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Theatrical Review: THE AVENGERS

Brad McHargue

by:
May 4th, 2012

Movie poster for The Avengers

THE AVENGERS is one of the best comic book movies ever made.

Despite my tendency to hyperbolize my reaction toward a film - I’m typically coming off a post-movie high when I say such things - Joss Whedon’s conglomeration of some of Marvel’s best superheroes - Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Captain America, Hawkeye, and The Hulk - is a love letter to the stories and characters he grew up with, penned by a man who truly loves them. There is no better person to write and direct a superhero movie than Joss Whedon, and THE AVENGERS is a testament to what can happen when you put beloved properties in the right hands.

Deep in an underground laboratory run by the secret agency S.H.I.E.L.D. lies the Tesseract, a glowing alien cube with unimaginable power. Without warning it activates, opening a portal in space through which the Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) enters. After taking over the minds of Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Clint “Hawkeye” Barton, he steals the Tesseract with the intention of opening a portal through which an alien race called the Chitauri will enter and help him take over Earth. To help fight off Loki, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles the Avengers - Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner); Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.); Captain America (Chris Evans); Thor, the Thunder God of Asgard (Chris Hemsworth); and Bruce "The Hulk" Banner (Mark Ruffalo) - to defend the Earth from the impending alien invasion.

At the risk of sounding trite, the film is decidedly Whedon, primarily in terms of dialogue and exposition. Whedon’s little flourishes, from witty banter to heartstring-tugging moments that unleash vitriol on him for making you cry, pervade the film, providing a level of sheer joy and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that, in many instances, eclipse the stellar action scenes that comprise the final hour of the film. The characters are perfectly written, with each retaining what made them so magical in their solo films, yet peppered with Whedon’s innate ability to make you genuinely care about them.

And that’s the key to what makes this film so special. They’re not throwaway characters that exist to set-up a series of explosions and generic fight scenes. Each character has their own motives for being there, which leads to frequent head-butting with other members of the team as they come to grips with their specific roles in the fight. Any time the Avengers are on screen together you’re either laughing or smiling due to pure, unbridled joy. When the time comes for them to truly “assemble,” their differences are (more or less) cast aside, prompting them to work together by utilizing each other’s talents in some of the most exciting and jaw-dropping action scenes ever put on the big screen.

Much of this works because there’s really no main character of the film, though you can make an argument for a good number of them. Thankfully, Whedon manages to handle this fairly well, giving most of the Avengers ample time to let their true colors shine, namely The Hulk, who smashed his way into my heart with a brilliant performance by Mark Ruffalo as a man who just doesn’t want to be The Hulk anymore. His inclusion is due primarily to his direct experience with gamma radiation, which is employed to help S.H.I.E.L.D. locate the Tesseract, but his calm demeanor and soft-spoken nature proves a perfect counter to Hulk’s tendency to smash the crap out of everything. Of the six principle Avengers, Bruce Banner / The Hulk is without question the most entertaining, due, I think, to the dichotomy of his nature. This doesn't mean any of the characters are one-dimensional, but Ruffalo brings something unique and unseen in previous incarnations of the character, a rare feat when all you're really supposed to do is get angry and destroy things.

Captain America is the most stoic of the bunch, his dedication to protecting his country serving as his primary motive. Given his stoicism and less than personal quarrels with Loki, he becomes a sort of defacto leader in the film, which causes him to come to exchange quick witted barbs with the arrogant Tony “Iron Man” Stark. Thor, still slightly ignorant of Earth’s ways, is driven entirely by his desire to protect Earth and return Loki to Asgard, while Hawkeye, whose true appearance as an Avenger doesn’t come until later in the film, is motivated by revenge. All of these coalesce into something truly magical, a seemingly random assortment of characters that bring out both the best and worst of each other until time calls for them to put aside their petty differences for the greater goal.

This greater goal, of course, is to defeat Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, who imbues in the character a sort of charismatic evil that makes him one of the more memorable on-screen villains in recent memory. He’s calculated, playing the Avengers like pieces in a game of chess, lining up their moves to ensure his plan comes to fruition. While he does come across as a butt-hurt little cry-baby on numerous occasions, the character as a whole is just a downright blast to watch, due in part to his blithe reaction toward the chaos he’s causing. He’s surprisingly down-tempo throughout most of the film, making his tête à tête in Stark’s penthouse all the more enjoyable to watch.

Sadly, not much can be said of Nick Fury, whose presence takes a backseat to the Avengers and serves as nothing more than a means to give us a bit of background on S.H.I.E.L.D. Although she’s present in the film’s climactic battle, Johanssen just doesn’t feel like an Avenger; she can’t bring enough to make an already dull character come to life in a way that rivals the rest of the team. Finally, returning is Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, whose role in the film is far more significant than in previous solo Marvel films, yet I think will truly be remembered for his obsessive love of Captain America. He's the ultimate fanboy.

Characters and exposition aside, the bulk of the film is non-stop action. While my experience was marred by the use of dreadfully post-converted 3-D, the action scenes are epic in scope and scale, as well as in terms of the level of emotion they elicit. Several times I found myself grinning from ear-to-ear as Captain America, Black Widow, and Thor fought aliens on the ground of Manhattan, working together with what can only be described as ballet-like movements as Iron Man zips and zooms around buildings and Hawkeye uses his abilities with a bow and arrow to serve as a sniper across multiple buildings. Although he arrives a little late to the party, Bruce Banner quickly gives over the reins to The Hulk, who jumps from building to building to take down the Chitauri and giant mechanical dragon monsters that wreak havoc in Manhattan.

THE AVENGERS is just straight up comic book fun, brought to life by a man who truly loves the art form and doesn’t shy away from throwing in his own personal touches. It won’t be everyone’s, but it’s certainly my favorite Marvel movie to date.

Grade: A

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