The Avengers – 2012
Written & Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Gweneth Paltrow, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Clark Gregg
When Marvel announced, in 2005, that there was a plan to develop The Avengers into a major motion picture, most people outside of the comic book work could have cared less. After 2008’s Iron Man hit it big, the general public’s appetite had been whetted to the point of salivation. Last year’s one-two punch of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, we had seen enough of this Marvel Universe as to be brimming with anticipation. Handing all the story lines into the capable hands of Joss Whedon, a true follower of the art of sci-fi (Firefly) and comic books (Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Fray, X-Men) seemed a stroke of genius. No way this thing could work. It worked.
So many wise choices have made The Avengers a winning initiative, even before it his celluloid. First, the most controversial: replacing Norton. I love Edward Norton, and he was not bad at all in The Incredible Hulk. A lot of the problems with the film involved things beyond his control. Even so, Ruffalo just looks the part. His acceptance of the duality of his character is the best treatment the Hulk has received on the big screen. It’s nice to see them just moving on. The Hulk has always been a wild card, but thankfully there was not an endless amount of useless babbling about whether he should be part of the group.
Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton / Hawkeye was not a surprise, as Renner seems to be in every film series these days. The Bourne Legacy, Mission Impossible and this series has the potential to make him the new Ian McKellen…or Samuel L. Jackson. That they gave Barton minimal back story is a benefit to this tale, as it allowed Renner and Johansson some integral screen time chewing scenery and exposition during a forced lull in the action before the final storm. His efforts early in the film, while fantastic, are believable in that comic book way.
Most believable, perhaps, is the performance of Clark Gregg as Agent Colson. He gets as many great one liners as he did in any particular film in the series, and the character is given the gravitas to pull in each hero to the a genuine, grounded level.
As for Jackson, he is solid in his commanding role. I kept waiting for him to bitch-slap the council with a couple of m-f’ers. It is weird seeing him kowtow to anyone, even in pretense. He takes a grenade launcher to that relationship soon enough. I can accept this version of Sam, in that he actually helps to tone down the theatrics for a character that has always tended to be closer to Hasslehoff than to Shaft.
Romanoff / Black Widow is played gamely and without irony by Johansson. Some females have found it difficult to identify with the skin-tight outfits she wears, but no one complains about Hawkeye wearing the male version of the same. Every effort is made to make her a relevant member of the team, but her inherent lack of firepower is made only more evident any time we see Hulk smash.
Lack of firepower is the trait of Captain America as well. He has a lot of tools, for sure, but the interesting aspect to Whedon’s approach with Evan’s character is the way it mirrors Captain America: The First Avenger, without being sappy in the slightest. Evans shows that he was worthy of the role once more in showing the humility, resourcefulness and integrity of a man who always does what is the right, but not necessarily the most boring thing. What we see Steve Rogers doing most is thinking, plotting and contemplating the next steps. He doesn’t bother talking about it much, either. I loved the treatment of this hero. His utterance at his first meeting with Thor gives way to one of the best super hero back and forth’s in this reviewers memory:
“I would sit this one out Cap, these guys are basically gods!”
“There’s only one God ma’am! And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that!”
Thor is brought into this story perhaps most naturally. Given that Loki is our main nemesis, it’d be only just that Hemsworth’s Norse God would come down to Earth and pick up the trash. Given his method of arrival, we have a natural spot for a first rift between the would be team. There is an easy assurance that Hemsworth gives the God of Thunder gravitas without making him in any way a blowhard. This swagger makes it possible to be a presence without being a laborious scenery chewer.
Tony Stark provides the most amount of time mowing down the crowd with his mouth. Robert Downey, Jr. has the character down to a “T” by now. There is no way they could ever replace him, if they want the series to stay in the light of the National consciousness. His face off with Loki is one of the more memorable points in the film, and there was not one firework in the scene. There is really not one scene with Stark or Iron Man that disappoints.
The best part to The Avengers, and perhaps the master stroke of the series is the performance of Tom Hiddleston as Loki. He devours every line as though he relishes the deliciousness of his sinister nature. I don’t think I have seen such a wonderful performance of a bad guy since Rickman in the original Die Hard. So frequent are his high points, they mirror almost one for one the best moments of the film.
Whedon’s style is organic as it is seamless. Anyone who has seen the earlier films will benefit from the grist of back story, but it works well enough as a tale of its own. The biggest weakness that I have seen in previous attempts at a story has always been with the myriad fractures within the group. This time the fighting is kept to some sniping and one violent outburst by Hulk that damn near brings the Helicarrier down. When it comes time to merge, though, they do so in a grand fashion.
The battle scenes are great, if a little frantic for 3D at times. Several times the ships moved too quickly to even register. This is the same director who gave us one of the great space battle scenes in the Firefly film, Serenity. There is nothing here that beats the last descent of Serenity, here, but that in no way diminishes the overall effect of each character getting their due in a special way.
The Avengers is not perfect, but it is pretty darn close.