James Rodrigues’s review:
When Loki arrives on Earth and threatens global safety and security, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) finds himself needing to revive an initiative, which was designed to bring together a remarkable group of beings in order to protect the world. Bringing together a super soldier frozen since the '40s, the god of Thunder, a narcissistic playboy with a high tech suit, a gamma radiation expert with anger issues, a master archer and a deadly Russian assassin, The Avengers are born.
The year was 2008. After 3 years of Marvel films ranging from awful to mediocre, Iron Man was released. The film turned the barely known, metallic superhero into a household name, and put Marvel back on top form, and on top of the superhero genre. That was until over two months later, when The Dark Knight was released, putting all other superhero films to shame by raising the bar for the genre.
But, little did viewers know that Marvel had a hidden surprise up their sleeve, when an eye-patch wearing Samuel L. Jackson appeared at the end of Iron Man, to talk to Tony about something called 'The Avengers Initiative'. And with that one scene, Marvel got fans buzzing.
It could have been a huge mess. There was always that fear, because Marvel had to juggle four lead characters from their own respective films, two other superheroes, a whole spy organisation, a supervillain and an alien army. In the wrong hands, this could have been so badly fumbled, but thank Odin that it all worked together, thanks to one man.
Joss Whedon is pretty much a household name to the cult crowd, known best for his TV shows, the long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the famously missed Firefly. Despite having a hand in writing some scripts of famous Hollywood films, including adding two lines to X-Men and writing the script for a little known film called Toy Story, Whedon is not that well known to the wider audience. However, I have a good feeling that the cult favorite will soon become hot property for Hollywood, what with this being the second highly-acclaimed film of his that was released within two months.
The writing is exceptionally smart and very well done, brilliantly managing to characterize the lead characters and give us a number of smart lines. One thing that will surprise you is how much funnier that expected this film truly is. Joss Whedon adds his own brand of humor to the script that manages to appeal to the wide audience and add a great deal to the overall sense of fun that powers all throughout this film. The story is pretty basic, Avengers have to stop Loki form conquering Earth with his alien invasion, but with the film focusing on getting all of these characters together and developing each one of them, a more complex plot would have only have bogged things down. Plus, a complex plot is not always needed in a film.
Looking at the trailers and promotional material for the film, Iron Man appeared to have been thrust to the front and center, and this appears to have given people the idea that the film would become more focused upon Tony Stark than it should be, considering it's a team film. Luckily, this is not the case, as the film manages to share out an equal amount of screentime between each Avenger, and not only that, but they manage to truly act like a real team and have a true sense of a camaraderie, feeling extremely organic. This pretty much signifies that this truly is a team movie, and not 'Iron Man and Friends', as many have feared it would become. This is all thanks to Whedon, who has handled ensembles many times before in his television shows (and in Serenity, his feature length follow-up to Firefly).
Chris Evans conjures up the needed weight to sufficiently pull off the role of leader, managing to greatly convince the audience that this is the man who could give orders to a god, master assassins, an enormous green rage monster and Robert Downey Jr. Steve Rogers' troubles with coming to terms that he's been frozen for so long is played off well, and not just in the scene where he knocks a punching bag into the wall. He remarks at how he heard America won the second World War, but not at what was lost, as Steve is left wondering whether the men he fought alongside (and Peggy) survived the war or if they lost their lives defending their country. There was some controversy concerning his on-screen outfit, specifically the helmet, but, like with Hal Jordan's mask in last year's Green Lantern, I felt that the helmet began looking out of place, but by the films end, it became an acceptable part of the costume which looked in place.
Despite not hogging the screentime, Robert Downey Jr still manages to come off as one of the more better written characters in a film chock-full of terrific writing. The snarky man with an arc reactor for a heart still manages to quip and be quite the narcissist, but he manages to become the heart of the superteam, as his arrogance slowly gives way to reveal a vulnerability that's quite compelling to watch. Clark Gregg returns as the always welcome Agent Phil Coulson (yes, Agent is not his first name), and proves to be more than just the suit from SHIELD we initially perceived him to be. Whedon adds another layer to the character by making him a lifelong Captain America fan, which also gives a mirror to the films viewers who have such adoration for these onscreen characters.
