They said it could never be done, and in 2008 the plan for an Avengersmovie would either work out or fail miserably. Here we are four years later, and with acclaim and a box office record to boot, the film that was simply a dream is now a reality. Taking characters we’ve experienced summer after summer already, the ultimate crossover is here, helmed by one of the nerdiest and cult-classic writer/directors of all time. While it can go either way, does The Avengers truly make superhero genre history by creating the best of the Marvel films yet? Or is an overhyped dud that masks its failure with action and fan excitement?
In the twelve or so years since X-Men began the superhero rampage (yes, I’m not including Blade in this bunch), my favorite of the bunch have always been clear: Spider-Man 2 and last year’s Captain America. 2012 will be the summer that both heroes come back on the big screen. Although I may have selective problems, The Avengers easily joins the top of the Marvel movies. While there’s a decent amount of character development, it doesn’t normally hit the same strides as the focus on single characters. But honestly, that’s alright when you take into account the heights and dream matchups that the action brings the feature to, on top of successfully balancing out the heavy hitting moments alongside the focus on the characters as well. The film does take awhile to get into, and there are some easily questionable moments withinThe Avengers, but after an incredibly satisfying second half, all those issues seem to just float away by the finale.
The first twenty to thirty minutes or so has to be the roughest patch of the film. As we’re reintroduced to these characters, and the story is setting itself up, there’s a dynamic that just feels off. And it is enough to worry for a decent amount of the film until everyone actually starts to cross paths. While this should be a big moment, for some reason it just feels natural and unsurprising. Perhaps it’s because the excessive amount of marketing has dwindled that feeling down, or maybe it’s because at this point it’s not so surprising. But, once the heroes actually start to mingle and interconnect in various ways, that’s when the film starts becoming extraordinary.
Oddly enough, my favorite pairing had to be Bruce Banner and Tony Stark. The geniuses are absolutely comfortable with each other, and its there the duo becomes the team’s brains. While each inhibit their own different problems and personalities, for some reason Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. just create sparks together. The same can be said for the rivalry between Captain America and Iron Man as well. They both have often clashing and opposing view points, and luckily Whedon doesn’t dial that back at all. The two are consistently fighting with the other’s opinions, and yet when the most important job of them all has to be done, they come together for the greater good. What increases this is the respective flaws audiences have explored before. Tony has father issues, along with very much knowing his intelligence and technology are all that he has. Steve, on the other hand, actually knew Tony’s father, and is trapped in a world where technology reigns supreme, compared to his time period of great morality and barely any of the modern advancements. It’s there where whenever the two’s often colliding issues with one another truly reach a bigger substance and depth that is only expanded upon thanks to the stand alone movies.
In fact, there’s a great portion of the movie that feels like while we get the basic personalities and feelings for every character. But it’s those additional individual films that truly make The Avengers more rewarding. For five films, you’re here experiencing each hero in their own elements, and what exactly makes them tick. You’re there to see them personally grow, and how they relate to their own situations. So, with everything that happens in The Avengers, each of the characters relate to various scenarios within the film itself, which only is added upon by more substance that we’ve seen in past experiences. We understand the Loki and Thor rivalry, we get Bruce’s struggle with The Hulk, and we even get Loki’s own personal attributes as well. And it’s there the film really works. There are various parts of the film where you can easily say, “Oh this feels like an [insert hero here] movie,” and I can’t argue: that threw me off just a bit. There are certain moments where it feels like a scene is an extension of Thor, or an extension of Iron Man 2, and it’s a bit disheartening as it should feel simply like an Avengers movie (another problem with the first act). But, you come to realize that it’s actually the best parts of those past efforts, and once the characters are very much interacting with each other and fighting alongside one another, the problem seems to just vanish.
While Whedon’s directing obviously speaks for itself, it’s what his writing does that goes far beyond that. As a fan of comics, the cult fan favorite does what really no other scribe or director has done before him in this genre: he best understands the characters at their finest moments in their decades-long history. He understands the rivalry between Cap and Tony, he gets what makes The Hulk more of a hero and less of just a social outcast. He appeals to their human natures without distancing themselves from their heroic ones.
That’s easily what made Loki the best villain for the job, and perhaps the best in Marvel history. In Thor, we establish a very human and personal approach with Tom Hiddleston’s character, along with the performance to back it up. Here, Loki has a bit more fun than we saw last time around, and he feels all the more evil because of it. But, Whedon writes the character so that you never forget both his personal vendetta nor his charm. Loki is the type of villain that will make you laugh, scared, and yet feel for him on an emotional level. His first encounter with Thor upon the mountain after his brother rips him from the vehicle is absolutely an electric one. The two’s relationship picks up exactly where it left off, and Loki makes sure that both Thor and the audience remember his own feelings. Everything before the final battle upon New York establishes Loki as a threat worthy of actually bringing this team together, and Hiddleston’s performance tops even the one he provided in Thor.
