo does here at all, and further between his performance and the script’s treatment of the character, I’ve got nothing but praise. There was a very thoughtful direction that The Hulk was being taken in in his own movie, that to me was logically and just as thoughtfully extrapolated on for this film. And of course, thanks to the abovementioned terrific visual effects, The Hulk himself looks more like Ruffalo which further adds to the terrific character quality. Those are my own personal standouts, but really the entire main cast is exceptional.
It doesn’t stop there; Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgård, and Tom Hiddleston also return from the previous films and the standouts for me here are Gregg and Hiddleston. Clark Gregg has played Agent Coulson in all of the previous films and as I said above, he gets a lot more depth here as well as a turn that I was genuinely sorry to see happen to the character. When I reviewed Thor one of my criticisms there was that I thought Tom Hiddleston was wrong to play Loki, but after this, well I’m eating those words and just thought his game was stepped up considerably here. Hiddleston has real fire here and is, to me, just as commanding a presence as Chris Evans. The newest addition to the cast is Cobie Smulders as Nick Fury’s second-in-command, Maria Hill, a relatively newer character in the Marvel Universe. She doesn’t quite get as much to do as the others, but still she’s good and a good addition. Back in the day, when Whedon was connected with the Wonder Woman movie, Whedon was supposedly eyeing Smulders for the part. I really didn’t see that quality in her before, but thanks to this movie, I can plainly see what Whedon saw in her for that role.
It still doesn’t stop. For the comic fan (and I have to admit, I haven’t read a current Marvel book in the last 3+ years- sorry, it just started to fall off for me with their Civil War magnum opus and I left entirely after Secret Invasion), there’s loads of little easter eggs throughout (I was pleasantly surprised to see Project Pegasus in this as a for instance) that even lapsed fans like myself will catch. The Avengers certainly is a movie for the die-hard comic book fan, but it’s not limited to that. If your only appeal to these characters has been just what you’ve seen in the movies, well you may not appreciate it in the same way, but you should still have a grand time with this.
Of course, there are nits that can be picked, little (or large) things that we fans wish had been done here, but considering the huge quality of the overall film and the terrific performances of this exceptional ensemble cast, it would in fact be nit-picking. if we’ve learned anything over the last few years with all of the various comic book movies that have been made, it’s that anything is now possible as far as the type of material that can be brought to the screen. The Avengers reinforces that in a big way and further opens up even more possibilities. The Avengers might be the culmination of other films, but it’s also a brand new starting point and honestly I cannot wait to see what Marvel does next.
As if you couldn’t tell, The Avengers is for me one of the best movies I’ve seen this year so far. If fulfills on a promise started by Marvel Studios and adds even more. It’s a thrilling, fun and funny ride that will stick with you way after your first viewing and further just makes you want to see it again immediately (and I know I’m going to do that very thing next weekend). As has been the case with all of the Marvel films, there are additional scenes during and after the main credits, so whatever you do, don’t leave, they’re both great pay-offs and a sign of things to come. The Avengers is highly, highly recommended… if you haven’t seen it yet, run, don’t walk, to your nearest theatre and prepare for a 2+ hour thrill ride that you won’t soon forget.