Finally, the film is here on DVD, Blu-ray, iTunes, and more, giving me an excuse to review it! The year is not over yet and it is possible that this could change, but I doubt it — I think it’s safe to say that The Avengers will be my favorite film this year. Indeed, Avengers is currently my favorite super-hero movie, taking away my personal top spot from Batman Begins. I admit that perhaps I have a little bias working in favor of the film as I have been a fan of Whedon’s work since before he was the cool new filmmaker on the block, but I like to think that all the same, my opinion of Avengers is fairly objective.
At first, when stirrings of a big super-hero conglomerate film started to bubble to the surface, when Nick Fury began to make his appearances in the closing credits of Marvel films, I didn’t get it. Not being a big comic book guy, and yet really liking the super-hero films makes me a bit of an odd duck apparently, but I was not aware (and still am largely not familiar) with the whole Avengers phenomenon, and the big “pull all the heroes together” thing sounded like a money grab of the worst sort. But then I heard that Joss Whedon signed on and I knew I would at least have to give it a chance.
It is impossible to talk about The Avengers without talking about the preceding films.
Going in to this film, there were two things working against it, and one thing working for it in terms of story leading up to this point. The two things against were Iron Man 2 and Thor, and that which was working in it’s favor was Captain America.
Iron Man 2 was an unmitigated disaster in my opinion. The S.H.I.E.L.D. storyline seemed shoehorned in at the expense of what should have been a really good plot line about a revenge crazed maniac because his dad was not given proper credit for the work he did. It did not endear any future S.H.I.E.L.D. story lines to me.
Thor, while better, was not a great film either. It failed to really make me love the character of Thor (thankfully we have the first Iron Man to establish Tony Stark a little bit better), instead making him seem shallow, uninteresting, and unimaginative as a hero. There was no chemistry between Thor and Jane Foster, though it would not have taken much to put that in place, they failed to do so. And the story was weak.
Blessedly, Captain America is a shining star, a beacon of hope in this super-hero disaster area. Captain America had everything Iron Man 2 and Thor lacked: properly integrated story line alluding to S.H.I.E.L.D., characters we (I) cared about, chemistry with the love interest, well crafted story, proper development of Captain America as a character and more. This gave me a glimmer of hope for The Avengers.
Of course there was The Incredible Hulk from 2008, which was a great film, but had the least tie in with The Avengers. Still, the set up was there and it was and is part of the story. There are references to the events of The Incredible Hulk in Iron Man 2, and Tony Stark is seen at the end of the film. Still, it was incredibly disappointing, off-putting, and irritating to learn that they had recast Bruce Banner. I wanted Edward Norton back, he made me fall in love with The Hulk.
It is with both those disappointing elements, and encouraging aspects that I came to The Avengers. By the time I got to the theatre, I was actually fairly excited, this was after all, Joss Whedon. I was not disappointed. Whatever expectations I had for this film were blown away. I was riveted in my seat! I laughed, I cried, I was captivated by the action, and held in suspense by the story. The dialog was witty, the banter playful, the drama worked, in a nutshell, it was epic, it was character driven, it avoided the pitfalls of many of the films before it, and it was satisfying.
I don’t want to come off sounding too much like a fanboy™ here, but it really was that good and I just can’t say enough good things about it.
War Is Won By Soldiers
What is particularly extraordinary about this film is it manages to make us feel like we’ve spent an appropriate amount of time with each major character of the film, and even some more minor ones. This, I think, is the strength of bringing in a TV director/writer like Joss who knows how to work within time constraints to tell a story and who also knows how to work with an ensemble cast. And we see relationships and stories emerging, chemistry developing between certain characters.
The film is largely driven by Tony Stark, but it is also Captain America who plays somewhat of the father figure, breaking up fights, calling shots later in the film during the final battle and more. Thor is willing to do what it takes to protect the planet and people that he loves, Bruce Banner is willing to, as he put it, become the “exposed, raw nerve” known as The Hulk, Nick Fury is willing to defy his orders to do what is best and right. Each character gets their shining moment. Even a character like Phil Coulson that at first glance looks like he is probably just there as support and occasional comic relief gets his shining moment of glory.
All of it feels just right. This is not easy to do and I give props all around to both the actors who did a fantastic job, and most of all Joss Whedon. Without the right director this all could have easily gone south.
