Film Review: The Avengers

Film Review: The Avengers (Director: Joss Whedon)

Produced by Marvel Studios

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlet Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel Jackson.

It all started in the summer of 2008, it was an average summer at the movies until MARVEL studios released “Iron Man”. Historically MARVEL characters had very hit-and-miss success at the box office to say the least (For every Spiderman 2 you had an “Ang-Lee” Hulk). However, thanks to an incredible performance from all involved in “Iron Man” MARVEL Studios had proved that they did have the credentials to be a real contender in the business. People that left during the credits felt good about seeing what was by all means a stellar film… those that stayed behind after the credits witnessed what MARVEL was really going for here.

“You think you’re the only hero in the world? Mr Stark you’ve become part of an even greater universe… you just don’t know it yet.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD. I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.”

Fans of the MARVEL comics that go back decades of history could not believe what they had just seen, were they REALLY going for the jugular? Was MARVEL Studios about to try pull off the seemingly impossible? “The Avengers” is the name given to the superhero team that includes some of MARVEL’s biggest names, making it into a film seemed impossible for countless reasons. As the internet and comic conventions buzzed about the likely meaning behind the hidden “Iron Man” ending MARVEL came out and confirmed what people were speculating. “The Avengers” was being made and three separate films in addition to another Iron Man film would set it up: The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America.

I will have to leave the origins of how the story even got to this stage to another post which will be arriving very soon, it would take up far too much space here and I’d like to tell you how good “The Avengers” actually is rather than mix it with a history lesson. Fast-forward to 2012, four years after MARVEL embarked on the most ambitious superhero project in film history with “Iron Man” as it’s flagship… hype around “The Avengers” had reached staggering heights, all the pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place and finally the film was released. The first screening of this film I went to was absolutely packed with people, something I’d not seen since “Casino Royale” if that is an indicator of how packed it was.

The film opens in an unknown setting that looks like it could be the base of a rejected “Power Rangers”villain. Here we see a hooded figure speaking to seemingly nobody about the “Tesseract” and his plans for it. This short scene snaps away to Earth where a helicopter lands at a SHIELD base. Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson), accompanied by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Maria Hill descend into the lower floors of the base to investigate reports that the Tesseract (currently being studied by SHIELD) is acting of it’s own accord and is threatening to detonate. Instead of blowing up, the cube instead opens a portal and out steps Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki quickly makes his intentions known as he effortlessly dispatches numerous SHIELD soldiers in the room and possesses others including Clint Barton “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner) using a mysterious staff. Loki and his new followers make their escape as he deliberately destabilizes the Tesseract, destroying the base. During the ensuing chaos Loki steals the Tesseract and heavily wounds Nick Fury in the process. As Loki escapes and from the wreckage of the SHIELD base Nick Fury orders “The Protocol” be engaged.

SHIELD then sets about gathering their response team “The Avengers” for the first time. The roster includes the Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr), Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Steven Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) being called over to the SHIELD Helicarrier for a briefing. Eventually they are joined by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) after an entertaining clash between the demi-god and Iron Man. Thor provides valuable information to the team, he tells everyone that Loki is planning to bring an alien force called the Chitauri to Earth where they will conquer it for him in exchange for the Tesseract. What follows is a globe-trotting  adventure to find the Tesseract and stop Loki’s scheme. Along the way the members of the team work out their differences and learn to work together before Loki’s invasion force arrives. Character development and interaction is what the film does really well, there is conflict and chemistry between these characters who really have no business working together but they know they have to pool resources to save the day.

Even “Minor” characters that have not yet had their own stand-alone films are developed really well.

