Marvel's The Avengers

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Director: Joss Whedon

Writers: Joss Whedon (screenplay) ; Zak Penn and Joss Whedon (story)

Main Cast:
Robert Downey Jr. – Tony Stark / Iron Man

Chris Evans – Steve Rogers / Captain America

Chris Hemsworth – Thor
Mark Ruffalo – Bruce Banner / The Hulk

Samuel L. Jackson – Nick Fury
Scarlett Johansson – Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow

Jeremy Renner – Clint Barton / Hawkeye

Tom Hiddleston – Loki

Clark Gregg – Agent Phil Coulson

Stellan Skarsgård ... Selvig
Cobie Smulders – Agent Maria Hill

Gwyneth Paltrow – Pepper Potts

Paul Bettany – Jarvis (voice)

Alexis Denisof – The Other

Powers Boothe ... World Security Council

Jenny Agutter ... World Security Council

Arthur Darbinyan ... World Security Council

Donald Li ... World Security Council

Running time: 143 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Year of Release: 2012 

To sum up: Loki, who tried to rule Asgard until he was thwarted by he brother Thor, has turned his sights on the earth. Only the strongest and bravest super-powered heroes can stop him, but they are more interested in fighting each other. Can the Avengers unite in time to stop Loki and save the earth? Have you ever read a comic book?

“I have an army.”  
“We have a Hulk.”


Warning: The following plot description does contain opening scene spoilers. 

        I must admit that at the beginning of The Avengers I was just a tiny bit concerned.

        Deep in the bowels of a giant government research facility belonging to the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division or S.H.I.E.L.D. as they thankfully call themselves (imagine trying to say the former all the time), an ancient device of great power called a Tesseract has been acting up. Before you can say, "That's just a Cosmic Cube," the little block has opened a gateway to another space-time dimension and out walks Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Norse god of mischief, and he's about to cause a lot of it.

        Loki, who was lost in space at the end of the 2011 film Thor, has made a deal with some very nasty aliens called the Chitauri, who need his help in order to invade the earth. Why? They want the Tesseract and its immense power and in exchange for his help, they will help Loki subjugate the earth so that he can have a kingdom of his own. Loki no more than steps into the room when he starts killing the guards, takes over the minds of Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) a scientist supervising the research of the Tesseract, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a modern day Robin Hood whose skills make him a highly efficient assassin, and makes off with said Tesseract (imagine having to type that all of the time).

        All of this occurs in spite of the defensive efforts of S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is taken out by a single shot to the chest.

    Shooter: Ok. That takes care of him.
    Loki: One shot?
    Shooter: Yeah.
    Loki: You're not even going to do a head shot?
    Shooter: Why should I?
    Loki: He's a main character.
    Shooter: All the more reason not to.

        It's a passable beginning, full of techno-babble with marginal action concluding with Loki being driven out of there in the back of a pick-up truck (Really. Even my dog gets to sit in the front seat). However, considering that Marvel Studios has been building up to this since 2008, they had set the bar pretty high to make certain that this film met audience entertainment expectations (whatever those may be).

        But rest assured that any doubts I had at the beginning were quickly waylaid as the film very quickly rocketed to "Awesomeness". Marvel’s The Avengers is the first film I’ve seen in a long time where I’d march right out and buy a ticket to see it again. It’s simply a blast. And I'm glad to say, "Why should I have doubted?" Because when you have a film written and directed by Joss Whedon, who has consistently delivered the goods on previous efforts and is one of the best in the business when it comes to capably handling ensemble casts, Marvel Studios would have had a hard time finding someone better. And, here, Whedon delivers those goods, a deliriously fun extravaganza that expertly blends just the right amount of action, humor, emotion and geekdom to please any but the most jaded of viewers.

        So, after our little intro setup, the story is pretty simple; stop Loki from using the Tesseract to enable the alien invasion from taking place. To do this, Fury must assemble a group of heroes he's worked five films on to recruit, whether they like it or not. There's Captain America (Chris Evans) super-soldier man out of time, recently brought into the modern world when he was frozen alive at the end of World War II. Next is Thor (Chris Hemsworth), norse god of thunder and step-brother to Loki, whose sibling sympathies are tempered by the greater duty of returning Loki to Asgardian justice. There's Doc. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), a scientist pelted by gamma rays and now, during times of uncontrollable anger, transforms into a nine foot tall raging green beast called the Hulk. Then there's Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) brilliant but arrogant scientist and industrialist, aloof and more suspicious of the heroes than any threat by Loki. Rounding out the "and the rest" category, there's Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a former Russian assassin who now works for SH.I.E.L.D., wanting to purge herself of her past; and finally, the afore-mentioned Hawkeye, who, while under Loki's control, definitely won't be joining the team.

