3 Stars out of 4
Fanboys will be happy to hear that the long-awaited and much-anticipated The Avengers is a pretty good time. Directed by Joss Whedon, the film is for comic book lovers and, as for the others, they will have to desperately hunt for the hyper 10 year-old child in them. Whedon strips The Avengers of seriousness and injects this action feast with fast, sincere lightness and energy. On that level, it’s about enough.
Note: I realize, if you’re a Marvel nut, that’s about as much as you need to hear. But stay with me.
After writing the very well-received horror-comedy The Cabin in The Woods, Whedon strives to unite 4 marvel franchises into an action-packed ensemble piece. Subsequently having to “entertain”, Whedon must balance this act and make room for his characters to breathe and flex the muscles of their personalities. Heck, we could have used Robert Altman here. But I doubt Altman could grasp the superhero mythology the way Whedon does. Although he isn’t able to completely humanize these characters, his style and knack for bombast surely puts the “super” in these superheroes.
The “Avengers” consist of Agent Natasha Romanoff “Black Widow” (Scarlett Johannson), Steve Rogers “Captain America” (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Dr. Bruce Banner “Hulk” (Mark Ruffalo), and Tony Stark “Iron Man” (Robert Downey, Jr.). They are hired by the swaggering Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who helms the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (“the good guys”). He needs the Avengers to combat Thor’s brother Loki, played by The Deep Blue Sea’s Tom Hiddleston whose face carries an inherent menace. He collaborates with the Other (Alexis Denisof), an alien conqueror who seeks the invaluable weapon the Tesseract from Loki. All you need to know is they are the “bad guys”.
I say this because The Avengers’s plot is the oldest of chestnuts for comic book movies: the perpetual battle between good and evil. With its popularity and high expectations, you would think The Avengers might have something, in terms of story, less derivative up its sleeve. But luckily, Whedon’s hyper-exaggerated and colorful style imbues The Avengers with a certain freshness, elevating the material not quite to incredible but definitely credible.
One of the film’s considerable strengths is the way it incorporates the four Avengers into this action yarn. No one merely stands around, and finally Whedon’s Hulk offers – unlike Ang Lee’s inept Hulk (2003) and Louis Letterier’s ho-hum The Incredible Hulk (2008) – some interest as an active player. There’s some real humor in how Stark tries to tease Banner into turning green. In fact, the personalities of these superheroes are frequently at odds with one another, and this gives The Avengers some comic relief to tide over viewers wary of nonstop action sequences.
We witness Captain America’s straight-lacedness collide with Iron Man’s cocksure drollness, and Thor is effective at holding a formidable stare. I remember in my Thor review I wasn’t too kind on him: “Hemsworth plays it all wrong. He’s too delightful and mellow. Thor is supposed to be the god of thunder, strength, and fertility. But judging by the PG rating, you can be sure there will be none of the latter.” Well, while Johannson may look smoking hot in black spandex, that second sentence still applies here. But moving on.
The Avengers contains what we probably expect of a Marvel summer mega-blockbuster. Heroes withstand the villains. The human race is at stake. Action conquers sense. Sequels are set up. New York City is left in devastation. I will also add that Samuel L. Jackson looks divine at a low angle, a type of shot I have noticed Whedon fetishizes. Also, the climax features these undulating machines called the Chitauri, which are pretty cool. There are also some truly extraordinary shots, that – you must know – earn the visceral zap in glorious 2D. Oh, and even Downey, Jr. at the end makes a funny joke about shawarma.
P.S. – There is one big cameo in the movie. It’s not who you think it is. He appears as a security guard who discovers Dr. Bruce Banner naked in a pile of rubble. He sums up the Hulk perfectly in one humorous line. For comic book fans and the younglings, I suspect they won’t recognize him. But he will stick out to those who remember Alien quite vividly, or happen to have stumbled upon the great Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders. That is the last film I expected to mention in this review.