Firmly planted in a genre known for dazzling CGI effects, non-stop action, and flimsy scripts, it wouldn’t take much for “The Avengers” to fail, and after reviewing last year’s stale predecessor, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” I was skeptical about any movie slapped with the “Avengers” label. I was worried about director/co-writer Joss Whedon’s ability to meld many larger-than-life characters into a single cohesive story and make it work. But he did it, successfully.
Whedon blends powerful characters like Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and The Hulk into a balanced story by starting with a volatile mix of characters, shaking up their world, and then serving the highly toxic cocktail to the audience. The friction between the superheroes produced some of the film’s most exhilarating fight scenes and funniest lines.
“The Avengers” doesn’t waste time getting to the heart of the story either. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) must assemble a incommensurable group of superheroes into a unified team who will defend the earth against Loki (Tom Hiddleston), an Asgardian prince whose twisted mission is to free humanity from their very freedom. Uh huh. That’s the movie’s first flaw: an overly simplistic plot. Basically, Loki wants to invade the planet and the Avengers have to stop him. Considering how compelling Loki’s motivation was in “Thor,” the weak plot is a disappointment. But, it’s forgivable. If the plot was more intricate, it would strip attention away from the movie’s primary objective: to show the creation, and combined powers, of the Avengers team.
Although the story is based on a Marvel Comic, you don’t have to be well-versed in superhero lore to enjoy the movie. If you’ve seen the other movies in the franchise, you won’t be disappointed with how the superheroes are interpreted, but it’s not a requirement to see all the films before this one. As with most comic book adaptations, you will get just enough character back-story to understand enough about them so you’re not lost in the storyline.
What impresses me the most about “The Avengers” is the attention to character authenticity. Each superhero is portrayed in a manner that is consistent with what diehard fans expect. Sadly, the same can’t be said for each character’s individual story within the film, which brings me to another movie flaw: not all characters have a complete story arc. With so many characters, I don’t see how this could have been avoided without breaking the movie into two parts or having an excessively long run time.
Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) appear to get more screen time than the rest of the cast. Tony Stark hasn’t evolved much from the narcissistic, genius billionaire we know from the first two “Iron Man” films, but Captain America got some sorely needed attention. Unlike his feature film that gets lost in back-story, we see a little more depth from The Captain as he comes to terms with his modern reality and claims his leadership role among The Avengers
Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are the two non-superhero members of the Avengers team who we are just getting to know. Hawkeye is one of the characters who doesn’t receive much attention in the movie, but his lack of presence isn’t bothersome. While he’s an interesting character, he didn’t pull me like some of the other characters. Although Johansson appeared in the last Iron Man film, audiences really get to know more about her character in “The Avengers.” She holds her own in this male-dominated team as a physically and mentally skilled assassin. What I liked the most about her character is she isn’t some mindless bimbo in tight pants; she’s a cunning lethal force.
Chris Hemsworth revives his role as the demi-god Thor. Hemsworth is everything I expect from the righteous God of Thunder, with a handful of unexpectedly funny lines thrown in for good measure. The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me is his inconsistent storyline. In last year’s movie “Thor,” Thor broke the Bifröst Bridge, which cut him off from earth and the woman he loves, Jane. In “The Avengers” Thor returns to earth to stop Loki, but the movie doesn’t really explain how he returned to earth, and while Jane is mentioned in the movie, Thor never goes to see her. It just doesn’t add up.
The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is the surprising standout of the cast. Although we’ve seen a couple of Hulk movies in the past, Ruffalo’s interpretation of the character is the best we’ve seen. Ruffalo is an exceedingly likeable actor, which helps give the character a level of depth and humanity that’s missing from Edward Norton and Eric Bana’s versions of the Hulk. When we first meet Banner he’s living in a remote third world country, resigned to the fate of his uncontrollable, transformative curse. When introduced to his fellow Avengers, his interaction with the other superheroes gives the character a nice layer of humor. And the Hulk? He smash! The CGI is astonishing. The Hulk is brought to life without looking crude or cartoonish.
When it comes to the action, “The Avengers” is executed perfectly. There are several heart-pounding sequences leading up to the final battle. And what a battle it is. Once all of our heroes assemble and are fighting beside one another to defend New York City from an alien onslaught, it’s ridiculously fun. Whedon is a master at orchestrating every battle scene, keeping the action thrilling enough to put you on the edge of your seat but not so overwhelming that it becomes blurred chaos.
“The Avengers” is a wildly entertaining superhero spectacle that is worthy of all the hype and should not be missed on the big screen.