Lately, big budget action/nerd films have been missing the mark, failing to meet positive expectations or deliver what you’re looking for. ‘The Avengers’ happens to be a rare and awesome exception.
So, as a disclaimer, I’ll be ruminating on character, plot and action but will be avoiding spoilers. If you choose to comment before opening weekend is over, please do the same. Don’t be “that guy.” Cool? Cool.
There are two ways that I have to look at this flick – viscerally and objectively. That being said, what makes it good from a dispassionate point of view overlaps quite a bit with the things that whisper sweet, sweet nothings to your inner geek. Keep that in mind when my more objective observations start sounding a bit…giddy.
As a nerd, ‘The Avengers’ is everything I wanted it to be and some things I didn’t know I wanted. I’ve seen some reviews calling it “a perfect comic book movie” and, while that’s a bit too huge of a statement and I’d never say that, I can’t really argue because it checked off all the right boxes. There were awesome displays of power, great fight scenes, explosions, perfect one-liners, laughs, more than a few “holy crap!” moments, and Black Widow was not only a badass, her hair was so, so very much better than it was in ‘Iron Man 2.’ As a Marvel fan, you will be pumping your fist in the theater and the scene after the credits roll will blow your freaking mind. And all of that was delivered in a well-written way that stayed true to the comics without being a slave to them. Hallelujah.
Writer/Director Joss Whedon’s legend will grow because there were A LOT of ways this movie could’ve gone wrong and he managed to avoid pretty much all of them. Whedon further developed or firmly established ten major characters – TEN – while telling a coherent, engaging story, keeping the run-time under a brisk two-and-a-half hours and, most importantly, made you want to see more which opens the door for additional spin-off movies. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) get the most expansion, which makes complete sense as they are the previously introduced characters we know the least about at this point. We didn’t delve as much into Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, who first worked with Whedon on a Season 1 episode of ‘Angel’) but you definitely get a good sense of who they are and it continues the tradition of introducing new, intriguing characters into Marvel movies. It also helps to fill in the blanks if you’re vaguely familiar with the characters from the books. Since Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), and Captain America (Chris Evans) have had their spotlight films, their character arcs are more focused on how they work with others and respond to The Big Problem. Some may complain about a lack of character development…and those people probably haven’t seen any of lead-up movies. It’s ‘The Avengers’ after all – the story rightly concentrates on the team and how they work together.
Every great team of heroes needs a great villain and that villain, of course, is Loki (Tom Hiddleston). He’s upped his ambition and quadrupled down on his machinations of domination. Hiddleston is still the perfect Loki and shines more here than he did in ‘Thor,’ which seems almost impossible until you remember Whedon’s knack for writing Big Bads (he did coin the phrase after all). Loki’s reasoning for his actions are made very clear through a great scene between Hiddleston and Hemsworth and he gets ample time to gloat, threaten, and smirk.
All the actors nail their respective parts but I’m most impressed by Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. He plays Bruce with this really interesting mix of ease and edge, it’s a quality I haven’t quite seen in past portrayals yet stays in line with the last scene in ‘The Incredible Hulk.’ Whether he’s Banner or The Hulk, he’s responsible for some of my favorite moments in the flick. I’d dare say he stole the movie for me if it wasn’t for Gregg’s Agent Coulson.
The action scenes are insane. They’re huge and really well shot. One thing you never have to worry about with Whedon in the director’s chair is not getting a good view of who’s getting punched and where that kick came from. There’s also ample use of all the characters’ respective skills and/or powers in varied ways. Some reviews lambast the third act’s marathon battle but they miss the point of it – when you have this many smart, capable, superpowered beings in one place, it must be clear just how outmatched they are. It’s not enough to simple know that Loki’s bravado can be backed up, you have to actually see the heroes struggle on an epic scale so their eventual triumph feels earned.
I happened to see the screening in 3D, which I wasn’t expecting. Generally, I hate 3D – it distracts me from the movie because it’s rarely rendered properly and never lives up to the purchase price – but it actually worked here. There were moments that were definitely enhanced by it and it’s probably the best conversion 3D I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying you have to throw down the extra $5 to see it in that form but you won’t regret it (I’m looking at you ‘Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland’). Definitely see it on IMAX if you can because it’ll make you feel like you’re in some of the fight scenes.
As a note, you don’t have to have seen ‘Iron Man,’ ‘The Incredible Hulk,’ ‘Iron Man 2,’ ‘Thor,’ and ‘Captain America: First Avenger’ before seeing it but it definitely helps add depth to the experience. If you’re a newbie and don’t have time for a movie marathon, ‘Thor’ is the one you absolutely must see and will best prep you for what you’re about to see. Also, if you’re familiar with Whedon’s oeuvre, you already have an inkling of what to expect. This fits very well within those works without being too “Whedon-y.”
My opinion may change in a few weeks, I may find more cracks in ‘The Avengers’ glossy, glorious shell but, as of now, I’m perfectly pleased as a picky, cold-hearted writer, obsessive nerd, and a kid who never grew up all the way. Because regardless of faults or whatever exterior baggage you want to tie to it, ‘The Avengers’ is simply what it is – a big budget comic book adaptation that doesn’t sacrifice character for spectacle. And most importantly, it gives me hope that I’ll be able to see a live-action Justice League movie that won’t suck before I turn 40.