An Ant and a Boot
As the film opens, one might well suspect that the primary villain focus is on Loki. And indeed, in many ways he is. Tom Hiddleston does a masterful job in his performance and dialog, making you easily believe he is a greasy menace who has no problem killing in cold blood for very little reason and provocation. He has a superiority “god” complex. As he says to Director Fury who told Loki he had no quarrel with Loki’s people, “An ant has no quarrel with a boot.”
But like any good villain, there is something more going on here. Loki is a bit more complex, with a driving need for both power, and revenge against his brother Thor. Loki lives up to his reputation as the “god” of mischief quite well in this film. Getting captured early in the film turns out to be part of the plan to set loose The Hulk and cause terror and mayhem. There’s also a sort of psychotic rage very thinly veiled by his normal layer of charm we became familiar with in Thor.
This is perhaps some of the best comic book super-hero action to be had on the big screen. The fights are actually all followable (I hate action scenes that are mindless), but they are not light nor less intense for it. The CGI work is second to none, and there is very little cheese to be had. And who doesn’t love seeing The Hulk smash everything to bits? And of course Tony Stark really knows how to drive the action home. Some of my favorite action sequences also involve Black Widow (Captain America: “Are you sure about this?” Black Widow: “Yeah, it’ll be fun!”), and Hawk Eye (“It would be my genuine pleasure!”).
For all the great action, some of the best parts of the film are the softer, quieter moments that some would perhaps consider dull. Whedon has a gift for character driven scenes, snappy dialog, and sometimes even gut wrenching moments. All that is on full display with The Avengers. And the one-liners are something to behold.
Nick Fury: We have no quarrel with your people.
Loki: An ant has no quarrel with a boot.
Pepper Potts: Phil! Come in.
Tony Stark: Phil? Uh, his first name is Agent.
Steve Rogers: We need a plan of attack!
Tony Stark: I have a plan — attack!
Natasha Romanoff: These guys come from legend, Captain. They’re basically gods.
Steve Rogers: There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like *that.*
Thor: You have no idea what you’re dealing with.
Tony Stark: Shakespeare in The Park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?
Thor: Have a care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother!
Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.
Thor: He’s adopted.
World Security Council: Director Fury, the council has made a decision.
Nick Fury: I recognise the council has made a decision, but given that it’s a stupid-ass decision, I’ve elected to ignore it.
Tony Stark: I’m bringing the party to you.
Natasha Romanoff: I, I don’t see how that’s a party…
There’s much, much more, but those were some of my favorite lines.
I must grudgingly admit that Rufalo as Bruce Banner is incredibly compelling. Our friend Joseph actually thinks this is by far the better rendition of the Bruce/Hulk character. I am still partial to Ed Norton, but I am not unhappy with Rufalo and as long as they stick with him now it will all be good.
My only complaint with Mark is that he is not Edward Norton. I hate changing actors for characters, particularly when we are to believe this is the same guy that we saw in the previous Hulk film — when it’s set in the same universe and timeline. But I did forgive it because Rufalo is so good. If I am being honest with myself, I think if Mark had played The Hulk from the beginning, I would have been just as happy, perhaps even more so because he fits the character so well.
That does lead me to what I see as the one weakness of the film, and which has led me to not give this film a full five stars. It seems too convenient a plot device that the first time The Hulk breaks loose, he is a completely uncontrollable rage monster intent upon destroying everything in sight, whether friend or foe this green monster could not possibly care less. But when we come to the battle, suddenly The Hulk is an incredibly focused smashing machine who follows Captain America’s orders, fights side by side with his allies, rescues Iron Man from falling and seems for the most part to be totally self aware.
I have a way of explaining this to myself but I feel that the use of it as a plot device is just a bit too forced. The way I explain it to myself is that when provoked into being The Hulk, as happened on the Helicarrier, he has no control of himself. But when he chooses to be The Hulk, as happened in the final battle, he has much more of a semblance of control.
And in defense of his control, we did see in the 2008 Hulk film that he was learning to control himself, and that Liv Tyler’s character was able to exercise some manner of control and calming effect on him. But this really was something I had a problem with in The Avengers.
With that said, I really can’t think of a single other thing I didn’t really like.
Well Worth It
In the end, this film is one I’m going to watch many, many more times, over and over, until I have memorized every line. No seriously, it’s that good. This has easily made it into my top ten (should I ever actually compile such a list) and is definitely worth having in your shelf, or in your iTunes library.
Speaking of which, MovieByte is giving away a copy of The Avengers to one lucky winner. All you have to do to enter is click here to go to this entry and leave a comment there.