I have to admit it: I was never a fan of comic books growing up. In grade school, I was more interested in collecting baseball cards and Garbage Pail Kids, and catching snakes. In high school, I moved on to catching girls, and raining jumpers on the basketball court.
So I didn’t come into the long-awaited and much-anticipated summer blockbuster The Avengers with the same fervor as many others in the audience did. But that said, it is finally here. Fan boys and comic book savants have been clamoring for its release ever since it was announced that self-professed geek God Joss Whedon was taking over as director.
So what should we make of the ridiculously expensive (estimated $220 million budget) and overhyped collaboration of some Marvel’s most beloved superheroes?
At its worst, it’s a great summertime movie, with enough wit, charm, mandated super-charged action, and authenticity to entertain even the novice viewer, who has limited knowledge of the main characters.
At its best, it’s a masterstroke from Whedon, which sets the table for a franchise destined to become the next “must-see” phenomenon for years to come. It’s very loud (the studio intends it to be this way), full of action and mysticism.
It was converted to 3-D in post-production, and I for one, wasn’t really a fan of it, and thought it unnecessary. If given the choice, I would see it again without the glasses. Personal preference though.
While the plot isn’t overly hard to follow, it’s not exactly breaking new ground cast against the plots of the cacophony of recent super hero movies, either.
The Avengers’ mission is to help save the world from the villainous takeover plot of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), an interplanetary demigod come to earth through portal to another universe.
The characters are then summoned one-by-one by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) as part of S.H.I.E.L.D, an agency charged with keeping the peace. This leads to the obligatory series of scenes of introducing these super heroes, wherever they may currently be.
We find Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) tied up to a chair, popping out of a tight black tank top, while being interrogated by some eastern European mobsters. (OK, so maybe the 3-D was good for something!) Steve Rogers (Captain America, played by Chris Evans) is beating the hell out of some punching bags in a musty gymnasium. Tony Stark (Iron Man, played by Robert Downey, Jr.) is working on plans for his self-sustainable energy skyscraper that bears his name. And Bruce Banner (The Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo), has spent the last year working with the sick in Calcutta, trying to repress his anger, thus unleashing “the other guy,” as he is commonly referred to.
Loki, who we learn is the brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), is naturally wreaking havoc on Earth, trying to essentially turn humans into a race of trembling subservient sheep.
And while the audience naturally understands that this is ultimately a story of good vs. evil, the true treasure of the movie was seeing how each of these unique characters, and the set in stone perceptions we already have about them, would interplay.
More to that end, the tension created between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers is delightful. It’s the age-old dichotomy of Rogers’ tough-as-nails, hard-working, virtuous everyman, cast against the cocky, snarky, entitlement shown by billionaire Stark.
Tired of his selfishness and derision, Rogers finally chides Stark, asking “without that suit of armor, what are you?” To which Stark coolly replies, as only Tony Stark would, “uh, genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”
The tension comes to a head when the group discovers some of Fury’s ulterior motives, creating a particularly obnoxious scene where each of the characters is bickering with one another, all the while their massive air station/aircraft carrier/submarine/fighter plane (God help us if the government actually builds one of these things) gets infiltrated by some of Loki’s henchmen.
With so much brainpower and artillery to boot aboard that vessel, it’s a particularly lazy stretch to imagine it being taken over with such ease, as the superheroes are engaging in pissing contest.
Hey fellas, who’s watching the store?
Ruffalo plays a subdued version of Bruce Banner, who’s own brilliance creates intriguing and metaphoric dialogue with Stark. Banner is teeming with anxiety, not wanting to let out the inevitable chaos that comes with the “enormous green rage monster” as Stark calls him.
But knowing that at some point The Hulk will be unleashed is one of the most thrilling moments of suspense in the film.
Thor offers a particularly wooden performance until the movie’s final battle scene begins to escalate. Renner’s take on Hawkeye, as well as Johansson’s Black Widow, are well played, but don’t elicit the same “geeked out” anticipation as their colleagues, as they are merely trained assassins with no particular super hero powers.
To Whedon’s credit, the movie is accessible for those who are coming into the worlds of these characters for the first time. However, there are enough allusions to the comic book realm, and enough authentic storytelling to satisfy even the most rabid of fan boys.
Another aspect of the movie that is particularly appealing is the humor displayed by multiple characters. Stark obviously leads the pack in this way, delivering line after line of witty, snarky (or should we say “Starky”) dialogue. But even the stoic Thor uncharacteristically “drops the comedy hammer” (see what I did there?) at one point.
The best sequence of the movie happens at its climactic battle scene, when Loki opens another inter-dimensional portal, releasing his army of minions that are unique to say the least (imagine if the creepy flying monkeys from Wizard of Oz mutated with Decepticons, and that’s pretty much what you get).
The Avengers soon realize that in order to win, they need to put aside their egos and agendas and work together to take down Loki’s army. In the midst of destroying nearly every square inch of mid-town Manhattan, the group finally becomes one, and the rest is, as they say…
Seeing Captain America take charge, bring the group together, and set up an attack strategy is a microcosm of what The Avengers are at its core – five (in the case, six) fingers, coming together to make a fist. His delegation and leadership is capped off by two simple words, which he utters to the bulging green giant: “Hulk. Smash.”
In the end, the movie pretty much accomplishes what it should. It’s almost 2.5 hours that seems like 1.5. It’s engaging, engrossing, and an experience worth your $12. And if you are a fanatic – and the raucous applause and screaming as the credits came during the screening illustrates that there are tons of you out there – there’s plenty to be excited about.
Stay through the credits and you’ll get a sneak peek hint of the first of (probably) many sequels.
Whedon and Marvel should be proud of what they have created: the latest box office juggernaut.