Marvel Studios have been building towards The Avengers for years. While other Marvel products (Spider-Man, X-Men, Daredevil, The Fantastic Four, The Punisher) have had cinematic ups and downs, the studio has had a pretty great run of films with the characters they’ve retained the rights for: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America.
The Avengers brings together all of these characters – and more – for a comic book superhero smash-up that sets a new standard for what these kind of films can achieve. It’s a ribald success – explosive, amusing, thoroughly entertaining – that perfectly captures the feel of a comic book.
No easy task. With so many iconic presences – there’s Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton from the 2008 film), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) – and those are just the superheroes – it’s a delicate balancing act of devoting enough time to each that builds towards the overall story.
Writer-director Joss Whedon (who co-authored the screenplay with Zak Penn) might have been the perfect man for the job. With extensive experience in television (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse), Whedon is used to dealing with a large number of characters and storylines, and maintaining continuity and growth from episode to episode.
And The Avengers, certainly, should be viewed as a large-scale episode of a singular Marvel vision. You should have seen each of the previous films to get the full effect here, and especially Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, which directly sets up the main hero-villain dynamic the Avengers must contend with.
That villain is Loki (Tom Hiddleston), brother of Thor, an exiled Asgardian who has taken up residence on Earth and seeks to enslave humanity. In his bid to get mankind to bow down, he gets two wonderful responses: one from an older German man, who says something along the lines of “there will always be tyrants like you,” and the other from the Hulk, who simply remarks, “puny God.” Lou Ferrigno, fan favorite from the 1970s TV show, again provides the voice of the Hulk.
Anyway, Loki has stolen the Tesseract, a device that can open the gateway from Earth to another dimension, and threatens to unleash an alien army upon Manhattan. Side note: we need a new alien design in our blockbusters. These slimy bipedal creatures in metallic suits from Cowboys & Aliens to Battleship and now The Avengers all look the same: boring.
Avengers assemble! Not so fast: Nick Fury calls in Black Widow, but Hawkeye is under Loki’s mind control, Iron Man has some ego problems, Bruce Banner/Hulk has an anger management issue, Thor is a God, and Captain America has just woken from a sixty-year slumber.
The Avengers, then, is all about teamwork, and getting these guys to play together in order to save the world. It’s worked out quite well, with some especially good character work on Captain America, who learns to become a team leader even though he doesn’t have the smarts of Tony Stark or Bruce Banner, and Iron Man, who learns he can get better results through alliance. Hulk, though, seems to just turn on the ‘good guy’ switch at the end. What’s up with that?
Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is the one new presence here, and the actor really soars: he doesn’t seem to get as much screen time as the other actors (that might be because half the time he’s a giant CGI monster), but he lends the film a much-needed dose of humanity, and ultimately becomes its most sympathetic presence. Marvel has been skittish about doing another Hulk movie after perceived failings with the last two, but Ruffalo is clearly the man for the job.
Downey Jr., Hemsworth, and Evans offer more of what we’ve seen from them in the previous movies; they’re each perfectly cast. Renner and Johansson seem to get the short end of the stick; neither has had the time in previous films to build on their character, and neither is really a complex super-powered hero: they’re just well-trained agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Jackson, unfortunately, doesn’t have much to do as Fury, besides yelling at bureaucrats from the control room.
The Avengers was shot in 1.85:1, atypical for a blockbuster of this size and scope. The boxier format works, however, to emphasize the dramatic differences in height between the characters, and the climactic destruction of Manhattan, which rivals Transformers 3’s Chicago takedown.
Is The Avengers the gold-standard comic book superhero movie? Not quite; in recent years, I’d give an edge to Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight. As far as films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity, however, I do think this is tops, narrowly edging out Iron Man (and Iron Man 2) and Branagh’s Thor.
Note:The Avengers is screening in both 2D and (post-production converted) 3D versions, and in English (only in 2D) and a Czech dub (check listings before heading out to the cinema – you can catch the original English-language version at most local Cinema City and CineStar multiplexes). Above review refers to the 2D version of the film.
Side note: the copy of the film I saw at Cinema City Slovanský dům was especially dim and dull for a 2D presentation; I’d recommend checking out The Avengers elsewhere.
Also: stick around for a brief mid-credits scene that introduces a new villain for a potential sequel. And while US audiences will get a second end credits scene after the credits, international audiences miss out.