‘The Avengers’ Review
Since the first of the Marvel Studios pictures - 2008's 'Iron Man' - part of the fun has been following the breadcrumbs leading to a potential team-up that, by all rights, seemed impossible. The Avengers would assemble, they told us, and we all said, “sure, I'll believe it when I see it.”
Well, I've seen 'The Avengers' and, I'm happy to report, it is a great deal of fun.
I can give you a full summary of the film in seconds. Loki beams down from Asgard and steals the Tessaract (or Cosmic Cube, to those in the know.) S.H.I.E.L.D. collects Earth's Mightiest Heroes and they get Loki (but not the Tessaract) on the Helicarriar. Then an attack happens followed by a major action sequence. There's some talking (but not much!) after a setback, then Loki's army (from space!) attacks New York. Then roughly forty-five minutes of one of the best action movie slugfests commences.
And...that's basically it. But when it was over I was hoarse and drenched in sweat.
The lead-up to the action is a decent bit of fun, partially because we've all put so much work into these characters. Like Nick Fury, we want the Avengers Initiative to work. Thanks to the tremendous casting and Joss Whedon's economic use of dialogue, it does. By the time we get to the beatdowns it is just pure visceral joy. The Hulk does this one thing that inspired me to shout “Holy Crap!” but I was so dumbstruck I couldn't even make those words come out. I think I said “Herr Ca! Hoo!” When was the last time you said “Herr Ca! Hoo!” at a movie?
I liked Eric Bana and Edward Norton, but Mark Ruffalo is the perfect Bruce Banner. He's awkward and nervous and wears his pants pulled up too high. Chris Evans is once again fantastic as Steve Rogers. He's got biceps a yard thick but still pulls off the mom & apple pie bit. For me, though, the real breakout is Scarlett Johansson. In a way, it's her film – she's the most “normal” character and she's given a fantastic introduction that fits right in with the canon of great women in the Whedonverse.
Now that all the marquis names are sharing the stage, the shoehorning of an eventual team-up takes a respite. I think we'll all agree that the Marvel films perhaps that overdid the “shared universe” concept, 'Iron Man 2' and 'Thor,' are the weakest of the bunch. With this no longer necessary, what we get instead are some terrific bits of weirdness. The cutaways to Loki's army of Chitauri have a B movie sci-fi quality that I loved, and while they aren't anything other than canon fodder they make great faces and noises. There are some unexpected cameos far odder than Stan Lee (they're not secret, but I won't spoil them – they include favorites of some of the great arthouse directors of the 70s and 80s,) but the most curious moment is when Loki calls Black Widow a “mewling quim.” If that isn't this year's “I drink your milkshake,” I give up on our pop culture echo chamber.
'The Avengers' isn't flawless. While the rewatch value of the second half is extremely high, the first half is definitely more for the fans than, you know, normal moviegoers. In its defense, the “hurry up and wait” style of plotting, where everything is presented as really important but nothing is actually happening, is very much of a piece with reading a monthly comic.
The other thing that bugged me is that while the real landmarks of New York get smashed real good (or used by Thor to. . .well. . .that'd be a spoiler,) Whedon does almost nothing to exploit New York as a character. This is not Donner's 'Superman: The Movie' or Raimi's 'Spider-Man.' This is a movie that coulda been set, not just filmed, in Albuquerque.
Overall, the picture is tremendous fun and it looks great. The action is smartly shot/rendered such that each of our heroes is always doing something that makes sense for their skills. The camera zips around in impossible directions, checking in as each star does some ridiculous move right out of a comic panel. You can practically see the word KRA-KOOM! on the screen.
The big win, ultimately, is the team. For the most part each character has a unique relationship to one another, and Whedon's penchant for comedy shines through. The writing even supports Cap wearing that goofy blue suit the whole time.
We've got more Marvel movies on deck and no sign of the team slowing up. It'll be hard to top 'The Avengers,' but they've already done the impossible. Can't wait to see what comes next.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.