Oh, sure… it’s easy to dream up a scenario where multiple superheroes could take to the big screen and team up to battle whatever super-villain is lined up against them with the rest of the world hanging in the balance, but up until Nick Fury set foot into Tony Stark’s place to tell him he wasn’t “the only superhero in the world” and present to him the Avengers Initiative, we didn’t actually believe it was possible. Now after an IRON MAN sequel which was all about setting up S.H.I.E.L.D., a couple solo efforts for Captain America and Thor, and a recasting of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo now dons the purple pants), the Marvel Movie Universe has finally come together in THE AVENGERS. Just the idea of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sharing screen time is enough to make even the most average of geeks need a change of underwear, but now that the realization of such a concept is here, it’s a matter of whether or not the film can not only meet expectations but exceed them.
So that’s the simple question. Does THE AVENGERS live up to the four-year build of excitement for this film, which all began with that one post-credits IRON MAN sequence? Yes, but…
THE AVENGERS is incredibly fun and refreshingly exhilarating. Watching these characters come together is a sight to see, if only because who knows if we’ll ever see anything like it ever again (that is, until the sequel… but will we ever get a Justice League movie to match?). It’s not short on action, delivering not only each of the Avengers getting their moments to shine against the invasion of the Chitauri but the dream match-ups of seeing some of our heroes square off against each other, too. But, for those positives, THE AVENGERS steps forward with its fair share of glaring weaknesses in tow. Even with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) involved again, there’s a lack of credible villain. Even with a third act comprised solely of action, there are long bouts where THE AVENGERS drags, with exposition aplenty being talked at you rather than shown. The formula for showing dissension among the ranks feels tired and repetitive after awhile, and the Avengers at times feel like a bunch of high school girls incapable of working together over the ultimate in superhero teams. THE AVENGERS is a clusterfuck of epic proportions… but it comes together in all the right places. The good outweighs the bad, and, when all is said and done, the film manages to bring you one thing that’s been missing from a lot of movies Hollywood has been releasing lately: joy.
For this chapter in the Marvel Movie Universe, Loki has teamed up with the Chitauri, an alien race, in order to get their hands on the Cosmic Cube. Loki wants to rule Earth, the Chitauri want the Cube to rule the rest of the galaxy… everyone wins as far as they’re concerned, except for the human race. With Earth in jeopardy of being taken over, Nick Fury revisits the Avengers Initiative to bring together some extraordinary people to defend us from the evils that are lurking. It’s about as simple a plot as they come, and really all that’s needed for the Avengers to assemble.
The issue though is that the danger never materializes until the full-blown war is waged until the third act. In the meantime, Loki is taken captive after a pretty cool fight between Iron Man and Thor over whose jurisdiction he belongs under, and then arguably the best villain in the Marvel films so far is put on the shelf, left to waste away in a cell meant for the Hulk, if needed. Sadly, Hiddleston is wasted, spending a large portion of the film in a position where he can’t really do much, except talk. There’s a divide and conquer element to his plan, but he doesn’t have much of a hand in it. There’s an air of inevitability to these super egos getting into a macho contest over who’s dick is the biggest, so, to bring Loki into the middle of it and not really have him play a role reeks of not really knowing what else to do with him for the time being. I get that there’s plenty of future for Loki beyond THE AVENGERS, looking at a THOR sequel and more, but, if you’re not going to allow his cunning and deviousness to amount to anything, there’s no need to even use him. He would have been better off kept wherever he was for better use later than to slap him onto THE AVENGERS. He’s fantastic when is given some room to work, but it’s too few and far between for my liking.
The superhero on superhero fighting is cool as hell. There is nothing quite like seeing Thor and the Hulk throw down, but, after seeing what feels like every combination of the Avengers mixed and matched to battle each other at some point, the concept becomes a bit stale throughout the movie that by the time you see Black Widow and Hawkeye exchanging blows, the novelty has been lost. To add to the physical, this group of Alpha males (no offense, Black Widow) is always sniping at each other over whose way of doing things is the right way, which leads to constant bickering, very unbecoming of a superhero. For some reason, Tony Stark has added Sawyer from LOST to his long resume of genius, billionaire, playboy and philanthropist. He’s got a nickname for everyone – from “Point Break” for Thor to “Legolas” for Hawkeye. Sure, Stark has been a smart-ass throughout the films thus far, but there’s something that feels a little off with how RDJ portrays him this time out. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Iron Man though, as his aerial battles are some of the best action beats in THE AVENGERS.
Let’s get to the good stuff. If you were wondering how Mark Ruffalo would do following in the steps of Eric Bana and Edward Norton, he more than handles his own as Bruce Banner. Ruffalo has the proper demeanor for Banner’s under the radar, just want to be left alone persona to work, and, because his version of the Hulk is part of a bigger picture and not the focus all by himself, the character’s limitations are well hidden. We can get the Hulk smashing and transforming without this endless battle to control “the other guy.” As for the Hulk himself… holy shit!! This is the Hulk we’ve really been waiting for for two films, and he probably serves up more WTF moments in THE AVENGERS than the rest of the Marvel Studios films have had combined. You’ll know them when you see them, and, as your jaw hits the floor and you jump out of your seat, you’ll be left wondering why it took until Joss Whedon to finally figure out how to maximize his potential.
It isn’t until the film’s third act that THE AVENGERS truly gels. Here’s where the Chitauri finally arrive in full force, as do the superheroes. The action is non-stop, shifting from one Avenger to the next as they do their best to take the fight to their attackers. Until then, THE AVENGERS feels quite underwhelming, but once the shit hits the fan, director Joss Whedon shows his understanding of what the fans want to see. There’s much more Loki at work here, which just makes his uselessness prior all the more upsetting, and we really get the best of Iron Man, the Hulk and Thor on display. It’s a crowd-pleasing finale to the film that reminds you why you were thrilled for this movie in the first place.
Is THE AVENGERS the best of the Marvel movies? It may be the most fun, particularly at the end, but it’s far from the most complete story they’ve told. While there’s no need to get into the origins of each individual character (although we get a glimpse of the backstories of Black Widow and Hawkeye, since they’re the least established), THE AVENGERS still manages to play like an origin story. The pieces may not have to be explained all over again, but this is very much about setting the dynamic of the team and working through their difficulties as solo acts to get there. As a result, there’s plenty of missteps along the way to perfecting that equation, but I get the feeling now that the hard work is out of the way, a sequel will give them a lot more freedom to just jump into the fact that they now have a fully working, although occasionally dysfunctional, unit capable of doing great things against great opponents. The climactic war is ultimately what saves the film. Without it, we would have walked away seeing the superhero equivalent of THE MIGHTY DUCKS. With it, we got a movie that’s after all this is worthy of calling itself THE AVENGERS.
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