As good as 2008’s ‘Iron Man’ was, as much as it resurrected both Marvel Film Studios from irrevelance and Robert Downey Jr.’s career from oblivion, fans who were patient enough to stay through the closing credits received an additional scene that would set the nerd world ablaze. In it, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.) receives a visit from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) the eye patch adorned director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) who says that he there to speak with Stark about “The Avenger Initiative.”
The mainstream filmgoing public said “Meh”. Marvel fans, however, lost their minds at the mere possibility that not only would we be getting a film which would bring together some of Marvel comics greatest heroes, but that, in order to set this movie up, that they would be getting films which featured The Avengers more prominant members. Namely, the aforementioned Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America.
Marvel did not disappoint, and, for the past four years, we’ve been lucky enough to receive five well made, well casted movies which served to introduce (or in the case of 2010’s ‘Iron Man 2’, REintroduce) us to these heroes and tell us who they are and what they can do. Throughout these films, fans were given small bones, hints, of what was to come. A cameo here, a vague reference there. But these, my friends, as it turns out, were only the appetizers.
Loki (Tom Hiddleson) has fallen from Asgard after the events in ‘Thor’ and has taken up with a rather shady group of outworldly dwellers known as Chitauri in order to come into the possession of the Tesseract, an energy cube which contains infinite power and energy. Standing in his way are Nick Fury and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D who have been guarding and studying the cube. Loki comes to Earth and steals the cube (wouldn’t have been much of a movie if he hadn’t) and destroys S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in the process, after hypnotically enslaving Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a master of archery, into his services. Director Fury has no choice, he must call on The Avengers, heroes from around the world (and some beyond), to stop Loki before he can use the cube to open an energy portal to his world, unleashing a torrent of demons and enemies on an unsuspecting public. That is, if they don’t kill each other in the process.
It’s hard to see how this could have gone wrong. It would have been one thing if this movie was our first exposure to these characters and the feel that Marvel was trying to establish. Certainly then there would have been concern that the characters would be misrepresented, even miscast had they not already received their own movie (with the exception of Mark Ruffalo, who replaces Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk). Fortunately, that is not the case here. All the same, it could have been a jumbled mess. So many characters, so many subplots and motivations set up in other movies. Thankfully, screenwriter and director Joss Whedon (Serenity, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) doesn’t allow his heroes to get lost in the shuffle.
Let’s talk about Whedon for a moment. At first glance, he may seem an odd choice to helm what could end up being the jewel in the Marvel movie crown. But, the truth of the matter, is that Whedon is a fellow nerd, not just a name the studio wanted to use to appeal to a broader audience, I guarantee you that very same audience was already onboard from the minute the word “Avengers” was uttered. With Joss Whedon you get someone who not only understands this target audience, he’s a member himself. Consider that, for the voice of the Hulk, Whedon chose to use Lou Ferrigno, who portrayed the Hulk in the 1970’s TV show. This is a character who roars. He could have used anyone, he chose a fan favorite. That says a lot.
Now, how is the movie itself? It’s very, very good. It’s not without a few flaws mind you, and it certainly won’t win any points for a powerful story, but that’s not why most people are going to see this movie. Most folk want to see their favorite superheroes come together, bicker, eventually rally and take on the bad guy. On that front, the movie works beautifully.
Now, if all you came for is the action, you need not worry. Barely more than 15 minutes go by before we are introduced to another giant action set piece. Be it between our heroes and the minions for the villain, or the heroes versus one another, the next fight is rarely more than a few minutes away. Thankfully, the movie knows enough about the law of diminishing returns to save its best battle for last, a sprawling free for all in New York City (yes, New York, AGAIN), outside and all around Grand Central Station. Here is where the movie shows its heroes off in their natural habitat, Captain America (Chris Evans) swinging and throwing the shield, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) swinging and throwing the hammer, Iron Man blasting away at skybound enemies, it’s all here and it’s beautiful. The finale in New York City is truly thrilling and doesn’t let up for a moment.
It’s difficult to discuss the merits of a cast this large without taking up considerable space in this review to single out everyone. So, rather, I’ll list some of my favorite moments, from some of my favorite actors in this film;
– Agent Coulson (the ever reliable Clark Gregg) fawning over Captain America like the fan boy he is. Seriously, the man has CA trading cards.
– Thor still retaining some love and respect for his brother Loki. Even after all the destruction and harm he has caused.
– The growing relationship between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, appearing in a couple of scenes)
– Bruce Banner revealing the secret to how he controls his “big guy” friend at a key moment
– Watching Captain America take charge, but only after Stark cedes control to him.
– The friendship between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.
And just wait until you see
– The Hulk’s answer to Loki’s claims of being a God
Any issues? A couple. First, composer Alan Silvestri has been doing legendary, stellar work for decades. His scores to ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Predator’ and ‘Forrest Gump’ are up there with the best of the best. Sadly, his score for ‘The Avengers’ falls short. It’s not terribly memorable and doesn’t even provide a movie this penultimate with a proper theme. This would be forgivable with a lesser composer, but not from the man who gave us ‘Back to the Future’.
Also, with as much attention that is given to our main heroes, the lesser ones don’t fare so well. Hawkeye is under Loki’s spell for 2/3rds of the film and only gets to show his stuff during the finale. And, short of a nice moment where she tells Loki a small backstory of how she came to work for S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) isn’t given much to do until (again) the finale. One can only hope they’ll be given more to do in the inevitable sequel, if not their own films.
At the end of this day, ‘The Avengers’ biggest accomplishment is that it reminds us what makes going to the movies in the summer so great. It remembers to be fun. It was absolutely the right decision to show the new trailer for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ in front of this movie, because it caters to the target audience. But, it is absolutely wrong (yet wholly inevitable) that people will be comparing the two movies to each other. Both films could not come from two more different universes. ‘Dark Knight..’ will no doubt be brilliant. Well acted, written and densely plotted. But I doubt many will come away from ‘Dark Knight..’ talking about how bright and fun it was, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that ‘The Avengers’ is absolutely the right movie to kick off this season with. It reminds us what makes going to the movies in the summer is all about. Having fun, getting out of the heat, enjoying a big, loud, great time with an appreciative audience. It probably won’t be the best thing I see all year, but it gets this summer movie season off to a great start, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
I would be remiss if i didn’t tell you to stick around for a scene in the middle of the closing credits. If you’re not a comic book fan, all you have to know is that it sets up the sequel. If you ARE a comic book geek who knows his/her lore, hold on to your hats, this will blow your socks off.