Even though I am a fan of Joss Whedon (I was a big fan of “Buffy”), my anticipation for his “Avengers” film was strangely non-existent. Truthfully I am not sure why that was, maybe I am just burnt out by the constant barrage of superhero movies that seem to be forced on us these days. Every week there appears to be a new one and the good ones are few and far between. Even though I usually do end up seeing these films in the long run, I no longer anticipate them. In the case of “The Avengers” it had an even harder task to catch my eye because even when I was collecting comics I was never into “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”. It wasn’t until the strong word of mouth regarding the film’s excellence started to hit that I decided to take a trip to the cinema to check it out.
The plot of the film is all kinds of silly as disgraced god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) heads to Earth to steal the all-powerful Tesseract (Hydra’s secret weapon that is found at the end of “Captain America”) to help him open a portal to another dimension where he plans to let an alien race invade and destroy the Earth as revenge against his brother Thor. The threat is so mighty that one hero is not enough to save the day so Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), leader of S.H.I.E.L.D brings together The Avengers which consists of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Even with their combined power will it be enough to thwart Loki’s insidious plan?
After reading nothing but positive reviews and hearing nothing but good things in regards to “The Avengers”, you can imagine my surprise when I found the first 30-45 minutes of the film to be terrible and incredibly plodding. It is within this time that the team is put together as we go from one character to the next as each is convinced to join, but it is all so boring. It doesn’t feel cohesive at all, rather it is like we are watching short films on each character, but it just takes the film too long to get going. In fact not to harp on the point but I actually found these scenes to actually be embarrassing.
However once the team is assembled the film improves dramatically and Whedon hits his strides. He has always been known for his creative dialogue and the verbal exchanges he creates between these super-heroes as their egos are challenged are often very funny as the group bickers, taunts and ribs one another. Robert Downey Jr. has a field day in these scenes particularly when he appears to be trying to set off Dr. Banner’s transformation into The Hulk.
One thing that I particularly enjoyed about “The Avengers” was that Whedon infused the film with a fun tone and atmosphere. Too often these days comic book movies tend to be skewed towards the dark and serious but Whedon remembers that these stories are meant to be entertaining and fun, and an escape from the real world. As such, the film never takes itself too seriously which works in its favour.
With a huge roster of characters you would think that some of them would be short-changed but Whedon does an exceptional job of giving each of them their own moments. Without a doubt, Thor gets the best line in the film with regards to his “adopted” brother but they all get a moment to shine. The only character who doesn’t seem to fit is Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye . While I like Renner as an actor, he may be a little too intense for the world that Whedon has created here, and he does seem a little off, and also has the least to do.
Having the flamboyant and charismatic Robert Downey Jr. in the cast you would assume that this would be Iron Man’s movie, but surprisingly it is Mark Ruffalo’s rendition of The Hulk (he is the third actor to play the role now in three tries) that steals the picture. I say surprisingly because Marvel has had two cracks at making individual Hulk movies and they just haven’t got it right (that said, I do love the Eric Bana / Ang Lee version), but Whedon has got it spot on here. He knows just how to make the Hulk work, he is a character full of angst, anger and violence but he is also quite funny and The Hulk has a couple of laugh out loud moments within the film. The first is a moment after a fight that he has been battling alongside Thor, while the other is one of the most violent yet hilarious things I’ve seen in a comic book movie towards Loki. Both moments are very small but it is moments like these that make “The Avengers” special. As I said, Mark Ruffalo plays the Hulk this time around and he does a fantastic job especially when he is his alter ego, Bruce Banner. His scenes with Downey Jr. are a highlight. Ruffalo also portrayed the character when he was The Hulk via motion capture, so Ruffalo is quite present in the performance of the Hulk as well.
Everyone else plays their roles admirably with Scarlett Johansson looking incredibly sexy as Black Window, and while Loki himself may be a bit of a limp villain, I very much liked Tom Hiddleston’s performance in the role. I felt he was much better here than he was in the same role for “Thor”. The only acting letdown in the film is Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. I have never been a fan of Jackson’s portrayal of Fury, it has just never seemed right. Fury was always a tough son of a bitch who was always gruff and grouchy, however Jackson portrays him so flatly that he comes across as boring and he gives the man no strength at all.
Another spot where Whedon earns top marks is during the finale when all of the action kicks in. Although the action has an epic feel to it, Whedon has confined it basically to within one city block to make it feel more intimate. It is only about these characters fighting against the odds and not those who will be affected if they fail. Thankfully Whedon knows how to shoot these action scenes effectively and unlike the recent “The Hunger Games” doesn’t resort to the use of shaky cam, which shock horror, gives the audience the ability to see and understand everything that is going on.
Finally I have to say that enough is enough with the Stan Lee cameos in these Marvel films. What used to be cool, has now become groan inducing and when his cameo appeared near the end of “The Avengers” I seriously rolled my eyes. Give it a rest guys, that joke is done!
Overall with the exception of the terrible opening 45 minutes, I found Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” to be a superior superhero film. While it still hasn’t ousted “Spiderman 2” as my favourite comic book movie, it was very good indeed. The surprising hilarity of The Hulk stole the film for me and I was very impressed (and thankful) for the overall fun tone of the film. While I still think that “The Avengers” is overrated, it is still an easy recommendation.