Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) Review (PG-13)
Let me state for the record that I thoroughly enjoyed The Avengers (in 3D no less, that IMHO added absolutely nothing). To review this as the adult that I am and on the basis of whether this stands up to my normal points of scrutiny I would have to put it in the realm of those dumbed down summer blockbusters that are just adequate. The 10 year old Marvel comics fan in me however, would disagree strongly and would probably rate this a 5 star movie…. And it’s proof that humor can help to cover up a film’s deficiencies.
This is the culmination of what Marvel/Disney have been working towards in most of their superhero films of the last few years (Iron Man I & II, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America). Samuel Jackson’s incarnation of Nick Fury, along with Clark Gregg’s SHIELD Agent had been turning up in all of those films (along with various cross pollinations of the main characters) to tie all of the various films into a cohesive universe much like the ongoing episodic feel of many superhero comics. One story ends , then on that last page some new villain appears to lead into the next issue… Er, film.
The film begins with elements of the Thor and Captain America films. SHIELD, Marvel’s version of homeland security, is investigating/analyzing a cosmic cube (had to say that) under the supervision of Selvig (scientist buddy of Thor). Turns out the cube called The Tesseract is actually a portal/wormhole and out pops Loki, God of Mischief/Step-Brother of Thor/General Bad Guy. [Is this getting confusing already to non-comics fans? It's actually fairly easy to follow. All of this is stuff you've seen before if you've been to any number of summer FX films of the CGI era.]
Loki immediately starts causing trouble. Takes the cube along with Selvig and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Blows stuff up. We soon find out Loki plans on bringing this alien army to conquer Earth. Why he wants to conquer Earth instead of Asgard… Okay I’m in adult mode right now. I should probably give a WARNING right here that the next 10 paragraphs or so may seem like I’m being really hard on the film. Bear with me.
So, anyway… SHIELD figures the only way to stop Loki is to gather together all of the heroes from Marvel’s past films for… drum roll… The Avengers Initiative. Yes, I said it. The Avengers Initiative. There’s a slight problem, though. In between the last Marvel film and this one, The Avengers Initiative is a FAILED program. It’s already failed. Oh, the angst. These individuals just are not going to be able to work together, even if the world is at stake.
And this initial setting up period of the film is one of the things I sort of have a problem with. Much like other films that have one of these ‘hero ensembles’ (The Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven, The Expendables…) there is an excruciating period where each character gets their face time. A little bit of back story. Their introduction. And when you have to do this with Thor. Black Widow. Iron Man. The Hulk. Captain America. Hawkeye. And not just the heroes… Agent Coulson. Nick Fury. Selvig. The Other… Jesus. There’s more… No, Jesus isn’t in the movie. You know what I mean. Agent Hill. Pepper Potts. They explain why Natalie Portman isn’t in the movie (but not to my own satisfaction). And the disparity of the characters… one guy turns into a giant raging behemoth when he gets stressed.
One is a billionaire hippie that wears a technologically advanced suit of flying armor. One is the Norse god of thunder who may be just an alien. One’s a World War II era soldier who was subjected to a science experiment to make a better soldier. And then he was frozen in ice until the present day. There’s a former Russian spy and a guy that specializes in archery.
On top of this, we get the unnecessary angst of all of the various heroes being coy about joining in to SAVE THE EARTH… They have other things to do. Or their feelings are hurt about being unworthy for the Avengers. Or they prefer to keep dealing with the villain as a family matter.
Example using Iron Man: “Save the Earth? WHAAAAAA—?! I’ve got this arc reactor that is powering my new building in New York and is the most powerful new clean energy power source on the Eastern seaboard not that that will have anything to do later in the plot with Loki needing a greater power source to teleport in his alien army. WHAAAA—?!” (I hope you read that like RDJr…) “WHHAAAAA—!?!”
So the question is can this group of extraordinarily gifted individuals ban together… Put aside their differences… Put asied their petty selfish needs… For the GOOD OF ALL MANKIND? Can they? CAN THEY? I won’t SPOIL whether they do that or not.
The plot of the film isn’t that deep. I guess it is a superhero film, but I would think they could come with a scheme by a villain that is more than just show up with a faceless army of aliens with no personality to drop in to attack buildings and the Avengers themselves. No strategy. Just full on video game-like CGI scrambled Transformer-esque action. And Loki himself, played by the somewhat effeminate Tom Hiddleston who is constantly being… being bitch slapped… or tricked… or have his powers fail to work on someone… or having him constantly retreat. For me, the villains were … not good. No, I know they’re not supposed to be good. I mean, they stink. They suck. They are severely lacking in creating a viable threat for the heroes to take on.
And there was a lot of cheesey, cornball, Joss Whedon Buffy the Vampire slayer TV quality cutesy moments. The ‘kneel before Loki’ crowd scene was the height of it, I think. I got annoyed at some of the little inconistencies, too, like having the Hulk tear throw steel like it’s paper, then backhanding The Black Widow, yet she’s okay afterwards. They missed opportunities, also. They have this giant flying alien robot-dragon-ship. They have a SHIELD helicarrier RIGHT THERE. And we never get a confrontation between the two. C’mon Joss Whedon! C’mon Marvel! C’mon Mickey Mouse!
There were redundancies that didn’t advance the story; the finale especially was filled with shots of one video game villain after another being blasted from their flying vehicles. I don’t like watching someone else play video games. I’m sorry. I hate that crap. I don’t mean I hate action scenes. I mean, I hate the standard CGI summer movie poorly choreographed slick summer blockbuster action scenes.
