REVIEW: 'The Avengers'
Friday, May 04, 2012
I'm going to open up this review with this: Wow. Just wow. The Avengers is the coolest experience I've had at the movies in awhile. Marvel made good on the promise they made fans with that Nick Fury post-credits scene way back in 2008.
There was no way I wasn't going to be at the midnight premiere of The Avengers. Things almost went bad when the "Put your 3D glasses on now" message went up. The problem? This was a 2D show. I've never seen a theater flip out like ours did. Definitely passionate fans. The Regal guys had things fixed pretty quickly, and the experience began.
The Avengers is a highly awesome movie. Yes, highly awesome. I don't really have a better term for it than that. If The Avengers were a theme park ride, it would be the greatest roller coaster you've ever been on.
Director Joss Whedon deserves all the credit in the world (and a blank check for The Avengers 2) for what he accomplished with this movie. So much could have gone wrong, but instead, so much went right. I spent much of the movie in awe of the fact that we were actually seeing characters like Iron Man and Captain America meet each other, come to blows and then pull together to save the world.
Marvel has spent the last five years building their Cinematic Universe with the Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. Almost everything those movies introduced pays off in The Avengers. This movie is a seamless convergence of the movies that came before it, which is amazing when you think of the task Marvel was facing. Franchises have a hard enough time getting a sequel going. Marvel not only started multiple franchises with sequels, but it had to find ways to constantly connect those movies, movies made by different directors and even different companies. The idea that we get to sit in theaters this weekend and actually see The Avengers is a movie miracle.
One of the biggest questions involving The Avengers was whether or not this group of superheroes could actually and believably be brought together on the big screen. Well, the answer is yes. A resounding yes. Every character had his (or her) moments.
After the success of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, people thought that this movie would be about Tony Stark's Avengers. After all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with Iron Man, and Captain America, the traditional leader of the Avengers, didn't even show up on the big screen until last summer. The role that Iron Man plays in The Avengers should make everyone happy. Whedon clearly understood the character when he put this film together, allowing Tony Stark to keep his familiar personality, joking nature and newfound love of nicknaming his fellow superheroes. Whedon leaves the leadership role to the Captain, but gives Tony the chance to mature as Iron Man. "If we can't protect the Earth, you can be damn sure we'll avenge it," Tony tells Loki during an exchange between the two characters that announces that the Avengers aren't going away without a fight. Robert Downey Jr. is once again fantastic as Tony Stark, finding that spark from Iron Man that was sometimes missing from its sequel. With Christian Bale getting out of the superhero game after this summer, there's no one who owns his character like Downey right now.
Captain America establishes himself as the leader of the Avengers in this movie, putting to rest any worry that fans may have had. The Captain often seems to be at a disadvantage when compared to his more powerful teammates, but he makes up for it, directing the Avengers' final offensive against Loki and his alien army. Whedon not only understands Steve Rogers' situation (you know, the whole being asleep for 70 years and then being thawed out in 2012 thing), but he also uses it to bring depth to a character who can sometimes be a bit flat. Many of the movies laughs come from Captain America having trouble adjusting to modern day. Back when Marvel announced that Chris Evans would be playing Captain America, I was worried about the casting. Evans seemed like a consolation prize to some bigger casting idea that never came to fruition. After Captain America and now The Avengers, there's no one else I could see wearing the red, white and blue other than Evans.
The Avengers kind of brushes over how Thor returned to Earth, explaining away what was supposedly an uncrossable divide with a line about Odin summoning dark matter, or something like that. However Thor got back to Earth is besides the point. Once the God of Thunder enters the movie, things really get going. The Avengers basically goes down the checklist of superhero matchups that fans have been dying to see, and Thor is in a bunch of those fights. It seems like Whedon has dialed up Thor's Shakespearian dialogue, most likely to make the divide between the Asgardian and his human teammates appear larger. (Or, he just wanted to make sure Tony Stark could have another one-liner.) Chris Hemsworth picks up right where he left off with Thor, continuing his character's evolution from a spoiled god-child to one of Earth's mightiest heroes.
When introduced in Iron Man 2, the Black Widow seemed like a throwaway character, something that Marvel forced into the movie to just get her into their universe. Whedon, well-known for his love of creating strong female characters, fleshes out Nastasha Romanoff into a real person, hinting at a tragic backstory, something that a possible Black Widow spinoff will address. Scarlett Johansson is more than just a pretty face and a leather suit in The Avengers. A pivotal scene with Tom Hiddleson's Loki is one of the movie's best, and it relies on Johansson to pull it off.
It's unclear what Marvel's future plans are for the Black Widow, but it's likely that they'll involve Hawkeye, a hero that fans got a brief glimpse of in Thor. Jeremy Renner played the character well, popping in and out of the movie as needed. One would have to think that Hawkeye's role would have to be expanded in the future if Marvel wants Renner back. The actor has inherited the Bourne franchise and it appears that Tom Cruise is ready to hand off the Mission: Impossible franchise to him too.
At this point, you're probably wondering why I haven't mentioned the Hulk yet. I mean, we've now seen the Hulk in two previous films, both of varying degrees of success. Well, I saved Hulk for the end on purpose. The Avengers is the Hulk's movie. Whatever actors previously played Bruce Banner and whatever movies the Hulk was previously in no longer matter. The Avengers nailed the Hulk and Banner. Absolutely nailed it. One of the greatest things about seeing a movie like The Avengers at a midnight opening is that you're with a group that won't hesitate to cheer and applaud when they love something. This crowd loved the Hulk. I actually need a second viewing of The Avengers because I basically couldn't hear anything that came after most of the Hulk's scenes. He's that good and that much fun. Mark Ruffalo gets Bruce Banner, playing the conflicted scientist in a quiet and often sheepish manner. Everyone keeps asking Banner what his secret is, how he keeps the monster inside. When the time comes for the big reveal, Ruffalo completely sells it. (Don't read The New York Times' review of The Avengers. Besides ticking off Samuel L. Jackson, AO Scott actually reveals Banner's big secret. Jerk.) Marvel has something great on their hands with this new Hulk and Ruffalo. It won't be surprising if they give a Hulk movie another try.
Obviously, The Avengers needs a threat to bring its heroes together, and Loki delivers that threat. The Loki introduced in the beginning of the movie shows some wear from his defeat at the hands of his brother in Thor and then allowing himself to fall into another dimension. Loki has some fantastic villain dialogue, and Hiddleson seethes with contempt for humanity as he reels that dialogue off. Loki's megalomania makes the villain a true threat to Earth, unlike some of the villains we've seen in past Marvel movies.
Go see The Avengers during its opening weekend, when the biggest crowds will be there. Go see it a bunch of times. Movies like this one are meant to be seen in a packed theater. Screenings of The Avengers are going to be filled with people cheering and applauding. During the final battle in New York City, there's a shot that weaves the camera through the battle zone, snaking in and out of buildings and into the air, showing the scope of the fight and touching upon each member of the Avengers. You could play just this shot on loop, and I'd pay for a ticket. While Christopher Nolan is swinging for an Oscar with The Dark Knight Rises, Whedon's goal with The Avengers was to deliver the greatest superhero spectacle we've ever seen. And he did it.
As always, don't leave before the credits are over. The Avengers boasts two extra scenes, one after the main credits and the other after the complete credits.