And that’s really the beauty of The Avengers: every role is perfectly cast and each actor brings something to the table. I’m not going to lie in saying that every character is perfect. They’re not. Some feel underdeveloped, such as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, despite Jeremy Renner doing a pretty good job, and Colbie Smulder’s Maria Hill. We begin to finally go in depth with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who makes sure to display her traits oh so well this time around, while also somewhat hinting at some romance between she and Barton. Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson still plays a bit part, despite the supporting declaration, and is actually a large role in the film’s overall plot. Evans continues to perfectly embody the old fashioned and patriotic leader, while Robert Downey Jr. obviously steals a great deal of moments.
However, if anyone should be awarded the breakout performance of the feature, it deserves to be Mark Ruffalo. The combination of Bruce Banner and The Hulk has been done over so many times now that when Edward Norton was recast, there were collective groans and sharings of skepticism all over the Internet. But here, the character is fantastic. He’s no longer the hero that’s looked down upon. Not only does The Hulk shine in the third act of the film, but watching Banner finally get pushed over the edge and transform into the character is like watching a horror movie. You know its coming, and yet is completely terrifying within its own right.
What follows is a suspenseful scene between Hulk and Black Widow, which only kicks off the true crowning achievement of the character. Though he’s seen as a reject in the past two films, here he’s simply seen as a dangerous anti-hero that will still do something for the greater good, and can be strong enough to eventually be controlled when push comes to shove. Near the end of the film, you feel very much as if The Hulk is the most controlled version of the character we’ve seen yet, and he feels the most fun. My audience laughed at the character in various moments within the film, and you could almost feel the love for the gamma giant almost tangible throughout. But, it’s also Ruffalo’s normal performance that mixes with Whedon’s writing that truly makes it remarkable. Ruffalo is electric as the intelligent scientest, and definitely stands out as a person who is both blessed and cursed. He can hit emotional moments, especially with Robert Downey Jr. Their pairing on screen is phenomenal and feels like the most natural aspect of the entire film. Honestly, I’d like to see Ruffalo actually gain a supporting role helping out Tony in Iron Man 3; that’s how well I liked the two together. Going in, I seemed very much hesitant about Ruffalo, but walking out, I now understand the positive buzz around his character, and why Marvel is now looking into another solo adventure for Hulk.
The third act is truly the best of the entire film. The fighting in New York City gives everyone a chance to show off their action chops, and Whedon does so beautifully. The only problem here happens to be the Chitauri. The alien enemies may be all big and bad, but really they’re just something to wail on and destroy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to watch each alien meet their maker, including what Hulk does to the large dragon-like monsters. But, they don’t seem like anything really more than just minions to Hiddleston’s Loki, and while Loki doesn’t possess the same type of scale in terms of destruction, it’s the Chitauri that come up just a little empty.
Although, you do kind of excuse the alien-emptiness because that final fight is just too damn fun. Maybe halfway through, when the entire team finally came together, I found myself constantly losing it and just having an absolute blast. Various characters are beat up, Tony makes a redeeming sacrifice that’s only a tribute to Captain America’s own words (hence feeding into the off father/son dynamic), and the ending sort of wraps up quickly enough. There’s more of a direction in terms of where the universe will go from here for both Thor 2 and The Avengers 2 than our next effort Iron Man 3, but it’s that future I’m kind of looking forward to. The Infinity Gauntlet is obviously where the sequel will likely go, and it’ll be interesting to see if any hints will be given from here on out.
If I have anything else to say, it may be just two small quips. The line of dialogue that explains Thor’s return is something that you can accept, but ultimately still makes the ending toThor seems like a mistake. While it was acceptable had Thor 2happened before The Avengers, it was just a very questionable ending that Whedon obviously had to overcome, and was generally a very stupid move. But with that criticism I offer this praise: whatever supporting characters come back from the individual films help ultimately expand the film to a greater level. Of course while only two truly make an on-screen appearance, and only one plays a large role, it’s nice to have that tie-in. One more love interest was hinted at, with S.H.I.E.L.D. promising one of the heroes she was in protective custody, but it would have been nice to actually see that scene play out for just 30 seconds or so as a small cameo.
Overall, The Avengers kicks off the summer with a fantastic start. It’s not perfect, though, as the slow beginning is a big problem, along with a few other shortcomings, along with taking just awhile to truly suck you in. But it’s the third act that is perhaps the best Marvel presentation ever brought to the big screen. Whedon’s writing and direction are fantastic, and the characters equal the enormous event that marks a milestone in comics-to-screen history. It’s the first film in a long time that I’ve wanted to go see a second time in theaters, and while Spider-Man 2 and Captain America still hold strong as my personal favorites, The Avengers joins with with enough laughs, action, surprises, effects, and takeaway moments to become Marvel’s masterpiece.
8.5 out of 10