NOTE: I did NOT see The Avengers in 3D, because I have never seen a 3D film and thought, “Yeah, that looked really good.” The Avengers was not filmed in 3D, which means it went through a post-production conversion process. History tells us that this has never, ever worked in a film’s favor.
In 2008, audiences everywhere were thrilled by Iron Man, a smart, funny, and exciting superhero film that knew exactly what its audience wanted. But what really made audiences go wild was Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance in the end credits as Nick Fury, talking about the “Avenger Initiative”. Since then, Marvel has released a slew of films that all tie in to the same universe, including Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2. While all of those films were good, none was able to match the charisma of the first Iron Man. When The Avengers was inevitably announced, two possibilities arose: Either Marvel films would return to Iron Man glory, or the steady decline of quality mixed with the excess of characters would create an absolute train wreck.
The Avengers doesn’t waste time bringing you in to the story, and it makes no effort to introduce the main characters to you. It assumes you’ve already seen the origin films, and chances are, if you are seeing The Avengers, you have. Still, for a new viewer, this may make the first 20 minutes of the film awkward and confusing. In the first five minutes we meet an alien race called the Chitauri; are shown the Tesseract, which is an energy cube that is capable of destroying the entire planet; and meet the villain, Loki, who has come to Earth via portal. If you aren’t Marvel savvy, these are the kinds of things that will confound you in the beginning.
There is a bit of turbulence as The Avengers attempts to lift off, but once it gets in the air, it flies smoothly and quickly. The team, consisting of Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), must track down Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the brother of Thor, who feels he has been wrongfully kept away from the throne of Asgard. Loki plans to command an army of aliens in an extermination of Earth, which understandably rubs the Avengers the wrong way.
Of course, before our heroes can conquer their enemy, they must overcome their interpersonal issues. A diva like Tony Stark is clearly not going to get along with a righteous patriot like Captain America. Writer and Director Joss Whedon wrangles all of these big personalities and shows them interacting in believable and entertaining fashion. Whedon, who accomplished more in one season of his wrongly cancelled show, Firefly, than most successful shows wish to achieve in their entire run, has always had a skill for molding deep and intriguing characters and placing them in thrilling scenarios. The only glaring misstep Whedon’s script displays is the stale relationship between Black Widow and Hawkeye. While it’s not exactly a romantic storyline, it is played up as being important to the characters but never feels relevant to the audience.
Big budget, special effects-driven films have been given a bad reputation lately, probably because of Michael Bay’s affinity for watching things go “boom”. There are plenty of explosions to behold in The Avengers, but Whedon shows something that Bay seems to lack, and that is control. The action of the film moves quickly, but it doesn’t feel rushed. The camera doesn’t shake and remains a good distance away from the characters so that we can actually see what is going on. Whedon also devises clever ways for the superheroes to use each others’ powers in tandem, making them genuinely feel like a team that is fighting together, and not just next to each other. The climactic battle moves with beautiful fluidity and consistent adrenaline. Marvel films always suffer from weak third acts and lame villains. The Avengers has shattered that perception with conviction.
The players here are all strong, as usual. Robert Downey, Jr. continues to show that he was born to play Tony Stark, the snarky billionaire who doesn’t play well with others. Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth are great physical embodiments of their characters, but they are also limited by the nature of their characters. Notable here is Mark Ruffalo, who takes over the role of Bruce Banner from Edward Norton. Ruffalo is a surprising improvement over Norton, and in fact, you may consider his Hulk to be the best part of the film. Tom Hiddleston is also excellent as the gleefully evil Loki, the first truly threatening villain of any Marvel film (in the Avengers universe).
I mentioned the risk of “excess of characters” earlier, and while Whedon handled this issue almost flawlessly, there are some inherent issues that he could not avoid. The director’s cut of The Avengers was apparently over three hours and allegedly held a great deal of footage of Captain America coming to terms with the fact that he is living in the future. But since nobody wants to sit in a theater for over three hours, footage had to be cut, which means character development was lost. Of course, with so many main characters, it is impossible to give equal and adequate time to everyone. Whedon also gets a bit carried away with filming scenes in the dark at the start of the movie but breaks the trend quickly, thank goodness.
The Avengers is a thrill to watch, and it’s fun to talk about later. It has loads of action and a charming sense of humor. Joss Whedon, a consistently under-appreciated talent, shows he has what it takes to handle a high profile project and produce a result that we can all appreciate. Assemble your friends, and enjoy.
My Rating: (8.5/10)