Movie Review: The Avengers
By Matthew Huntley
May 10, 2012

I don't care who took the serum. ScarJo is the super-human in this picture.

If it’s a summer blockbuster you want, it’s a summer blockbuster you get with Marvel's The Avengers”. I stress “summer” because the movie’s larger-than-life heroes, classic good vs. evil storyline, wall-to-wall special effects and innumerable action sequences appropriately reflect Hollywood's biggest season. Had it opened any other time of year, it might have felt out of place. Not that a movie’s value should be judged by its release date, but we’ve become so used to linking summer with big-budget tent poles that we often find ourselves evaluating them based on certain criteria, like the ones I mentioned above. “Summer blockbuster” has practically become its own genre, and it’s a category unto which The Avengers lives up to sensationally.

The movie is, of course, the long-awaited culmination of all the Marvel superhero movies from the past four years, which started with Iron Man and includes the other title characters from The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. There are other heroes in the mix too, including Black Widow and Hawkeye, and together this group of exceptionally skilled individuals makes up The Avengers, a crime fighting team organized by Nick Fury and his underground S.H.I.E.L.D. unit. Given how much money this movie will make, I won’t say that “it all comes down to this,” because there will surely be more standalone sequels and another ensemble one. It will be a long while before The Avengers die off, and if they continue to be in movies as good as this, well, I say keep ‘em coming.

What director and writer Joss Whedon, along with a very talented team of other artists, has managed to do is seamlessly combine several franchises into one working order. Because the material is so mainstream, that might have seemed like an easy task, but to oversee a project this large takes a lot of care and attention. After all, the last thing Whedon wanted to do was betray fans of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s beloved comic book characters. A less experienced storyteller might have let the multiple threads get out of hand, but Whedon performs a delicate balancing act and we’re amazed by how much weight each of the characters is given in such a busy movie, which we know will boil down to an inevitably long (probably too long) climax. Granted, we don’t get too involved with each of the heroes, but that’s something we can forgive since they each had their own dedicated movies leading up to this one.

On that note, The Avengers is not a standalone movie in the sense you can walk into it without having seen its predecessors and know what’s going on. It’s a sequel to all of them, so prior knowledge is a must if you want to know who these people are and what they’re doing. Whedon puts this onus on the viewer and wisely skips over formal introductions and recaps, which would have taken too long, and gets right down to business.

The Avengers opens with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) adopted brother from the distant planet of Asgard, striking a deal with a mysterious alien being known only as The Other. Loki is promised his own kingdom if he retrieves the Tesseract, a glowing blue cube of unknown power that’s currently being safeguarded by the eye-patch wearing Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. down on Earth. Loki plans to steal it and bring forth an army of alien creatures called Chitauri to subjugate mankind. That is, unless Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans); Thor; and two dynamic assassins, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), can stop him.

Collectively, they’re part of the “Avengers Initiative” and Fury assembles them aboard a flying aircraft called the Helicarrier (which is actually really cool looking) and asks them to track down Loki and more or less save the world. The team has their petty differences and are suspicious of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s other intentions, which lead to the movie’s best scenes where each of the heroes exchanges sharp, witty dialogue with one another. It’s these moments, along with the script’s irreverent and brazen humor (two of Whedon’s specialties) where the movie shines brightest. Sure, the action scenes are well-executed, the special effects are amazing, and the ultimate battle scene in New York City is awesome in its own right, but these elements are all familiar to us. They’re inherently fun and exciting, although they’ve become somewhat standard. With someone as talented as Whedon in the creative driver’s seat, I was hoping the movie might not boil down to yet another sequence of mayhem and destruction in a major American city. We’ve seen this time and again not only in all the other superhero movies mentioned in this review, but other action movies like Transformers. They’re impressive on a special effects level, but kind of dull and unsurprising on a narrative one.

Another flaw is the design of the Chitauri that descend from Asgard to help Loki take over the world. They look like stock movie aliens, and for a race that is supposed to have such advanced technology, the flying snake-like creatures are slow, bulky and not very adaptable (they reminded me of the Imperial Walkers from “The Empire Strikes Back”). Could the filmmakers not come up with a design more original than this? I just didn’t buy that these creatures were the evil Asgardians’ answer to how they were going to take over Earth and rule the universe.

But these criticisms are minor in a movie that’s otherwise fulfilling entertainment. As far as superhero movies go, it didn’t shock or awe me like Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight, but given the breadth and challenge of bringing so many colorful characters under one roof, it’s impressive how well the movie comes together and remains coherent throughout. It’s a popcorn picture that rolls the goods from the previous movies into one. It’s fun, amusing and exciting but not quite exhilarating.

Now that this first Avengers movie is done, I’m hoping the pressure is off the filmmakers to continue to set up these characters merely in anticipation of bringing them together. The individual movies can now develop the characters further, give them more depth and start to take them in different directions, perhaps so different that future installments might feel right at home in a non-summer season.