My definition of well done action movies? See Avatar. Aliens. T2. Any Jim Cameron movie, really. Children Of Men. The Bourne movies. Robocop. Casino Royale. Die Hard. The Dark Knight. The Road Warrior. Need more? That’s all I got at the moment, but I digress.
Besides the redundancies there were also COUNTLESS scenes that were in the film for little more reason than to provide a punchline. Example, there’s a scene where Agent Coulson takes on Loki with an experimental weapon. He uses it on Loki, makes a funny comment at the end of the scene; but I dare say there was no purpose to it. Take that out and all the other jokey scenes like it and you’d lose nothing. It would be a 20 minute movie, but still…
Right now you’re saying. “Okay, Crash!… You didn’t care for the plot. You didn’t like the confused action scenes at the end. You didn’t like the villains. You thought there were too many characters. Took too long to develop. What the Hell did you like? As I said at the beginning; humor can go a long way in whether or not you enjoy a film. It can cover up a lot and it did in The Avengers. Director Joss Whedon is one of those television guys. The thing that worked for his ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ television audience was that he concentrated on the personalities of the characters, their interaction with one another, their bickering.
The villains were never as interesting as the main characters. That holds true here, at least, for me. The dialogue was ‘sitcom-ish’, such as when The Black Widow is ‘interrogating’ a group of Russian agents. It was completely lacking in any suspense, whether you’ve seen that polish ‘Black Widow and the Avengers’ trailer or not. But, it was funny…
And Scarlett J’s really hot. But as long as people are laughing, they don’t care if they’re watching a well thought out film or something flimsy. I laughed a lot during the course of the two and a half hour running time, so I didn’t care.
And as far as the mindless action scenes that added nothing other than to see heroes like Thor and Iron Man going at it… or Thor and the Hulk… I loved it. It’s a well known cliche in superhero comics that when two heroes meet up, they have to fight before they can work together. It’s gratuitous. It’s lazy writing. It’s summer movie blockbuster writing, but I still loved it. It was fun. It’s fitting that the most mindless main character in the film, the Hulk, was the most fun.
Mark Rufallo was a better banner than Norton was, and with this version of the Hulk there was a big emphasis on the comedic aspects of the character as well as his tendency to ‘smash’. There were lots of recognizable details from the comics with many of the characters an in the backdrop. The ‘surprise’ villain that turns up at the end wasn’t really a surprise, though. There’s a character called ‘the Other’ that is one of the aliens in the film. His hooded appearance (with metal mask) at first glimpse made me think they had worked Dr. Doom into the movie. Then the purple furrowed chin made me think he was a certain Jim Starlin character, especially with the presence of the Cosmic Cube. I did think he looked way too puny, though, and it turns out The Other was just of the same race as this other villain. All I can say is that he should have been the Avengers’ nemesis in this one.
There’s much to like in the clunky titled ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’. I did say that it was a drawback to have so many characters getting their onscreen moments, but that the actors are each so individually likable helps to make up for that. I already mentioned newcomer Rufallo. Chris Evans as the anachronistic superhero Captain America is sufficiently heroic. I actually wish they had focused on him a little more (I always felt he was the guy that was centered on in the Avengers comics), instead of Iron Man (but I guess RDJr. is the bigger star). Downey Jr. once again brings a large dose of humor to every scene he’s in.
I think Thor is a little tricky to play even in a film filled with drastically different characters, but Hemsworth manages to pull it off I think. There’s plenty of Scarlett Johannson in this. Never a bad thing, as they did their best to try to show why The Black Widow (along with Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye) were viable parts of the Avengers. She makes the team look a lot better if nothing else. And you could probably have a good foundation for a superhero movie with nothing more than Scarlett and funny jokes.
It has the standard cameos (Stan Lee. Lou Ferrigno and Paul Bettany voices… etc). In fact, I really enjoyed many of the background characters. It seems everyone loves Clark Gregg as the somewhat meek, comedy relief government liaison Agent Coulson. His appearances got as big of a reaction as many of the main actors. Gwyneth Paltrow’s brief appearance were surprising highlights in the film. Her interaction with Coulson and Downey Jr. were some of the best moments of the film, including her 12% line which may have been the best of the movie (the funniest moment had to go to the meeting of the Hulk and Loki near the end, however). They also introduced a new hottie, SHIELD Agent Hill (played by the very regal looking Cobie Smulders), who sadly may have been brought in to replace a certain other character in future Marvel films.
The film isn’t high art. It’s closer to ‘carefully packaged commercial product’, but it was fun. Critic Mark Kermode always throws out his six laugh rule for films (where it’s a success if you laugh more than the requisite six times). I don’t know if the rule holds water, but I laughed a lot more than six times. It’s almost assured that I’ll be taking this in again before it leaves theaters. Obviously, it’s going to make a gazillion dollars.
I think it’s literally more than halfway to a billion dollars, and I think that’s more to do with the marketing and the seeing in all of the other Marvel films leading up to this rather than the film’s quality itself. I know a lot of nerds are calling this ‘the Best Superhero Movie EVER’, but I won’t be one of them. It IS extremely enjoyable and worth seeing at the theater if you’re looking for ‘Big Dumb Fun’.. I think I would stick with 2D, though (as I said, the 3D added nothing). Now, onward to (pause for magnitude)…Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises…