My apologies for getting this review out so late. I actually saw the film on April 30, since I happened to be in Mexico, where it premiered earlier than in the US. Of course, work and Montezuma’s revenge conspired to make this review somewhat less timely.
I guess the first question is the most obvious: Is The Avengers the best superhero film of all time? The answer. No. Probably. It doesn’t have the gravitas of The Dark Knight, or the emotional punch of Spider-man, or even quite the giddy “look at all the superheroes” excitement of X-Men 2. But it does have some of all those traits. It fires on all cylinders, just not as fast and hot on every cylinder as other examples of the genre. In any case, it really is a solid piece of work.
The story is paper thin, but this is a summer blockbuster (which doesn’t have Batman in it) so what do you expect? Tolstoy? Loki, the prankster from Asgard, has come to Earth. He wants the Tesseract (that blue-glowing cube from the Captain America movie) so he can bring an alien army to Earth. The Avengers try to stop him. Everything else is just characterization.
Therefore, what the film does have going for it is an incredible cast. And, even more impressive, every one of the cast members (save one) is doing as good or better than they have in previous films with these characters.
Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is about what you’d expect after seeing his introduction in Thor last year. Solid, neo-Shakespearean work. (Kudos to Joss Whedon for winking at that in the script.) Tim Huddleston’s Loki is even better this time around. He’s not the sad child morphing into the bad guy: he’s THE BAD GUY. And he’s really good at it. One scene is obviously a nod to The Silence of the Lambs, and while Loki ain’t no Hannibal Lecter, he doesn’t suffer in the comparison.
The S.H.E.I.L.D. operatives mostly do excellent work. Samuel L. Jackson (as Nick Fury) is Jackson. He’s awesome in everything. Jeremy Renner was barely in Thor, so this is mostly a new character for him, and while he doesn’t have that much to do, he does it well. Cobie Smulders seems a little out of place, but she’s really just a sounding board for Fury. The winners in this part of the cast are easily Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Johansson seemed a little stiff in Iron Man 2, but this time around she seems like a real person, one who might just be a little freaked out by being one of the only regular humans in the mix. It’s as if Whedon looked at the cast and said, “Hey, wait. This gal can actually act! Let’s give her a chance to do that!” And she can really kick some ass, too, which doesn’t hurt. Gregg, on the other hand, isn’t even playing a regular soldier. Coulson is just a guy. A bureacrat, one who is, by turns, the Avengers’ task master and fanboy. Any scene with Gregg in it was a winner.
The newest major cast member is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Since he’s the third guy in about a decade to play the role, I was already annoyed with his casting. (Eric Bana sucked, Edward Norton ruled.) I don’t know if a Ruffalo-starring Hulk movie would ever work, but in this crazy mashup, he holds his own, portraying a more controlled Banner than any we’ve seen. (Kudos again to Whedon for referencing events from The Incredible Hulk. I didn’t mind when they tossed out the Ang Lee Hulk story from the movie mythology, but I really liked the 2008 film.)
Chris Evans is turning into one of my favorite actors. He’s portrayed two Marvel superheroes, in two films apiece. And what’s more, those characters couldn’t be more different. Johnny Storm is the polar opposite of Steve Rogers. The Captain America in The Avengers is a man out of his element, and focused solely on the mission at hand. That makes him a little boring, but no less admirable. And he had a few good lines.
The only performance that seemed a little flat was Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. Which isn’t to say he wasn’t funny and exciting. He was. He just wasn’t as funny and exciting as he was in his own movies. And that’s probably a good thing. He could easily overshadow the less flashy other characters if he let loose completely.
The film has three main action sequences. The first starts almost instantly, setting the tone for the rest of the film: over-the-top, insane, epic stuff. The middle third of the film is dominated by another sequence that has the characters paired off for their own parts of the action. At this point, they’re still not a team, and it shows. (But the possibility of future teamwork is teased.) The finale is what you were waiting for: an interstellar smackdown, with every character kicking ass. (Some can kick slightly larger asses than others, of course.)
All in all, it’s hard to not love this movie. If you focused any more on any one of the characters, it wouldn’t have been The Avengers. It would have been Iron Man and the Avengers, or Captain American and the Avengers. This way, everyone gets their time to shine.
Something that I love about the whole Marvel film series is the interconnectedness. Having characters crossover from movie to movie is one thing. But now, with this film, you get a sense that, really, everything is all one big story. In WWII, Hydra used the Tesseract to create their weapons, which drove the US to create Captain America, which, in turn, inspired Banner to (accidentally) create The Hulk. Simultaneously, the Tesseract inspired Robert Stark to create the arc reactor, which led to his son Tony creating his Iron Man suit. The only real coincidence is this: Why did Odin happen to banish Thor (in his first film) to the exact same realm that the Tesseract was in? Perhaps Thor 2 will address this? I’d love it if it did. It would only make the Marvel movie mythology that much stronger. It’s like they’re trying to do what comic books do, only, with materials that are more expensive than ink and paper, they’re really tying things together tight. I like that.
The only downside to The Avengers that I can see? I’m worried that future one-off character films (Iron Man 3 is also on the way.) will seem small in comparison. But who cares? Get Johansson in a Black Widow film immediately!