SPOILERS LIE AHEAD. Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. This isn’t Facebook or Twitter or the grocery store or any kind of public forum where I have to keep my mouth shut. If you don’t want to talk about everything because you want to see it all fresh, I totally understand you not wanting to read past these italics. If you take this option, I hope you come back and chat after you’ve seen the movie.
I’m spending a bunch of time telling you this right off the bat so I don’t accidentally SPOIL something for you, because it’s not my intent to do that. Someone spoiled one of the big “WOW!” moments for me, so I know how unpleasantly that sucks. Anyway, if you just want to know if Avengers is a movie you should go see, I have four sweet little words for you: BEST. SUPERHERO. MOVIE. EVER.
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Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is the culmination of five previous Avengers-related movies, but it is also a spectacular beast unto itself. It is, quite simply, the greatest superhero movie ever made, a massive, engaging, moving, funny, smart, blockbuster. It is fitting that The Avengers hit theaters on May 4th, recognized in sci-fi fandom as Star Wars Day, because The Avengers is potentially to 2012 what Star Wars was to 1977, the new standard in summer entertainment, and the new golden goose every other studio in town will try to replicate.
What The Avengers, the franchise, represents is something monumental and seismic in cinematic terms but feels completely natural to the comic book world. What Marvel Studios has done is to give to the world what they’ve always given to comic book readers: a shared universe.
When one takes a step back and thinks about what’s actually got everyone so excited about The Avengers -- all of these heroes coming together to appear in one movie -- happens every single month in the comics.
Yet so unusual is it for this to happen in the movies that The Avengers comes off as some kind of Zeusian thunderbolt, sent down from the heavens to shake the ground beneath our feet and reveal the New God for the sheep to follow.
Make no mistake, it will be insanely fascinating to watch how other studios react to what Marvel Studios has built and brought to fruition with The Avengers.
Clearly Disney and Marvel Studios are now wholly committed to the Franchise Model of film making.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with this concept. I’m not one of these people that freaks out when the box office is dominated by sequels and remakes; if the people want it, the studios are going to make it, and if that many people want to see it, how is this a bad thing?
Well, the movies could suck, I suppose, which will make the The Avengers ripple effect so interesting to watch (especially when it comes to the post-Christopher Nolan Batman), because The Avengers definitely does not suck.
(And, seriously, if you catch a spoiler at this point, don’t come whining to me.)
Whedon keeps the story deliciously simple in The Avengers, realizing that the power of seeing Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo/ voice of Lou Ferrigno), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) together on the big screen doesn’t need a complicated story. It just needs a big enough story to get them in the same room. From there, their personalities will take over.
I had been expecting the Avengers to be in the movie, of course, along with the SHIELD contingent of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), and new addition Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), but I hadn’t expected to see secondary characters appearing, too. As silly as it might sound that seeing Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) show up is a big deal, their inclusion helps drive home the larger narrative.
I love how Whedon doesn’t waste time getting to the action as it signals that he’s not here to screw around. The opening sequence is important to set up a big enough threat to need to assemble the Avengers, and provides a decent amount of thrills as we wait for, you know, the Avengers to assemble. He also gives us the previous Big Bad as working for a powerful alien race, the Chitauri, who are apparently Skrulls in the Ultimate comics universe. (If any part of that sentence from Chitauri onward confused you, don’t worry about it. They’re space aliens in cool armor. That’s all you need to know and that’s all the movie tells you.)
This opening sequence effortlessly brings everyone up to date with the narrative, establishes the bad guys, gives us a nice twist with Selvig and Hawkeye going to work for Loki, and gives us a reason to get the band together for the first time.
Most importantly, the opening sequence also sets the tone for the rest of the film as being an interplay between big action scenes and powerful personalities being put into conflict with one another.
The tone and narrative conflict thus firmly established, the call goes out to bring the Avengers in. There’s a shadowy Council that gives Fury orders; they don’t have a huge role to play in the film, but they do add another minor protagonist, and it gives the film an excuse to have Powers Boothe’s voice show up, and there are few voices in the world cooler than the one belonging to Powers Boothe.
As we drop into Black Widow's current goings on, she’s tied up in a Russian warehouse, being interrogated by a Russian general and his two goons. It’s one of the film’s signature moments, blending solid story, humor, and action.
Tasha finds Bruce Banner in India helping the locals with medicine. She tells him Fury wants him to come in and Banner is reluctant, of course, thinking that Fury doesn’t want him, but “the Other Guy.” That’s how Banner refers to the Hulk throughout the film: the Other Guy.