        The fact that this group are all loners used to calling their own shots and untrusting of each other ensures that they definately won't be getting along, but this is what makes thieir interactions interesting. In the comics, Marvel heroes have always argued and the secret fun has been not just watching them take on the bad guys but take on each other. But it this conflict that is the central theme of the film, where people, by necessity, must find common ground, eventually learn to work together, and grow to respect one another.

        The action (the main reason you go to see these films) is exhilarating and original; full of moments that you'll be replaying in your heads after leaving the theater. Each hero gets to shine, and Whedon, who has written for and reads comics himself, is able to utilize each character's unique abilities so that the audience is frequently surprised by who a hero ends up confronting and the resolutions to those confrontations are fresh and often unexpected (all with the aid of a nice steady camera and good editing so we can actually follow what's going on). This is good news for those who have seen it all before and want to be surprised. If there is a problem it's that the big invasion makes little sense stratigically. I think that there would be better ways to invade this world than in the middle of New York City, where most of the destruction seems to be aimed at business buildings and apartment complexes that the aliens couldn't aford in the first place. But that is an inescapable cliche of movies, that you invade the area that will look the best when blown up onscreen. 

        I found the humor to be very well placed. Humor is a hard thing to accomplish and is frequently utilized to help deflate tension after an action sequence or added in an attempt to give a character a personality. These ideas are basic to screenwriting. But in lesser films, it often feels unnatural. Think, for example, of all of the bad puns and innuendos that James Bond has been saddled with over the years simply because Sean Connery was an expert at getting away with them when the films started out in 1962. In The Avengers, the humor comes across as original, flowing naturally from the story and the personalities of the characters. It also flows from the mind of director Whedon, who has a keen ability to trickle out many natural observations about the inherent funniness of the comic book world and specifically the little quirks that such a world would produce.

        Robert Downey Jr. is a gem, peppering his conversations with so many quips and asides that every time he speaks, you know it's going to be comic gold. There’s so much good thrown out by him that you can’t keep track. Of all the characters in this Marvel universe, his is the most interesting and engaging. Without him, this film could have seriously deflated under its own comic book pretentiousness.

        But who would have suspected that we finally have a film that makes the Hulk fun, and incredibly, a scene stealer. Not only the Hulk, but his alter ego Banner. Mark Ruffalo's Banner is surprisingly good, ably taking on the mantle from Edward Norton who stared in 2008's The Incredible Hulk (when it comes to the films, the actor playing Banner has changed more frequently than Banner does into the Hulk). Ruffalo is able to carry the burden of a man cursed with the monstrous potential for death and destruction, but has managed to elevate the personality beyond the deadly serious, to become a character who has accepted what he's become, while trying to purge himself of it. To a certain degree, he seems to be a man who knows that life can be so dark that sometimes the only response is to laugh (or at least smirk).

        The film also managed to successfully have the audience become emotionally involved, and what is interesting is that the majority of the character development that enables us to empathize with the characters occurred in the previous movies, making The Avengers that rare film in which the characters wants, need, fears, and histories were developed outside of the film itself. So, if you haven't seen any of the previous films that lead into The Avengers, you'll have a hard time understanding what makes these people tick. And that could be a handicap for those new to this world. The comics are good at this; always coming up with a big event then insisting that you buy all of the crossover issues just so you know what the heck's going on. But for those who have seen the previous entries, it's to the film's advantage because it is free to bypass introductory characterization and build upon what's already been established.

        It also gives the film more room to try to develop other characters such as Black Widow, who, though she appeared in Iron Man II, existed in that film undeveloped as a character with the exception of her being a butt-kicker. In The Avengers, we learn a little more about her, that she's trying to wipe the slate clean of her bloody and violent past, but the film really doesn't go beyond that.

        Poor Hawkeye fares even worse. Appearing as a shadowy figure in 2011's Thor, he was identifiable mainly because he was armed with a bow. In The Avengers, he spends a good deal of time under the control of Loki, so that his development is relegated to essentially a single conversation about his past, which is similar to Black Widow's.

        It's one of the film's few shortcomings (but hey, you can only do so much in 2 1/2 hours). Both of these characters, though they aren't given their full due, are still given enough to make them likable and people you want to root for. But I must stress any that all of these criticisms are minor quibbles. You notice them, but they in no way affect the enjoyment of the film.

        Director Whedon's  writing cannot be under-praised. He knows these heroes and is able to present a rousing action film. He has the ability of poking fun at the genre without insulting it in the slightest, and he manages to walk that very thin line as perfect as a Cirque du Soleil tightrope walker. Unlike many films that are based on comics, you can tell that Joss eats and breathes comics, knows how they work, and how to make a film based on them work. He does this while at the same time keeping the unique feel that all the previous films had intact, so that there is natural flow from those films without the awkwardness that there is new pair of hands in the sandbox.

        This is the most fun I've had seeing an adventure film in a long time, with most of the movie spent with a giddy smile on my face as I watched comic heroes I grew up with properly come to life and interact on the big screen.

        Marvel at The Avengers         



(2012. Reviewed by Frederick Holbrook)


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