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For the first time since 2008 (and only the third time overall) I went to the midnight release of a movie. I didn’t plan on it happening this way, but a local friend asked if I would go with him. Of course I accepted as I am the world’s greatest friend, so I napped up and hit the multiplex for the 12:01 am showing of The Avengers. I don’t want to get too into the back story for this movie, because it’s been building for years and everyone has probably already seen the films that preceded it. Marvel and company have done a fine job of bringing all the plots of these various films together (with the exception of The Incredible Hulk, which seems shoe-horned in somewhat in retrospect), and this movie is the culmination of years of effort and planning. For that reason alone, The Avengers must be commended. There’s a ton to like about it, but I have my fair share of complaints as well. Let’s get into that now.
Let’s start with the good stuff. Downey, Jr., Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Johansson, Renner, Ruffalo, and Evans are all fantastic as the principle cast. Casting has done a wonderful job throughout the years, starting with the excellent Downey, Jr. as Iron Man (an A+ casting job here). Downey, Jr. gets a majority of the good lines and good scenes in the film, which makes sense considering the ulta-popularity of the Iron Man film franchise. But each character gets their chance to shine, including a solid Evans as Cap, a marvelous Hemsworth as Thor, and a fantastic Ruffalo as Banner/Hulk. I have bashed Ruffalo in the past for being kind of a blah actor, but his laid-back, California-style cool serve Banner extremely well, and his playfulness with Downey, Jr.’s Stark/Iron Man is pretty great. Johansson and Renner fit the cast nicely, and get their due in the film as well. Hiddleston’s Loki might just be the best in the cast, stealing the show with a Shakespearean heavyweight performance that was like his turn in Thor cranked to eleven.
Another commendation I’ll give the film is that the script is pretty fantastic. I love how it gets political in places, offering a depth I did not see coming (honestly I didn’t expect that at all). Each team member has his or her own goals and agendas and I love that they spar and argue realistically throughout the movie. Standouts include Thor and Hulk (I love Hulk trying to pick up Thor’s hammer) and Cap and Iron Man (Cap’s “rah rah” style conflicts greatly with Stark’s one-man-band acts of bravado). Whedon and story contributor Zak Penn have both done a great job taking a whole bunch of films and diverging main stories and turning them into a coherent film with well-defined characters and some pretty funny witticisms throughout. As mentioned earlier, it’s pretty great that this film came together in such a way to begin with.
Action scenes range from pretty awesome (the siege on New York city is great) to fairly well done (the fights on the air ship never really gave me a sense of danger). The siege is really great though, and the sense of space of New York City is pretty great. I often have issues with big battle scenes in films, but I can’t say that about The Avengers, especially in that ultimate battle. I didn’t care too much that the final battle came down a nuke launch, even if that seemed kind of cliche, but at least Whedon’s direction is strong throughout the whole sequence. I mentioned earlier that I never really felt a sense of danger in the final battle, and I have to say that’s a pretty fair criticism throughout the movie. The Avengers is kind of light and breezy and fun in a lot of places, interspersed with a few moments of Loki darkness. I’m not asking for The Avengers to turn into some kind of Nolan or Burton production, but I did feel like the film could have been a bit more dangerous in certain places.
I’ve seen a lot of hyperbole over this movie on the internet so far, with many fans claiming it’s a flawless, fantastic film and the best comic book movie ever. I can’t share these sentiments. There are a few areas I find lacking, for example. While I enjoy Hiddleston as Loki, I never quite bought into his inspiration/motivation for wanting to take over earth. I may have to watch the film a second time to better pick up on his goals (which seemed vague other than a generic “I want to rule the earth, ha ha!” mentality). And while I love the siege on NYC, the enemies never really seem all that competent (though it’s great to see the team beat up on the continuously). I will say that this film probably could have used some kind of strong secondary villain, even if I have complained about the Nolan Batman franchise doing this in the past (Raimi’s Spider-Man films are another franchise that does this).
Given the difficult task of taking four franchises and a half dozen characters and putting them into a coherent film, I have to give props to Whedon and company for making a fine effort, despite the problems I had with The Avengers. The film greatly benefits from its fine ensemble, with Downey, Jr. and Hiddleston stealing the show (and Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk being a pretty great wildcard too). The film features the best on-screen adaptation of the Hulk, and the work Hiddleston brings to the movie is pretty fantastic throughout. The Avengers may not be the greatest film of all time, but it’s a pretty good summer roller coaster ride.