People like the Marvel movies. It could be said that they were all a bit busy driving towards May 4th’s The Avengers that they forgot about a few things. Overall great movies, but most of them (Thor and Captain America most specifically) leave you with one thought in your head: “The Avengers had better be freaking amazing.”
And oh man is it fantastic.
The movie clocks in at almost 2 and a half hours, which seems very long, but isn’t at all. It almost had to be that long if it wanted to capture all the personality that the previous five movies portrayed. The main virtue of it being that long is that you don’t actually notice that it’s two and a half hours long. I turned on my phone after leaving the theater and was pretty surprised at what time it was. It’s because it grabs you by the collar and shakes you vigorously with amazing set pieces, then sets you down gently with some nice dialog and character development. Then, miles before you have a chance to wonder when the next action scene is coming, you’re getting shaken again.
While those set pieces are super important, the real important part of that last few sentences was the “dialog and character development” part. Those who are fans of Joss Whedon will be pleased to know that every line, from the witty and funny to the serious drama, are infused with that Whedon-y Whedon-ness (for lack of better term) that you will remember from shows like Buffy and Firefly. Even more extraordinary is that, without sacrificing any of the characters, each super gets enough time in the sun to make them likable and fun (even if you haven’t seen their respective movies.)
The dynamic between Iron Man and Captain America, one being a billionaire playboy fully engulfed in today’s world and the other being a man out of his time with distinctly old fashioned ideals, is one of the most interesting relationships in the movie. Their personalities clash in such a great way that watching them evolve as characters and as friends is really a treat. Chris Evans is at his best when he’s conflicting with Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Stark, which is saying both a lot and not much at the exact same time.
Chris Evans does his absolute best with the role, just as he did in The First Avenger. The problem lies in the character of Captain America. There’s already something inherently wrong with the character and that’s the whole “AMERICAAAA EFF YEAH” mentality you get from him. You have a man from the 1940’s stuck in our time and he’s as gung-ho good-ol-boy America as you can possibly get. It’s impossible to make a character like that and not have him be the most unrelatable thing in the room. Now toss that unrelatable thing into a flying helicarrier full of dynamic personalities and suddenly he seems even more bland than normal. This isn’t Whedon’s fault, nor is it Chris Evans’ fault. It’s Captain America’s fault.
On the flip side, you have a Tony Stark who is dialed back to Iron Man 1 levels of charm and wit. Where you almost wanted Whiplash to win in Iron Man 2, Downey calms down and becomes the lovable douchebag we wanted from the character in the first place. In every scene he’s in, he steals the scene just because of Stark’s (and, in a way, Downy’s) grandeur and presence, but knows just when to jump back and let someone like Scarlet Johanssen or Mark Ruffalo take point. There’s not much else to say. He’s larger than life, but in a good way, and works incredibly well with every character on some level.
On the matter of Bruce Banner, one of the most jarring things about this movie has to be the transition from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo as the character. Norton was established in his role as Banner in the same universe that these movies created and, despite actually being on board with Ruffalo’s casting, it was still a little weird seeing him in this movie. Those going into it without having seen The Incredible Hulk should have zero problems with Ruffalo’s portrayal of the Hulk. He gives off the intellectual doctor vibe much more than Norton did and the way he delivers his lines make him stand out. As a character, he’s not as pronounced as Tony Stark, but he has just as much personality behind his lines as anyone else. And if you were used to Norton in the role, give it a couple minutes and you’ll be wondering how Ruffalo wasn’t Hulk in the first place. With the odd respect and reverence he gives to his “inner demon,” Ruffalo has struck a note with the character that Norton (and even Eric Bana, a surprise ab-so-lutely no one was expecting) doesn’t come close to.
You’ve also got Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Scarlet Johanssen as Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) who work on an individual level, but really shine when they’re together, an untold history bursting under their scenes together that would probably make an awesome movie itself. Renner as Barton especially does a great job in his role and plays the lone wolf sniper-like character of Hawkeye perfectly. If you’ve seen Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, perhaps it’s a tad bit of a let down, however Renner does superbly as you’d expect from him. As far as Black Widow, Whedon’s exceptional work in creating strong female characters in the past lends itself well here, proving (once again) that you can have a pretty face and still be BA.
As far as Thor goes, Chris Hemsworth actually does a better job as the demigod than he did in his own movie. Not to say he didn’t do a good job in his own movie, but this movie really helps him to shine. He does incredibly well in the role, still managing to keep his goofy charm, but also playing the dramatic roles with enough musclebound grace as possible from his first appearance. He does really well when dealing with his super powered friends especially. Some of my favorite scenes in the movie can be attributed to his “rapport” (I guess that’s what you’d call it) with the Hulk. Even better are his scenes with his adopted brother Loki, the movie’s main villain.
Tom Hiddleston, who played a great baddie in Thor does even more of a spectacular job in this one. Having been established as a villain from the word go, there’s no fiddly “what do you mean I’m adopted from an interstellar race of frost uglies?” set up to his villainy. He was just cast into an abyss, and returns wanting to rid the world of it’s freedom (a burden, as he calls it.) He is incredibly good at monologue-ing and is delightfully deranged in everything he does, awkward Hitler in Germany references aside (yes, there is one of those and yes, Captain America does make it.)
Then you have the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, two of which don’t actually need to be there (but you’re glad at least one of them is.) Nick Fury, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, is as reserved in this movie as Samuel L. Jackson can be, which is a disappointment given some of his funnier lines. In a movie filled with over the top characters that actually strike a good balance, I think Jackson kind of faded out. Then you have the characters of Agents Coulson and Hill. (Clark Gregg and Cobie Smulders, respectively.) They aren’t particularly important for most of the movie, but at least one of them does become relatively important. Regardless, I never wondered why Coulson was there because he has, technically, been there for the entire series of Marvel movies in some capacity. His scenes are also imbued with a slight bit of warmth that you don’t get from the other two agents. Agent Hill, however, isn’t too terribly important. She shoots someone once, I guess, but everything she does could’ve been done by any random agent. Kind of a not good introduction to a character meant to be in multiple films after this.
Overall, however, the movie is an absolute smash. I had very few complaints, most of them being tiny continuity blips that could be explained by the staggering 45 minutes Whedon had to cut from the theatrical release. (Can someone say awesome 3-hour Avengers Special Edition Blu-Ray?) The laughs and epic lines were plenty, but there were portions where some lines didn’t really fit in to the overall puzzle of a scene. As with some things in Buffy and Firefly, Whedon’s greatest strength (his dialog) can sometimes be his greatest weakness as well. At the beginning of the movie, a character speaks to Loki and says (of Fury) “he intends to bury us,” to which Fury responds “like the Pharaohs of old.” Admittedly a cool line, but is seemed to be a little awkwardly placed. Fortunately, these are few and far between. When my only real complaint about the movie was that some of the lines were too awesome, you know it’s not actually that bad.
The beautiful thing here is that we have a “Summer Blockbuster” movie that does something you don’t typically expect from one. It has characters you care about with motivations you understand and a story that is actually good. What Joss Whedon has done here with The Avengers is take an idea that really shouldn’t work at all and make it work so well that nobody could’ve imagined the end result. Even if you haven’t seen the movies that tie in to this one, everything is laid out so well that it doesn’t matter. Everyone gets an introduction and a brief back story that will make you want to see the movies related to them, but won’t necessarily make you need to.
The Avengers gets a 9/10 in my book. A great action film with all the trimmings no doubt. The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises are going to have to work pretty hard to impress me this year.