Finally. A good 14 years after Marvel started turning their most popular comic franchises into movie properties, they have finally made what should be their biggest movie, about one of their biggest properties, The Avengers. Long beloved as one of the biggest superhero teams (only Justice League would be a bigger movie, really) The Avengers have a lot going for them, and Disney and Marvel finally got all their ducks in enough of a row to be able to make this film actually happen. The tipping point, really, was the success of Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, even though the second movie was lackluster, it still managed to make a tidy sum for Marvel, who were just branching out into making movies on their own without a partner studio. They managed to make two quite different Hulk movies, and the character’s appearance in this film marks the third actor to recently play the role. They also managed to reboot Captain America to its pulp serial fiction roots with a big budget action movie, and they even made a successful Thor movie that most people liked, and for the most part, made sense. These are all the basic requirements for an Avengers movie, not to mention the introduction of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., a program that has been shut down, but he still moves in the dark circles of the US government.
The film does a good job of introducing Black Widow and Hawkeye, two characters that so far haven’t played a role in another movie (besides Hawkeye’s cameo in Thor), but they are kind of introduced together as to how they came to be part of the Avengers, and how they came to work for Nick Fury and the now-defunct S.H.I.E.L.D. program. That might be the biggest problem with the film, however, outside of showing how all the characters came to the Avengers program (most of which is a rehash from the individual character films) there is very little plot. Some people might consider this a spoiler, but I don’t, as it’s been in the trailers. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has retreated from Asgard, and he has secured himself an army (who the army consists of is a minor spoiler, so I’ll leave that out, but it’s pretty obvious in the trailers) and he returns to Earth in an attempt to enslave it.
This is where Nick Fury must assemble the greatest heroes they have at their disposal, with Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Hulk coming back to work together to defeat Loki’s army. His power play resides in the capture of the Tesseract, the power source discovered in Thor by Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) who appears on screen for all of 5 minutes in the film, mostly enslaved by Loki to help his plan come to fruition. The first 90 minutes of the movie is all another origin story, like most of the individual character films, we learn where they all come from and what they bring to the team, along with the obligatory in-fighting that comes with setting up a team with such larger-than-life personalities. The biggest problem they have is tracking down Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who has fled society to help the poor that don’t have medical resources. He reluctantly returns and the last hour is set up as an action setpiece.
This is where the film really does what it is supposed to do. It turns into an apocalyptic battle on the streets of New York City to save humanity. Each character is put to the test to see if they can bring to the team what they do best for themselves. Of course, Iron Man doesn’t follow orders so well, so he spends his time doing risky things that pay off. He really is the cornerstone of the team, and since the films have the biggest grosses, I suppose that’s why he was given the most to do. Captain America (Chris Evans) has to adjust to modern life (still) as well as come to terms with the rest of his teammates.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is given little to do, other than to have knowledge on Loki, and of course a scene of confrontation. All other personal story with Thor is obviously held for Thor 2, where he’ll reunite with Natalie Portman to further their story and the fallout of this story. Surprisingly, Hulk is given the second largest swath of personal screen time, as Banner continues to control the beast within him, and returning to the society that cast him out proves more difficult than he wants it to be. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is stuck with Eric Selvig under Loki’s enslavement for most of the film, but at least he does a few things under Loki’s control, and has a lot of action scenes, especially at the end of the film.
Director Joss Whedon succeeds in nailing the campy, yet big nature of such a film as The Avengers. The scope still feels small, “like TV” is what critics will mostly call it, but Whedon manages to capture a lot of comic book style conventions with canted angles and interesting shots that might not be Lawrence of Arabia cinematic, but the film still feels as big as it should, and it shines during the moments of action. CGI runs rampant, but at the same time, it’s well used, and the action is easy to follow. It doesn’t happen so fast you can’t even process what’s happening, every ounce of danger is apparent to the audience as Loki and his army make their big attack.
There is, of course, constant peril for our heroes, who go around saving each other, and a couple of them barely make it. Most importantly, it was a fun movie all around, things are kept light, and although the story is threadbare at best, it isn’t expected to be much more complicated than it is. Which is to say, this is a good Avengers movie, but not the best possible one. It’s what it sets out to be, however, a film full of superheroes all doing what we know them best for. Iron Man makes his smart remarks but he does things only he can do in his flying metal suit, Hulk smashes, Thor beats people down with his hammer and the power of thunder and lightning, and Black Widow beats the snot out of everyone. Some of the dialogue is Whedonesque in its delivery, but the references don’t get too obscure, this is a major blockbuster, after all, but I don’t think Whedon fans will be disappointed, and I think enough notes are hit to keep the fanboys happy. Someone’s always going to complain, but it’s an interesting set up for Iron Man 3 and Avengers 2, which at least Robert Downey Jr is locked into. With Shane Black plugging away at Iron Man 3, and Alan Taylor prepping Thor 2, that is this film’s biggest fault: It’s a mere set up for many bigger things throughout the franchises, and the pool of characters will only grow from here I’m sure.