In this scene, what’s impressive is that as cool as Tasha was in the intro, the idea of Banner going Hulk terrifies her. Ultimately, Banner agrees to come in.
Fury drops in on Captain America, and it’s an elongated version of the scene at the end of Cap’s solo film where he’s boxing and Fury comes in with a mission, and it’s an OK scene, but the real winner here is Coulson dropping in on Tony Stark at the new Stark Tower in New York.
Downey and Paltrow have a really nice, relaxed chemistry here. I didn’t know Paltrow was going to be in this movie, but her smiling ability to gently take the piss out of Stark is a nicer version of the personality conflicts to follow.
Robert Downey Jr. is the only full-fledged A-list movie star in the world who also steals every single scene he’s in. Think about it. Damon, Clooney, Cruise, Pitt, Depp are all wonderful movie stars and fine actors, but they don’t steal scenes. Movie stars don’t have to steal scenes because they’re the center of the film. They’re the ones who get scenes stolen from, not the other way around. Yet Downey has that rarest ability to be both the center of the film and have the ability to make it seem like he’s stealing the attention from other actors.
When Coulson shows up in Stark’s private elevator, the way Downey plays the scene makes it feel like he’s stealing attention away from Paltrow and Gregg. It’s really brilliant acting and writing. First, even though Stark is clearly committed to Pepper at this point, they still have a fun, playfully bickering relationship. Then when Coulson shows up, Stark is clearly disinterested in what he has to say, but what comes across more is how insecure he is at Pepper spreading her affection around.
With part of the team assembled, Cap, Iron Man, and Widow go after Loki and there’s some decent fighting, but again, the real thrill here is the personality conflicts that emerge. Stark and Cap are on each other’s case constantly, and it’s not really all that friendly, which again, speaks to just how good Downey is here. He has a combative verbal relationship with nearly everyone in the film, but he can be playful with Pepper, annoyed with Coulson, and antagonistic with Cap in quick succession.
Loki has some really good monologues (delivered splendidly by Hiddleston), and this is one of them. The scene with the old guy in the town square is a really great moment in the film, and serves as the Avengers equivalent of those scenes in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films where New Yorkers unite to help out the Wallcrawler.
To Whedon’s credit, he doesn’t milk this moment. In the context of everything else going on in the film, this won’t be the scene that people leave the theater talking about, but trust me, you’ll eventually talk about it. For all of Whedon’s verbal pyrotechnics in the film, he knows how to underplay scenes when that’s what they need.
This is just an old guy speaking up to a bully, but that small act of rising to his feet and letting Loki know that for all of his power he wasn’t special carries a great weight with it.
People appearing unseen from screen left (or right) is a trick Whedon goes to multiple times in The Avengers.
Heroes fighting before teaming up is a huge staple of comics and it’s great to see it play out on the big screen. The Cap / Thor / Iron Man also a really good fight. The best part of the action scenes is they make you feel the violence. When people get hit, it looks like it hurts a whole hell of a lot. Iron Man and Thor smack each other around the forest without pulling any punches and then when Cap shows up to order them to stop, Thor drops Mjolnir on him, which causes a massive burst of energy that knocks the trees down and brings an end to the fight.
Finally, everyone (minus Hawkeye) is on board the SHIELD Helicarrier and we get to see the personalities begin to clash. It’s a lot of fun watching them get on each other’s nerves, and it’s to the script’s credit (which was written by Whedon and Zak Penn) that everyone’s viewpoint is given equal weight. It doesn’t feel like the film prefers Cap’s point of view to Stark’s, or vice versa. The characters stay in character during all of these verbal spats.
These internal conflicts are important because the film gives so little time to the villains. Loki has plenty of screen time but he carries the entire villainous weight of the film until the big action piece at the end. It’s this middle section of the film that takes place in the Helicarrier where the movie works best.
Yes, the action at the end is amazing, but the real joy of the film seeing our heroes interact.
Banner, moments after a big team argument which ends with him telling everyone that they’re not a team but a time-bomb, finally lets the Hulk out. We get a Hulk vs. Widow battle, and then a Hulk vs. Thor battle. Yup. Thor vs. Hulk.
And it’s a darn good fight, too, as they bash each other around the Helicarrier. We get the Hulk failing to pick up Mjolnir, and we get a brutal, crushing blow from Thor as he slams his hammer across the Hulk’s face. As with the Big Three battle in the forest, no one pulls any punches here.
The death of Agent Coulson totally sucks and was totally what the movie needed to keep everything grounded.
