The Avengers Movie Review
The Avengers Moo-Vees Movie Review:
In The Avengers Joss Whedon, the occasionally surly genius behind Buffy, Angel, Firefly and to a lesser degree, Dollhouse, has done it. He’s created an ensemble superhero film that actually works.
Joss Whedon (screenplay), Zak Penn (story)
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson
Ever since Iron Man teased us with a cameo from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D., propositioning a reticent Tony Stark to join ‘The Avengers initiative’, fans have been understandably worried. It’s hard enough to get one superhero right, let alone a team of them. So how did Whedon manage to make a film that hits harder, faster and cleaner than any of the individual elements (Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, and so forth) combined?
The Film is an idea that never seemed particularly promising until it was announced Whedon would be writing and directing it. Prior to this, many were excitable over the prospect, but felt it smacked of corporate grandstanding — an idea taking place whilst suits scrambled to find someone who could make a convincing cash-cow; someone to clumsily jam various heroes from smaller cash-cows into what would probably be a spectacular piece of artistic diarrhoea. Whedon, however, does no such thing.
First off, it’s worth seeing the films which have thrown their hats into the ring here: Iron Man is uniformly excellent, with Robert Downey Jr. absolutely nailing every facet of Tony Stark’s simultaneously arrogant and noble personality, a personality which didn’t get any evolution in Iron Man 2, but here, gets an unbelievable amount of time and space to breathe and develop. Chris Hemsworth does a fantastic job as Thor; Thor is, again, worth seeing, and is a fairly faithful translation of just how much cheese and chivalry a Thor movie should have. Captain America was a brilliant portrait of patriotism, jingoism and loyalty painted in big, bold, broad strokes, with Chris Evans front and centre as the titular hero. You can, however, probably afford to skip both abortive attempts at bringing The Hulk to the big screen: here, Mark Ruffalo is given the mantle of Bruce Banner. In short, you’ll feel each tiny eddy of this story all the more keenly if you’ve seen the individual films, but Whedon is enough of an artisan to convey a weight of backstory for those new to this universe regardless.
As we’ve mentioned, Nick Fury (Jackson) and his shorter, whiter, almost humourless counterpart Agent Coulson (played superbly by Clark Gregg) have been scouring the earth for heroes to form a team called The Avengers, whose job would be fighting the battles that mere mortals aren’t capable of fighting. The initiative never took off. The Avengers kicks off with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) invading S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, as a precursor to an all-out invasion of Earth. It compels Fury to form the kind of group Whedon excels at portraying: a hyperactively disparate and dysfunctional family unit. The film then begins to revolve around scene after scene of bickering, in which our heroes ricochet off one-another, forming alliances, incessantly hectoring each others weaknesses, and, eventually, forming frighteningly realistic and deep relationships. The Avengers really does become a story about a family comprised of lonely gods.
This might be why Whedon has succeeded with The Avengers; he’s focused on the humanity of the characters. For example: Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johannsen as Hawkeye and Black Widow respectively, both bring more depth than anything thought possible to two characters who could have been peripheral, but here become just as pivotal as The Hulk, Cap, Stark or Thor. Whether we’re watching the two ‘human’ Avengers unravel, or their bigger, badder, apparently stronger cohorts, they all have the same problem: they’re on the outside looking in. Good superhero stories always convey a core truth: it’s not the power you have, it’s what you do with it. Whedon has these titans whittling away at one another, being petty, curmudgeonly, wonderful arseholes over niggling personality issues, while the world teeters on the brink of destruction.
The film portrays a magnificently nuanced series of moral wrestling matches; in which the stalwart, vintage idealism of Captain America is pitted against the bracing but reckless whimsy of Tony Stark; the baffling but endearing reticence of Banner against… well, everyone. Whedon knows that it’s all well and good to have superb fight sequences (and they are superb: each fight is like a martial ballet, especially as the movie progresses), but unless you’re deeply invested in those doing the fighting, you may as well be watching Clash of the Titans.
Also, The Avengers is, at times, hilarious. And somehow, the 3D doesn’t actually detract from the experience. There are perhaps only two flaws with this film. Firstly, you can’t please everyone. Comic fans will find flaws with what was or wasn’t done to their liking, and this is well within their wheelhouse, so we can’t and shouldn’t fault them for this. Comics are long-running, immersive narratives, and if you’d been reading a constantly evolving story for decades on end, you’d be irate if someone didn’t do it justice. Secondly, the film doesn’t leave a great deal of room for those who don’t like superheroes. Which might sound stupid, but many critics are… well, stoic people. And stoic people don’t usually like films brimming with required knowledge, or explosions of awesomeness.
But The Avengers is one of the greatest superhero films ever made. It’s smart, fast, unrelenting fun. An instant, nuanced classic.