Originally Reviewed – 5/24/2012
When The Avengers project was first announced after the success of 2008’s Iron Man, comic book fans rejoiced. This wasn’t going to be some slapdash tale of a super team fighting baddies. This was going to be something more, something larger than life. Three films followed: Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America. Having seen all these movies, Captain in August of last year, I realized The Avengers could be a smashing success, so long as they two things right. One, give the team a very strong antagonist and two, build the team in a natural way without wasting time on individual character development. That’s what the movies were for. Now, over a billion dollars in box office sales later, I can safely say director Joss Whedon and company did just that and so much more. The Avengers isn’t just the best summer opening film I’ve seen in years, it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made.
Forgive the plot summation as I imagine 90% of you have seen this already, but here goes. Loki, brother of Thor, has snagged control of the mystical Tesseract, an artifact that holds near limitless power. His aim? To become the ruler of all rulers, starting with the pitiful mortals than inhabit planet Earth. In response to this new threat, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) activates the “Avenger Initiative”, bringing together Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the newly thawed Captain America (Chris Evans), Mr. Anger Management Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Together, with the help of some of the lesser known Avengers crew, such as Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the team works to stop Loki’s extraterrestrial forces from invading planet Earth.
The biggest success of the film is the natural development of the Avengers team. Rather than everybody coming together for the common good, there’s some drama on the squad. Tony Stark and Captain America face off, Thor finds us Earthlings surprisingly petty and Hulk is just trying to keep from getting pissed. There’s natural tension here, expertly woven in Joss Whedon’s fantastic screenplay. This tension helps give us something to care about, making the team cohesion even more exciting in the film’s third act. It’s also worth noting that the previous movies are not required viewing to enjoy this, but if you haven’t seen at least the Iron Man flicks, the characters may come off a little flat. Of course, this is done by design and Whedon does a great job on focusing on the characters developed in the films and leaving the other members of the team to true supporting roles. In fact, you could call this Iron Man 2.5, but that’s a wise choice as Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark is easily the strongest character in the troupe.
The rest of the cast does a fine job in the roles given. Hemsworth is likeable as the Asgardian Thor, Mike Ruffalo is an excellent choice to replace Edward Norton’s Hulk and even Captain America, I character I found one noted in his feature length, develops nicely thanks to his run ins with Tony Stark. Loki is also a very smart choice as the main villain. Given his familial back story with Thor, his conquest has weight, especially given the events of their feature film. Again, those who haven’t seen Thor may find Loki to a bit over the top, but I found the antagonist interesting and gripping. Even Sam Jackson, who only made small appearances in the credit scenes of the original movies, find plenty to work with as the devious but well meaning Nick Fury. The cast is unilaterally well chosen and work great together.
Of course, this is a summer action movie. Most filmgoers aren’t looking for a slice of life drama, they’re looking for heart stopping action. Marvel movies are known for their big bangs and The Avengers is no exception. Literally every fifteen minutes, something awesome is happening, whether it’s the surprising reveal of the Avengers base or Iron Man screaming along the Manhattan skyline. Everything culminates in the third act, which is essentially one long battle sequence and while you might find yourself tiring after the twentieth minute, Whedon brings you right back to the action with more kick-assery. The film also features some classic Joss Whedon humor. Full of quips and jokes, the levity in The Avengers always works and gives the film a very distinct feel.
In short, The Avengers is just that. Fun. Fun characters doing awesome things in defense of our petty little planet, Joss Whedon’s first major studio film is a stylish and exciting homerun. Usually around this time, I start looking at the summer lineup with a hint of dismay. Loud movies made by money hungry studios, all searching for their piece of the hot weather audience. These movies are usually dumb and fitfully entertaining, a perfect opportunity to get in out of the heat and turn your brain off for two hours. Joss Whedon’s Avengers redefines that stereotype, providing an intelligent, honest and fully enjoyable film going experience everybody should see on the big screen. Last year, I had some mental guidelines for the success of this Marvel mashup and thanks to smart writing, good direction and an excellent cast, The Avengers more than lives up to the hype.
Score – 90%