Movie Review: The Avengers Was Worth the Wait
It’s hard for someone like me to be objective about a film like The Avengers. When I watched the film I was wearing a Thor T-Shirt and Captain America pants. When I watched it the second time I was wearing a Captain America T-Shirt and Hulk socks. As I write this I’m in my Avengers pyjamas. Oh God do I own any normal clothes?
The point is, for a man-child like me The Avengers was a foregone conclusion. Short of a Batman and Robin style disaster I was always going to enjoy the film but that kind of obsession can skewer how you view a film. Am I enjoying the Thor/Iron Man fight because of the quality of the scene or just because it’s freakin’ Thor fighting Iron Man?
I think I can say with confidence that The Avengers works on just about every level. It’s not perfect, but as a big summer action film it ticks all the boxes.
This is the payoff to Marvel Studio’s epic cinematic gamble. Five major summer releases have appeared, from Iron Man through to Captain America, all sharing the same universe and all building to this enormous crossover film. Loki, Norse God of mischief and antagonist in last year’s Thor, has come to wage war and a team of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes must be formed to stop him.
The Avengers doesn’t start well. The film can’t assume you’ve seen the previous films so it, understandably, reintroduces the characters. The opening scene showing Loki’s arrival is awkward, oddly paced and lacking any kind of threat or menace. This is where I started to panic. Thankfully it’s the worst part of the film and when our heroes are introduced things start improving dramatically.
One of the many things Marvel did right on this long road was the casting of its leads. Out of the gate Robert Downey Jr. owned the role of industrialist hero Tony Stark. In many ways Downey Jr. was one of the key elements that kick started this entire thing and while it must have been tempting to simply make this ‘Iron Man 3: The Avengers” but thankfully all of the main players are given equal footing. Chris Evans brings that stoic nobility he displayed in Captain America to the team. One of the disadvantages of having The Avengers come out so soon after Captain America is that we don’t get to see Cap trying to adapt to modern life, there is some lip service but it’s mainly glossed over. Chris Hemsworth is still perfect as Thor. Loki (played far more broad here by Tom Hiddleston) is Thor’s brother and Hemsworth is able to play a badass warrior while maintaining an appropriate level of conflict. The new main addition is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, the alter ego of The Hulk. Ruffalo is brilliant as the timid scientist who has a literal monster inside him. He plays Banner as a man who wants to be as far away from the excitement as possible, but has enough of a sense of humour to threaten a Hulk out just to wind his peers up. It’s when all these characters are finally together that the film finally clicks and takes off.
Writer/Director Joss Whedon seems like a huge risk considering the size of this project his relatively limited experience with major motion pictures but the risk paid off. A long time comic fan, Whedon truly knows what it is about these characters that resonate with their fans. More importantly, he can write ensemble pieces like no one working today. There are eight main characters in this film and none of them feel short-changed. It’s astonishing that in a film that features Norse Gods and an indestructible monster that a (relatively) normal agent can feel important, but that’s Whedon’s gift.
He also has judged the tone perfectly. The film has a playful energy to it. It’s very, very funny. As funny as any comedy released this year. Whedon uses comedy to endear us to these characters. This wouldn’t work in Nolan’s Dark Knight films but The Avengers is an adventure film. The villain wants to take over the world. Go get him. It’s thin (it’s paper-thin) plot wise but the way these misfits are thrown together is the meat of the film.
Those early stumbles aside the film escalates quickly. The team are attacked on their flying headquarters, suffer a blow, settle their differences and before you know it the film has reached its climax.
The final battle in New York should be on a constant loop in Michael Bay’s house. It is sensational and everything a comic book action sequence should be. It’s epic, silly, funny and loud, but mercifully it’s completely coherent. As visually stunning as the Transformers films are it’s impossible to keep up with things as simple as who is punching who. The climatic sequence of The Avengers is a series of glorious moments. The Hulk punching a giant space dragon in the face is absurd and awesome and Whedon, with his new box of toys, delights in giving us pay off after pay off after payoff.
This could have gone wrong. There were so many points when this experiment could have crashed and burned but Whedon and co. made it work. For two thirds of it it’s as perfect a comic book movie as we’ve seen. Marvel have set the bar for what this kind of epic scale super hero film can be. It’s fun, which sounds so obvious, but’s fun (and fun throughout) in the best way possible. Marvel Studios are already preparing “Phase 2” of their plan with Iron Man 3 coming next year and if this is their first attempt I’m dying to see what’s next.