Continuing on the role he played in last year's Thor, Tom Hiddleston continues to impress as Loki, the severely intimidating villain of the film. His character is much more threatening from his previous appearance, feeling evolved from then and to be more of a manipulative and cunning character. Granted, he did attempt to destroy a world and a small earth-bound town full of innocents and his brother, but this was all done out of his need to prove himself towards his father, all stemming from his daddy issues. Here, his villainous intentions don't have an emotional factor, he does this because he's gone quite mad since disappearing down that wormhole. He kills not to prove himself to anyone, but because he finds it to be fun. And that's made all the more compelling thanks to Tom Hiddleston's subtle performance.
Natasha Romanoff is the only female Avenger on this male-dominated film, but that doesn't mean she's any less of a threat compared to the rest of the team. Whedon's exceptional handling of female characters makes Natasha seem incredibly adept, both physically and mentally, as evidenced in her both her opening scene and her fantastic scene with Loki. So she may not be able to fly, rip planes open or cast down thunder, but she's just as deadly as any of her teammates. Thor's unexplained arrival provides a more personal factor into the film, as he looks to appeal to his younger brother's better nature rather than see him as the villain that needs to be stopped, and Chris Hemsworth manages to portray this side of the god very well. Plus, he really can pull off blonde hair extensions.
Of all the new cast additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Mark Ruffalo is the one my eye was on mostly. I would not say that I was worried about how he would fit in to the film, I would say I was more intrigued to see how he would do compared to Edward Norton's performance from The Incredible Hulk. My intrigue was rewarded with the dual-prize of the best onscreen performances of Bruce Banner and the Hulk.
In the past two Hulk films, the unjolly green giant's tale was portrayed as a tragic tale, the story about a man who is trapped in this predicament where he reluctantly becomes a mindless animal, and while that direction does have it's benefits on the story that can be told, and what can be done with the character, this film told the Hulk's tale in a different light. The stories of Captain America, Iron Man and Thor worked in a way that Hulk's story didn't, because those three characters actually wanted the power they were bestowed with. And with that, Joss Whedon got the character of The Hulk much better than Ang Lee or Louis Leterrier did, by showing that it can be a little fun to exercise your inner anger with your fists. The Hulk was put to a much better use in his amount of appearances in this film than he was in either of his previous feature length films, with no limit in his smashing and destruction. Mark Ruffalo gives a tremendous performance, and not just as Bruce Banner, but also as the Hulk, thanks to the magic of motion capture, building up a great transition between the two sides of a single character. But the Hulk really manages to surprise by stealing any scene he appears in, and managing to deliver a few of the films best laughs, all whilst looking utterly impressive.
Compared with the rest of The Avengers line-up, Hawkeye is pretty underused and not as developed as a character. But this merely becomes a niggle thanks to Jeremy Renner's performance, making the character who was pretty much 'the arrow guy in a team of superheroes' into an utter badass with skills that impress. Samuel L Jackson is much more reserved that i'm used to, but he still manages to give off the presence that a man in control of a large government organisation like SHIELD would have. He also does get to take part in a great opening fight, despite being left out of the final face-off against the Chitauri. Cobie Smulders is not used much in her role as Maria Hill, but she does very well in the few scenes she does appear in and she would be more than welcome to return for future installments.
The action should especially be commended, as it seems like every character has had their own distinctive fighting style that was carefully thought out for them, and their differences in fighting styles manages to add to the scenes of Avenger v Avenger. The final fight should especially be praised, as Whedon knew how to keep the camera moving without resorting to the tired effect that is shaky-cam, he kept the scenery being dynamic, he brought out a tremendous onslaught of effects without it feeling like a CG overload and he showcased every character's abilities to their maximum effect, resulting in one of the best final battles you'll see in a superhero film. Plus, it very much helps that every fight scene is huge amounts of fun, giving some of the most entertaining scraps you'll see this year.
The Avengers is truly worth the four years of build-up, and not just to comic-book fans, but also to fans of the films, fans of superheroes and anyone else who's willing to give this film a shot. It's well written, brilliantly characterized, humorous, highly entertaining and very satisfying. It's Marvel's The Dark Knight, and it's all culminated into an amazing start to this year's season of summer blockbusters.
Now let's all support the latest Joss Whedon campaign, and make Marvel get him back for the sequel.