Film Review: Marvel’s The Avengers

Avengers 4

If you had told me I’d get a little choked up at the closing montage of The Avengers, I would have laughed at you a little bit. I wouldn’t have done it out loud, I wouldn’t have told ya about it, but just so ya know, I’d have been doing it a little bit inside. These Marvel movies – they’re fun, they’re fast-paced, they can even be smart and well-acted – but they’re kind of hollow inside. The movies’ scripts don’t really seem to know their characters, you’re never super-concerned about the threat, and you leave the movies with a smile on your face but not much going on in your head. Good times, but that’s about it.

But then I went and got choked up at the end of The Avengers.

AvengersIt’s kind of amazing what director Joss Whedon accomplishes here. He takes four disparate superheroes – personalities that barely seem to belong in the same world, let alone on the same screen – and he doesn’t just make them fit into a logical team, but he plays them off each other to show their true colors, to give us a better understanding who all these characters are. By the end of the film, you feel for Captain America as he tries to deal with his old-school beliefs in a new world of cynicism and suspicion. You cheer Bruce Banner as he tries to learn to deal with his volatile Hulk-outs. You’re genuinely invested in just what Tony Stark has learned about self-sacrifice. And Thor…well, you pretty much look at Thor and go, “Jesus, that’s an amazing human specimen.” All that to say, when the bodies and rubble start falling at the film’s climax, you care infinitely more about these four than I ever thought you could.

Rewind to the beginning, though. Because about two hours before this balls-out building-smashing finale, I was wondering how much I was really going to care about the movie. The Avengers does have its flaws, one of them being the whole energy-cube plot can be muddled, and the opening shoot-out, when Loki shows up at SHIELD headquarters to run off with the thing, doesn’t do much to separate Avengers from the rest of the pack. And from there, the idea that Loki could use this cube to invade Earth with an alien army won’t exactly have you shaking in your boots; it’s a bit too convoluted. On the flipside, Loki himself – played by Tom Hiddleston with his menace cranked up to 11 – is a terror to behold. The character is so perfectly built out of wicked grins, flickering sadism, and a palpable disdain for humanity, you can borderline feel Loki hating you while you sit in your seat, chewing your popcorn. So whether or not the main peril in Avengers is all that scary, give props to Hiddleston, who brings the horror all on his own, damn near stealing the show in the process.

AvengersOf course, you can’t steal the show from this much talent, and the movie’s major miracle is finding so much room onscreen for Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Sam Jackson (who, after the bland opening, finally seems to find some investment in his role. It’s about time, Sam.) And Whedon – a Shakespearian like Branagh – knows how to get his mileage out of everyone here. Not only does he show all their individual charms, but he helps bring each character into their own complex, fleshed-out existence. Not since Firefly has he managed to make you care so deeply about such a ragtag cast of characters. And if really nailing the suffering of Bruce Banner, the convictions of Captain America, the ego of Tony Stark, and the braggadocio of Thor wasn’t enough, he’s not content to let the characters rest at that. In almost LOST-like fashion, no one here is simply a character, but a larger idea about what it means to be a hero in our society. In one of the film’s key scenes, tensions between our characters and their beliefs boil to a head, and you get to see the outcome of locking a very angry geek, boy scout, millionaire, demigod, mercenary and soldier in the same room together. Whereas the Marvel films up until now have been happy largely to just function as entertainment, Avengers actually has the state of the nation – and all the conflicting ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that entails – on its mind. It’s a great scene, really ratcheted up by Whedon’s trademark dialogue.

AvengersBut Avengers is still a massive summer blockbuster – a film meant to fire up our imaginations and stimulate our every nerve with bombastic sight and sound. You might be saying, “I don’t give a shit about the characterization. What about the things that go BOOM?!?” And yes, Avengers comes through on that front as well. While the opening scene leaves a bit to be desired, the dust-ups between the heroes and villains (and between the heroes themselves) smash up the scenery good, but they do so in a way that’s far better directed than most action films. Watching the Avengers go to work in downtown New York at the film’s conclusion, I was struck by just how crisp and clear the action sequences were compared to Michael Bay’s convoluted TIME-TO-SMASH-SHIT! set-ups. You always know where Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Black Widow are. You always know what they’re doing. You always know why they’re doing it. You always know what’s in danger. Holy shit, those things add up to better action sequences than we’re used to. And, as previous reviews have reported, when the Hulk gets turned loose, it truly is a thing of beauty. Terrifying, vicious, funny, hysterical, epic, heroic – Avengers finds so many ways to play with Marvel’s most hard-to-wrangle hero that you’re befuddled none of it has been done before. Not to say the Hulk is the only character who finally gets some solid representation here. Whedon (or whoever is responsible for the scenes, because it becomes obvious no one person can be in control of this much visual chaos) gets these characters, and everyone gets their time to shine Maybe Thor is a little shortchanged. But Black Widow in particular gets a boost here, most likely benefitting from Whedon’s well-known feminist sensibilities. ScarJo drifted through Iron Man 2 as a pretty face, but here, you can almost feel Whedon saying, “If we are going to have a badass female character, she will get to kick some ass.” And Johansson follows through, creating a complex, emotional character who can sympathize with you, but is more likely to manipulate you and then whoop your ass. It’s one of the movie’s biggest wins.

All of this adds up to a summer blockbuster that feels like a summer blockbuster is supposed to feel. Jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, goddamn gigantic. We saw previews for Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, Spider-man and Battleship at our screening, and while these movies all look interesting in their own right, there’s no denying Avengers fits the most classical blockbuster mode. True, the film has its issues. Marvel’s notorious pacing problems occasionally raise their heads. But although there are a few mid-film moments where you might think, “if I have to watch one more freakin’ conversation on this crazy flying aircraft carrier, I’m gonna scream,” at least it is witty, Whedonesque dialogue as opposed to the generic back-and-forth’s we see in the other Marvel films. Yeah, the opening is a little weak, and yeah, the plot is convoluted and a bit too standard. But don’t let that take away from what a smashing victory Avengers is, what a rousing start it is to a summer movie season brimming with potential. I saw it in IMAX 3D, and despite being burned out on the whole 3D craze, I genuinely felt like I was transported to another world for two hours. Take advantage of that. Live it up. Enjoy it. I already admitted, when the film-ending montage rolled around, with its blissful imagery, its tip-of-the-hat to why people want to believe in the power of superheroes, I got a little choked up. That’s a rarity. And it says something not just about the film’s belief in heroes, but its ability to bring those heroes to life in stunning, breathtaking ways that make you feel alive, make you feel like a child, and make you feel like you want to be just as good as they are. It’s tapping into that pure feeling that really makes Avengers something special.

Rating: 4.5/5 ★★★★½ 

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About Josh_C

Josh has studied film at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, and he is currently studying horror film and popular culture in the Communication and Culture program at Indiana University. He has previously worked with the True/False Documentary Film Festival and the Ragtag Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and he served as short-term production assistant on This Film Is Not Yet Rated. He is currently working on a dissertation on independent horror, horror film festivals, and horror fandom; feel free to contact him to discuss any of the above! He is also studying Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).

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