REVIEW: The Avengers

The Avengers
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon (screenplay), Zak Penn & Joss Whedon (story) Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (characters)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth

Like all mega-blockbusters, the most interesting talking points about The Avengers will be financial ones.  It is the latest in a long line of super-hero behemoths, although it was engineered to be the king of those giants.  For the past few summers, Paramount Studios has carefully built up to this Marvel grand opus of crime fighting, releasing an individual movie for almost all of the principle characters in this film.  It started with Iron Man in 2008 and ended last summer with Captain America, raking in millions upon millions along the way.

None of the entries in The Avengers franchise are complete movie-making disasters.  In fact, they are almost all deliberately average, crafted more with marketing and merchandising in mind.  Of course the super hero universes that Stan Lee created are endlessly ripe for film adaptation, and recent American movie summers would be nothing without those mutant and intellectual do-gooders.

The Avengers of course tops all the prequels, as well it should.  Each hero is given their moment to shine, and the action sequence that occupies the last 40 minutes is a grand spectacle that only a Hollywood studio’s financing could produce.  Writer/director Joss Whedon gives welcome doses of comedy and balances the different styles of the varied performers well.  Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) riffs well with Chris Evans (Captain America) and the other Chris (Thor).

Perhaps the biggest acting surprise, though, is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk.  When it was first announced that he was replacing Edward Norton, all I could picture was the wayward biker from The Kids Are All Right.  He brings a real punch and nuance to the character, though, and Whedon restrains bringing out the green beast until more than halfway through the movie when the main villain, Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddelston), uses the transformation to escape from the custody of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Hiddelston is well up to the task of being a maniacal villain.  Though his name doesn’t fit on the marquee with the likes of a Downey Jr. or a Scarlett Johansson, his menacing smile and chill are more than enough to bring his after-thought of a character to life.  Most of the plot of The Avengers revolves around him opening a portal to another universe so ugly creatures can invade Earth and kill everyone.  There is no dance with the devil as in Nolan’s much grittier take on the superhero mythos in his Batman films.

Perhaps Whedon’s greatest accomplishment with this film (besides its gargantuan opening weekend haul) is meshing the styles created by very different directors in the prequels.  Both Iron Man films were fueled by the rock ‘n roll sensibility of Jon Favreau and the dead-pan banter of Downey Jr, while Thor was a comic fish out of water film.  Add in the polished WWII aesthetics of Captain America and the brooding, semi-contemplative tone of The Incredible Hulk, and it seems like The Avengers should be an unholy stylistic mess.  It’s not, though, and Whedon finds some time to flesh out character interaction as well as do a circular scan of each member of the team as they prepare to save New York City.

The two main action set-pieces, the grand finale in NYC and the one where Loki is broken out of Fury’s colossal sky fortress, are exceptionally well choreographed.  While weaving through the city destruction, the camera doesn’t become incoherent like in a Transformers movie.  Destruction and banter remain well in tact, which render the already-meager narrative irrelevant.

While some of the background information may be hard to pick up on if you haven’t seen the other films recently, for the most part it’s very straightforward.  Fury and Black Widow (Johansson) came and went in the other films assembling the team, and now they must come together again to save humanity.  That way they can live long enough to buy tickets to next year’s summer blockbusters.

Grade: C+

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