What really surprised me about this film was just how hilarious it was at times, A lot of it comes down to the excellent script that really lets these vastly different personalities play off each other in such a comical but also serious way. Nothing has been changed about these characters’ personalities just because there is a different director and different writers involved, MARVEL has really paid attention to what made these characters who they are and they stuck with it. Tony Stark still has his arrogant swagger and ‘devil-may-care’ attitude, Thor still sounds like a fish out of water, Captain America even more so as he finds himself 70 years in the future and out of touch with his new reality. This brings me to one of the potential pitfalls people saw for this film: With such a huge star studded cast would one superhero or another end up dominating the movie? Thanks to Joss Whedon, someone used to directing large ensemble casts (Angel/Buffy/Firefly), no. The writing in the film balances each hero, they all make mistakes and they all have epic moments that remind the audience why they liked that character. More importantly each member brings something to the table that cements their place in the team. For example; Captain America retains his tactical leadership skills from World War II and uses that to organize the defense of New York City. Iron Man is a quick thinker and uses his technology to discern information in the heat of battle. Thor brings his external knowledge of beings beyond Earth as well as his mighty hammer Mjolnir and mastery of lightning. Bruce Banner along with Iron Man acts as the brains of the group who develops the ability to control his other asset: The Hulk. Even the ‘Minor’ characters such as Black Widow and Hawkeye who until now have only had cameo appearances finally get their deserved development, they will surely be back for the next installment.

Steven Rogers/Captain America (Left)
Tony Stark/Iron Man (Right)

There are just so many good scenes in here between these characters that had the audience beside themselves, most are too good to spoil. It’s not all light-hearted comedy though, there are some scenes that are really tense where you could hear pins dropping. A great deal of this tension is being stirred up by the villain, Loki. Tom Hiddleston’s version of the norse demi-god is essentially MARVEL’s answer to Heath Ledger’s Joker in terms of performance. It would be silly to compare Loki with the Joker because of the vastly differing settings (MARVEL and DC are not the same thing) and motivations. You can really tell that Hiddleston is having a great time with his character, he has his own weird comedic moments and his deathly serious moments including one amazing scene between himself and Black Widow that I’m sure people will remember. The real scene stealer for me in this film was Mark Ruffalo’s version of Bruce Banner. Eric Bana and Edward Norton had their own interpretations of the Jekyll-esqe scientist but Ruffalo’s feels a lot more like the genuine article. Bruce Banner in the comics is a guy that really does have some serious anger issues even when he is not the Hulk, the injustice of what happened to him really weighs down on him. Controlling this smoldering rage proves a key part in how he finally gains some measure of control over his alter ego. Amazingly it is Tony Stark with his laundry list of character flaws that helps Banner find the way in a really good scene between the two.

The final act is an amazing achievement of special effects and just feels great to see all these characters finally work together.

All of this character building makes the final act feel so much better when The Avengers have ironed out their issues with each other and work together to defend New York City from Loki’s invasion. This act lets the special effects department off the chain and the result is something special. Watching Iron Man zoom around the city helping out his teammates in one glorious sprawling action sequence of many is just incredible to watch. The comparisons to Michael Bay’s “Transformers” are sure to happen, but unlike that piece of s**t there is actually more on offer here – The Human Element. Watching a giant snake-like warship being decimated by Thor and Hulk would mean little but eye candy if there had not been character development between the two earlier in the film. The same goes for a hugely significant scene involving Iron Man opting to make the “Sacrifice Play” that Captain America said he’d never have the brass to do, again the special effects are great in the sequence but it would mean nothing if the human element was not there. Of course there is the famous scene between the Hulk and Loki, the latter of which seriously gets his comeuppance after messing with Banner for a good part of the story. It is an amazing achievement of this film to make s**t blowing up mean something other than eye candy, I hope Michael Bay enjoyed his filming lesson from Joss Whedon.

The only slight problem I had is one other people seem to have had, the Chitauri. People are saying that the Chitauri invasion force called by Loki was horse-shoed into the final act to give the audience eye candy and did not have any development behind them. I can sort of see the point here but the way I see it, they acted as an extension of Loki’s will and was something that just needed to be dealt with to get to Loki. I expect there will be a fair bit of deleted scenes in the DVD release of this movie which I’m sure will shore things up for this point. Come to think of it, this brings up another minor problem. It really feels like some small scenes here and there would have made certain other scenes make more sense, again I’m sure that there will be a LOT of extra footage in the DVD release.

By all means check “The Avengers” out, even if you have not watched ANY of the previous build-up movies for some reason, I’m pretty sure you’ll get something out of it. If you have seen some or all of the build-up films then chances are you’re seeing this anyway. Oh yeah… stay after the credits because this story is not over yet…

10/10

 

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