Clark Gregg’s performances as Coulson have become some of the best parts of every movie he’s been in. Coulson looks like middle management but talks with the conviction of the smartest, coolest guy in the room. Not cool in a Joe Cool sense, but cool in an eternally unflappable sense. Challenging Loki as Thor remains trapped in the Hulk’s cage is pure Coulson. He’s staring down a Norse god with a gun he barely knows how to use, and he’s telling Loki that the god will lose because he lacks conviction.
I love Coulson staring Loki down, and I love how Fury steps in to use Coulson’s death as a way to unite the team. Fury goes so far as to plant Coulson’s prized Captain America trading cards on the dead body to give the Avengers the push they need to come together. What I love about Fury’s action is that the team was already uniting in their distrust of the head of SHIELD, and here he doesn’t do anything to disprove that mistrust. He is, as Stark rightly pointed out, a spy who never tells anyone the whole truth.
Now united, the Avengers head to New York for the big final battle. Selvig opened a portal to space to allow the Chitauri to come to Earth, and there’s all kinds of wonderful fighting scenes here.
Again, though, as good as the action is, the real joy here is the personal battles. Stark heads home to Stark Tower to find Loki waiting there, and they have an almost personable chat about what’s going on. Stark offers Loki a drink, which the god refuses. “Please tell me you’re going to appeal to my humanity,” Loki scoffs.
“Actually, I’m going to threaten you,” Stark casually remarks.
Mark Ruffalo is absolutely fantastic as Bruce Banner. Where both Eric Bana and Edward Norton played Banner as something of a victim struggling with his condition, Ruffalo’s Banner has accepted it and moved on. How did he do this?
Because he tried to kill himself and failed.
Banner’s admission is one of the truly great moments in the film. Chilling and effective, Banner lets them know that you can’t get rid of the Hulk by killing Banner because the Hulk won’t allow it. (The line also signifies how every character in the film has some psychological issue he or she needs to overcome.)
During the final battle, the Hulk completely steals the show. The Hulk’s best moment, however, comes inside Stark Tower.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a theater explode in such a wild combination of laughter and applause as when the Hulk slams Loki into the floor BAM! BAM! BAM!, eventually leaving him lying there unconscious.
“Puny god,” Hulk growls when he’s finished, to the delight of the crowd around me.
It’s awesome to watch the team work together and awesome to watch them fight with their powers unleashed.
With the film finished, it’s time for the post-credits scene that we always wait for, and The Avengers has a trick up it’s sleeve. First, it gives us the post-credits scene mid-credits. We drop in on the defeated Chitauri forces and see the Loki’s Chitauri handler (Alexis Denisof) informing someone even more powerful than the Chitauri about the events on Earth. Who is this mysterious leader?
This is the big surprise that I had ruined for me, but still, when the Chitauri talks about how going after the Avengers will be courting death, I got that thrill run up my spine knowing that “courting death” meant Thanos was about to appear on the big screen.
Would I have preferred to see the next villain revealed as Ultron or Kang instead? Yeah, sure, but the sheer shock at it being Thanos made it better.
The second post-credits scene truly comes post-credits and all it consists of is the assembled Avengers, immediately post-Chitauri battle, sitting in a small, neighborhood shawarma restaurant, eating and looking completely exhausted. They don’t even talk to one another. Cap even looks like he’s sleeping, and the rest of the team is in that post-stuffing-themselves state where it looks like it’s a struggle to take another bite.
It’s the perfect ending, and not just because it ties in with Stark’s deadpan line about going out for food after the battle. It’s the perfect The Avengers ending because it reminds us just how human these characters are at the end of the day. Even if DC gets its act together and uses the Snyder Superman, post-Nolan Batman, Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern, and whatever other superhero film projects it can get off the ground, the Justice League can never have this moment, because at the end of the day, Supes, Bats, Diana, and the rest aren’t humans. They’re gods.
Speaking of gods … there’s a lot more I want to say about AVENGERS, but I’m already 4,000 words deep in the review. There’s so many wonderful one liners (“He’s adopted,” “No hard feelings, Point Break,” “If I put an arrow through his eye, I’d sleep better,” “You have reached the Life Model Decoy of Tony Stark. Please leave a message,.) and so many small character moments that I want to dig into, but now is not the time. (Because now the time is 5:17 AM and I’m bone tired.)
4,200 words will suffice to say what I could have said with seven words: AVENGERS is the best superhero movie ever. Big and fun, loud and hilarious, action-packed and psychologically-driven, AVENGERS is the new gold standard in summer movies. I can’t wait to see it again.
Puny other movies.