Just as I’ve done in many of my previous reviews, I’ll lay my cards on the table right here at the very beginning. The Avengers has been a long time coming, and Hollywood has given us several films that essentially act as appetizers for the main course. However, with the exception of the first Iron Man, which I enjoyed very much, I haven’t been exactly bowled over by any of these setup films. I thought Thor and Captain America were passable entertainment, effectively setting up the personalities of their subjects, while Iron Man 2 was just downright bad, an uninvolving and surprisingly flat follow-up to a solid introduction that almost felt like an extended trailer for a film two years down the road. I never did get around to The Incredible Hulk, but they recast Bruce Banner anyway and everything I’ve read about it indicates that I didn’t miss very much. After all of this buildup, there was the concern, at least from me, that a series of average productions would result in an average final product. Because of this concern, I kept my expectations in check; fortunately, the film didn’t let me down. It’s the best Marvel superhero film since the original Iron Man, and a solid end result to all the buildup.
Surprisingly, for a film that runs close to two and a half hours, the plot is minimal. The film begins with the villainous Loki (already seen in Thor, and played by Tom Hiddleston with relish) stealing the powerful Tesseract cube for a group of space beings, with the ultimate goal being the enslavement of Earth’s inhabitants. As can be expected, this does not sit well with S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who proceeds to round up all the classic characters that will eventually make up the Avengers. That’s really all there is to it, and to be honest that’s really all the film needs. What makes it stand apart from your typical blockbuster are the character interactions; it’s in this area that writer/director Joss Whedon’s script for The Avengers truly shines.
This has already been pointed out by just about everybody, but one of the more successful aspects of the film is that the Avengers actually spend more time fighting with each other than against the real villains. These moments of both verbal and physical sparring, as the larger-than-life personalities of the superheroes clash against each other, are some of the most exciting in the film. They all have pretty significant egos, and this helps to support one of the main themes of the film, that the superheroes have to set aside their individual concerns and band together in order to stop the threat. This theme is best represented with Tony Stark, who proclaims himself to be a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist,” but who ultimately has to make a selfless act for the greater good. It’s one of the more satisfying moments in the film, and it works because Whedon uses the previous moments of internal quarreling as more than just fan service.
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth, having already had entire films devoted to their characters, slip back into their roles with ease. Likewise, Scarlett Johansson, who appeared in Iron Man 2, brings the right mix of toughness and sexiness to her role as Black Widow. The true standouts, however, are Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo. Hiddleston played a more conflicted character in Thor; here, he really lets loose as the film’s main villain. While individually he’s never that much of a threat, he brings a classy and suitably menacing presence to his role. Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton, just about steals the show as Bruce Banner. He’s charming and likeable, and combined with his angry green counterpart he gets many of the best lines and moments. I could actually see myself buying a ticket to future Hulk movies if he continues forward as the character. The only two characters that occasionally hit false notes are the ones played by Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Renner. The former, despite his eye patch and being Samuel L. Jackson, has a role that’s very much in the Mace Windu vein of delivering cool lines without actually doing much of anything substantial. The latter spends most of his time hypnotized by Loki, and even when he’s back on the good side he still seems like an add-on to the cast.
As stated earlier, the film runs close to two and a half hours, and there are moments when you really feel than running length. For me, this occurred mostly during the final climactic battle, which consists of a lot of crumbling buildings and explosions. There are some memorable moments here, especially a couple great punchlines involving the Hulk, but after awhile it does starts to veer into Transformers territory. Additionally, there are a few scenes set in outer space with Loki talking to the evil space beings that reminded me of Power Rangers, and not in a good way (if that’s even possible). These scenes briefly took me out of the film, reminding me of the material’s underlying silliness.
Those small complaints aside, however, I ended up enjoying The Avengers a lot more than I thought I would. Having never been a great fan of the films that came beforehand, I was delighted by the pitch-perfect timing of the comedy and I was involved because of the cohesiveness and clarity of the action. It’s a very entertaining and well-rounded blockbuster that is absolutely worth seeing, but on a personal level I’m not sure if it’s the kind of film I’ll be returning to multiple times in the future. It will be interesting to see though how much this will affect the superhero genre. After this and The Dark Knight Rises, will audiences tolerate returning to individual superhero stories? My guess is that it will be tough to go back to these kinds of films after the overall “bigness” of The Avengers.