Saturday, May 5, 2012

Review: The Avengers

I think when Joss Whedon signed on to direct The Avengers, he knew it would be a juggling act.  The film features three stars from active franchises, one CGI-driven protagonist from a franchise twice rebooted, a bow and arrow wielding lead of the soon-to-be-released Bourne Legacy, a person twice voted sexiest woman alive, and Samuel Jackson who has been in pretty much every movie ever made.  That’s a lot of “material” to cram into two and a half hours – let alone craft into an epic narrative.  I am happy to say that in another life Whedon could have been a circus performer because he pulls off an epic juggling act, because The Avengers is a very entertaining movie that flat out delivers.  It’s not a perfect movie, but considering that Whedon was not only trying to balance an ensemble cast, but really a collection of franchises, it is about as strong and exhilarating an effort as one could hope for.

The movie wastes no time getting into the plot and never lets up until the second of two after the credit scenes (the last of which was one of the best scenes in the movie).  The third act is punctuated by the kind of action sequences between a set of heroes and villains that for so long has been relegated to ink stained funny pages.  But before that, we get a narrative that is engaging with some surprisingly fantastic comedic moments.  The one sticking point to the movie is that in the second act, the pacing gets bogged down in some character development.  As necessary as this is, it feels slow in comparison to some of the huge action sequences that lead up to it.

As for the cast, here is how the principles performed:

I am hard-pressed to think of an actor who embodies the character they portray more than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.  RDJ’s deal gives him as much input (if not more) on the character as the writers themselves, and because of this it so often feels like he is playing himself.  And this is a very good thing, because in The Avengers Downey Jr. delivers his typical sharp quick-witted commentary and keeps the dialogue entertaining even when the plot slows down during exposition.

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America is strong as the iconic straight-laced hero and sets up a perfect contrast to Downey Jr.’s Stark.  This is no easy fete as at times in The First Avenger, Evans’ Rogers suffered from what I have dubbed the Superman/Batman syndrome.  Superman is a character people should aspire to be.  Batman is a character that people can relate to.  In the times we live in, a large percentage of the population gravitates towards the latter than the former.  Evans’ Rogers is definitely more of the former than the latter – but this is a good thing as agent Phil Coulson reminds us while swooning over the presence of Mr. Stars and Stripes.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor is to me the character they had the most trouble reconciling with the plot, which is confusing since his character has the strongest ties to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.  Hemsworth easily slips into the role of the Asgardian warrior as he did in Thor (the woman seated behind me who could not stop gasping every time he showed up on screen no doubt agreed), which made it disappointing that he was relegated more to the background in this jaunt.  His scenes with Hiddleston’s Loki though are some of the most conflicting and intense and definitely tease a number of possibilities for Thor 2.

Hulk in a lot of ways steals the show in the third act as Whedon has figured out that he can be heroic, comedic, and highly entertaining – in small doses.  As for the man who portrays Bruce Banner, Mark Ruffalo does a very good job of bringing a sense or reluctance to the role.  He excels where Eric Bana and Ed Norton before him failed and this is particularly important in this film, which is already loaded with alpha males.  Ruffalo’s sheepish demeanor brings a sense of balance to the proceedings.

Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner – the dual assassins – expertly portray the roles in which they are cast.  Johansson clearly has seen better days but for once her droll delivery is perfect as Romanoff/Black Widow.  Likewise, Renner’s rugged appearance and gruff demeanor fit Clint Barton’s persona to a tee.  While the two are portraying b-level members of the group, they are well suited to add support to the larger than life personalities that they share the screen with.

If there is a weak point in the cast, it is Samuel L. Jackson who has a track record of being the weak link in epic action movies (see Star Wars episodes I,II, and III).  There are other ways they could have gone with this casting, but unfortunately the proverbial die was cast over four years ago in the post-credit scene of Iron Man.  S.H.I.E.L.D.’s on screen representation however is greatly redeemed by Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson and Cobie Smulder’s Agent Hill.

Then there is Tom Hiddleston as the antagonist, Loki.  No action movie can be great without a worthy villain.  Hiddleston brings a menacing depth to Loki that permeates every smile and stare he casts at his adversaries.  Never is this more evident than the scene he shares with Johansson’s Romanoff.  To me his villainous work here is on par with anything Heath Ledger did in The Dark Knight.

The Avengers is the movie fan geeks of all ages have been waiting for long before Downey Jr. ever donned the Mark I suit.  It is fun, exhilarating, and will make you want to cheer out loud.  I would most definitely recommend seeing this on the big screen.  The colors are vibrant, the action is fast, and the scale is enormous.  The only downside to watching this film is that you have to wait at least a year before Iron Man 3 makes back to the big screen.

Standout Performance:  There are a lot of great performances but I really enjoyed Gwyneth Paltrow in the film.  It is a very nice touch.


  1. The best movie of the year, thus far. And I agree about the Gwyneth Paltrow performance. It definitely added a nice touch.