When I heard that Marvel Entertainment was planning to do individual superhero movies that would culminate in The Avengers bringing all the characters and cast together in a superhero team movie, it seemed ambitious to say the least. Thank goodness they got a capable director like Joss Whedon, who’s also a genre/comic book fan himself. I think they pulled it off masterfully.
For those of you who aren’t Marvel Comics fans, and who haven’t seen any of the previous movies (Why are you reading this? Anyway…) The Avengers brings together various superheroes into a single loosely-knit team led by Nick Fury (eye-patch wearing super-spy, and leader of SHIELD, a government agency designed to deal with super-villainy and other such threats to humanity). Fury assembled the Avengers team consisting of two other operatives: Black Widow (Russian spy/femme fatale) and Hawkeye (strong, silent, marksman extraordinaire–equipped with a fancy set of arrows); Thor (displaced Norse thunder-god); Iron Man (genius inventor and playboy billionaire Tony Stark in armed-to-the-gills suit of super-armour); Captain America (superhumanly enhanced soldier, frozen after WW2 but recently defrosted); and finally The Hulk/Bruce Banner (imbalanced scientist whose alter ego is an angry green giant). Their mandate is to deal with threats that are beyond even the abilities of SHIELD to deal with alone. This time around, Thor’s evil half-brother Loki has come to Earth to steal a powerful, other-worldly device known as the Tesseract, and use it to power an invasion from space.
With all these moving pieces (each character also has leftover baggage from their own stories), the overall plot of the movie is thankfully basic. Essentially: the bad guy gets a powerful object and the heroes need to find and stop him before he can successfully use it to take over the planet. As is true for most big screen adaptations (even from comic books) there is some aspect of “reality check”, since everything looks a lot more realistic. For example, all the bureacracy represented by SHIELD in this movie are probably the kind of detail that comic books gloss over. After all, who thinks of needing a large, highly-trained staff to monitor the heroes’ computers? Don’t they just know where the bad guys are?
The other aspect that is more realistic than comic books is the amount of dialogue, conversation, and characterization that can be achieved. In a relatively short time (though still 2.5 hours long), the movie establishes some interesting character moments. This is a trait of a Joss Whedon project because of his ability to create really clever, heart-felt, humourous dialogue. It’s what people expect to see in his movies (and TV shows). Given that kind of a script, all the characters and performances were pretty good.
Robert Downey Jr. is on fire as Iron Man/Tony Stark. His delivery is suited to Whedon’s scripting and he pulls off the smug, smart, sarcastic attitude without even batting an eyelash. He has all the best lines and brings many laugh-out-loud moments. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was fine. He was suitably stolid and wooden, though occasionally liking to bellow his lines (like any Norse god would). Tom Hiddleston, however, playing evil Asgardian Loki, was having much more fun with his dialogue and clearly enjoyed his role. Here’s hoping Hiddleston will play a few more villains in his career. Mark Ruffalo was cast as Dr. Banner/The Hulk after two other actors (Eric Bana and Edward Norton) had played the role in recent films. Ruffalo was OK, but his portrayal served only to emphasize the fact that since the actual Hulk is always CGI, anyone can play the role of Banner. Ruffalo did not seem believably smart or psychologically fragile to me–just a generic guy (as Ruffalo often does).
It was nice to see Captain America taking on more of a commanding role this time out (since he’s always calling the shots in the comic books). Chris Evans’s characters always came off as goof-offs, without much leadership (and that’s still true, but he’s improving). I was still a bit distracted by his painful dye job (Why can’t studios ever get blonde hair right? Thousands of women do it every day.) At least his lips are less-red than they were in his own movie. Nick Fury’s character seemed tailor-made for Samuel Jackson (and when a black, bald Fury appeared on the pages of The Ultimates comic book, it was probably an homage to Jackson). He’s not really a character with much nuance. He’s a leader who does what has to be done (F the rules!).
What actually surprised me was how well Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner played their roles. I don’t normally put much stock in the much-hyped Johansson. She usually does little more than to work her voluptuousness and her poutiness to dramatic effect. In this she conveyed an interesting complexity as Black Widow (despite being a butt-kicking comic book character). Similarly, Renner played Hawkeye with the kind of “grizzled before his time” gravitas that he seems to be bringing to all his characters (so I’m looking forward to his take on the Bourne legacy).
While all that character talk is well and good, what is a super-team movie without mega-action? As you’d expect when superheroes come together, this movie brings us the requisite clashes of titans–the kind that settle playground bets over who could beat whom: Hulk vs. Thor, Iron Man vs. Hulk, etc. These fight scenes are pretty well-staged and a thrill to watch. Honestly, even more than whether the heroes defeat the villains, these tussles are the point of bringing comic book characters to the big screen. Nevertheless, the actual battle scenes during the climax of the movie were also very well done. One of my favourite scenes flows from one hero to the next as they skirmish with the invading aliens throughout downtown Manhattan. Unfortunately, despite the already massive scale of these battle scenes, they also accentuate the flaw in scale that undercuts this movie’s storyline.
It’s not necessarily nit-picky to say that an alien armada planning to invade Earth needs to have more than a handful of ships and a few hundred aliens. Even earth-bound war movies have more massive forces than the aliens in this film. It barely looks like they have enough resources to take over Manhattan, let alone the rest of the planet. The flip-side of this problem is that the Avengers themselves are forced to fight these enemies on a much smaller scale than they would in comic books. Perhaps it’s because they are fighting in Manhattan, where there would be a lot of collateral damage (I never understand why filmmakers stage these kinds of battles in populated areas. Is it really necessary to remind us that superheroes need to watch out for old ladies crossing the street?) Traditionally, Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man have off-the-chart power. They should have been able to wipe out whole phalanxes in a single blow. Similarly, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye should have been used for more precise attacks. Instead, now everyone is reduced to being foot soldiers, taking out as many baddies as they can. From that point of view, the super-team plotting could have used some more thought.
Nevertheless, I was highly impressed with this film and by the end of it (after the two post-credit scenes — one foreshadowing future stories, and the other a tongue-in-cheek joke) I was really looking forward to more instalments of the series. Avengers 2 cannot come soon enough, in my opinion. (4.5 out of 5)