Six Marvel Comics superheroes, four of whom have had their own film franchises, come together in one great big action adventure movie. Hulk. Iron Man. Thor. Captain America. Black Widow. Hawkeye. Brought together by Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Ever since the after-the-credits scene in Iron Man teased the idea, fans have been eagerly awaiting The Avengers, hoping it would live up to its potential.
It’s not an easy task. The film has to balance the different characters, making sure they play off well against each other, making sure each has plenty of screen time and “awesome moments”, and making sure it builds just enough on each characters’ own film franchise. It has to be exciting, it has to be inspiring, it has to be at least a little witty, and it has to have just a bit of emotional depth. It has to make the audience want to see more Avengers films, more films from the established character film franchises, and hopefully films with the characters who didn’t have franchises before. It has to do a lot.
It does it.
It also blows things up, which is always important.
The film’s plot mostly builds out of elements from Thor and Captain America, with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) stealing the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D. This, coupled with an interstellar alliance with the Chitauri (an alien race from Marvel’s “Ultimate” line of comics), elevates Loki from a threat to a single hero to a planetary threat. The film establishes the threat that Loki poses simply by himself very early on, with him easily gaining the advantage over S.H.I.E.L.D. With such a threat, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) quietly assembles the Avengers, against the wishes of his superiors, under the guise of recruiting them for consultants under their various areas of expertise.
Even when the action isn’t going full bore (and such “lulls” are infrequent), the character dynamics keep the movie highly entertaining. Joss Whedon directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay, and his input is very apparent in the dialogue. This is a very witty, funny film for an action movie; in fact, it was sometimes difficult to hear dialogue thanks to people in the theatre laughing at something that had just been said. Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. are obviously the most dynamic and engaging actors in the film, but everybody has their moments to shine; Chris Evans as Captain America does particularly well as the less-vainglorious hero playing off of the others. Mark Ruffalo makes a fantastic Bruce Banner — and not that we’ve really had a bad one, but he does well enough to make it seem that his recent six-picture deal is going to work out very well for Marvel fans. I also loved the way the film progressed his character; of all the franchises, the Hulk movies probably contribute the least to the set up of The Avengers, no doubt because of their lackluster reception. But The Avengers contributes a lot to the likely success of future Hulk movies.
Hulk very excited to be a part of this picture.
I thought the film particularly excelled at its handling of Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Neither of these characters had films of their own, nor huge parts in previous movies (Hawkeye’s screentime in Thor is only a few minutes). So The Avengers had a tricky balancing act on how much screen time and attention to give them since the audience wouldn’t necessarily have any attachment to these characters. But it gives both of them a lot of screen time without ever making it seem as though they’re taking the spotlight away from the other characters. They’re integral, important parts; equal to, not lesser or greater than, the other parts. And both get their moments to shine in action scenes as well (and Hawkeye has his trick arrows in play, which is important.) I don’t know if Marvel plans to spin either of these characters off into films without the rest of the Avengers, but it’s at least a possibility now — or even a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie with the pair of them and Nick Fury.
Other characters also have their moments. Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) is introduced and while not as prominent as other roles, is still given enough interesting screen time that she’ll be easily recognized in any future installments. Clark Gregg continues to be great as Agent Coulson — in fact, he’s a lot more fun here than he was in Thor. Supporting characters from the character-specific films are in short supply — fans of Natalie Portman will have to wait for Thor 2 to see her again — but a few reprise their roles to great effect. Stellan Skarsgård returns as astrophysicist Selvig from Thor, and while his role isn’t especially large, it’s important. And Gwyneth Paltrow plays Pepper Potts once more, and actually manages to steal the scene from Robert Downey Jr., which is no small feat.
Action movies in general, and superhero movies in particular, have to rely a lot on special effects. The Avengers manages to hit this out of the park as well. The aliens look great, their ships look terrific, as does S.H.I.E.L.D.’s headquarters. The special effects from the Tesseract energy are as fantastic as they were in Captain America: The First Avenger, but more varied in their use. The CGI Hulk looks yet more lifelike than before, helped by a resemblance to Mark Ruffalo, and although the first transition from Banner to Hulk is just a tiny bit off, the last one is about as close to perfect as it can be. And all the explosions and random destruction are both exciting and believable.
You get the dustpan, I’ll get the broom.
There really isn’t a weak point in this film. The plot is solid, the dialogue fantastic. All the actors turn in great performances. The special effects work very well. It draws on the established franchises, and sets them up for further adventures — without, I might add, doing so in a way that requires you to have seen The Avengers to enjoy Thor 2 (for example). Since I have seen all the lead-in films, I’m not 100% sure how well The Avengers works for someone who hasn’t, but I also didn’t see anything where people absolutely had to have seen prior films to understand what’s going on. Seeing Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger certainly helps illuminate the gravity of the situation with Loki and the Tesseract, but the film does a pretty good job of establishing that on its own.
The Avengers is exactly what the fans were hoping it would be.
Be sure to stay through the entirety of the credits, as there are two post-credits scenes; one after the first batch of credits, the other after the full credits. The first is setup for the next Avengers film, and is intriguing — and is going to have a lot of Marvel fans losing their collective gourds. The second is just plain funny in a very low key way.