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The Avengers obviously hit it big at the box office. I wasn’t surprised it ended up an enormous hit, but I was surprised a bit by just how HUGE it was. At the beginning of the summer I never would have expected The Avengers to turn out a bigger hit than The Dark Knight Rises, but by box office standards it absolutely trounced Nolan’s final Batman film (though in hind sight there was no way part three would ever live up to the lofty heights of part two). I’m guessing that opening near Battleship and Dark Shadows (two underwhelming summer 2012 films) probably was a huge boon to The Avengers, as it really didn’t face much competition for several weeks in May and June (additionally, reviews for Joss Whedon’s superhero ensemble were overwhelmingly positive).
I liked The Avengers when I saw it at a midnight showing all the way back in May. I found it charming, exciting, and generally likeable in a summer blockbuster type of way. I thought it had pacing problems and suffered from looking kind of bland (much like most of the other Marvel movies), but I liked it a lot in general. Anchored by a great performance from Robert Downey, Jr. (much happier as Tony Stark/Ironman than in the dreadful Iron Man 2) and solid writing and directing from Whedon (Zak Penn shares a co-writing credit let’s not forget), Avengers is an exciting, well-crafted action film that does a pretty good job of integrating a whole bunch of popular superheroes into one movie. Recently released onto home video, I wanted to catch The Avengers again and see how well it held up since my initial viewing. How’d that go? Stick around and find out what I thought.
I rented The Avengers from Amazon Instant Watch. The technical experience wasn’t great. The sound was quite bad (the noise from the explosions and whatnot greatly drowned out the sound of the dialogue). The picture was also lousy (I opted for the regular version for $3.99 rather than paying an extra buck for the HD version). This isn’t really a fault of the film, but it did diminish the experience overall, as I much preferred the way the film looked and sounded in the theaters. I imagine I’d like the film better on Blu Ray, but just don’t want to shell out $20 I don’t have for it. (Update: I’ve not watched it a second time on Amazon Instant Viewing, and the sound quality was still the same. I’ve never had this problem with the Instant Watch section before, and I’ve rented and bought many, many products from Amazon’s streaming service – I’m therefore willing to chalk this up to being a random blip on an otherwise fine service.)
Technical issues aside, the film held up decently overall. The special effects are pretty fantastic – not the greatest ever but an achievement nonetheless, primarily due to the climactic New York-set battle scene at the end. The Hulk looks better in this film than he has in the previous two Hulk movies (it helps that this is a 2012 movie and the others were 2003 and 2008 and also that The Avengers does not suck the way those two movies do). Costumes look great, especially Thor, but with the notable exception of Captain America, who looked much better in his own movie than in the updated Cap outfit (really hate the way the headpiece looks on the new ‘stume for example). Performances are also largely good, once again anchored by a great Downey, Jr. Chris Hemsworth continues to surprise me as a leading actor, and his performance in The Avengers is also solid (especially his one-on-ones with Loki). Tom Hiddleston nearly steals the show as Loki as well. I was also pleasantly surprised by Mark Ruffalo, who I normally don’t care for as an actor. I really dug his portrayal of Banner. The less said about Scarlet Johansson and Jeremy Renner the better. Let’s just say I’m not big fans of them as actors or as characters in this movie.
The way that The Avengers looks is only so-so, however. The set designs and the military hardware are pretty bland though out, looking much the way they looked in Captain America and Iron Man 2, which was quite bland and fake. I didn’t care for the aerial headquarters at all – that set just looks a bit too clean for my tastes. One exception is the India-set Hulk scene, but this is early in the film and not really a notable impact on the movie as a whole. 2011’s Thor had a much more lived-in look, particularly in the Asgard-set scenes (which were somewhat reminiscent of a Shakespearean play, due to director Kenneth Branagh I imagine). Even the first Iron Man, when Tony was in the caves of Afghanistan for example, portrayed that “lived-in” look fairly well. The Avengers, in quite a few scenes, just looks too computer-y and bland for my tastes. Though it gets pretty good and well-invaded, New York City never really looks like a war-zone either, despite the generally good framing and direction going on.
The New York stuff actually leads me to my biggest criticism of the film – the bad guys just aren’t bad enough. The Chitauri (I had to look up the proper name for them as the film itself seems to go out of its way to keep them nameless) just are not menacing. They seem to me to be more like a villain-of-the-week on a Power Rangers show, right down to their glow-y laser weapons, inability to fight cooperatively (seriously, why do they fight one at a time?), and just general stupidity altogether. Loki is a great villain I feel, just not great enough to pose any kind of major threat to our heroes. He isn’t really menacing, but he’s so well-portrayed by Hiddleston that it doesn’t really matter. Coupled with an extremely weak alien “invasion,” however, Loki just doesn’t have the gravitas that a villain like The Joker or Bane added to the Nolan Batman trilogy.
The original Marvel films essentially functioned as introductions to the main characters in the eventual The Avengers movie. That’s fine with me, though I do find it a bit dubious overall (especially in the case of Iron Man 2 and Captain America). The Avengers, as a movie, is competently written, acted, and directed and can pretty much only get better, in the form of sequels, from this point out I feel. The movie isn’t a classic despite its overwhelming internet acclaim, but it is a pretty good summer film that holds up decently well in most respects. I have the utmost faith that Marvel and its talented cast of actors, screen-writers, producers, and directors will improve upon the franchise for future installments. For a first film essentially (crossing off those 120-minute commercials that came out in the years before it), The Avengers isn’t too bad at all.