The Avengers – Review

One of the most anticipated and ambitious film projects of all time has at last flown onto our screens as superheroes Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk finally assemble for Marvel’s The Avengers.

It might sound a little far-fetched to call a film based on a comic book one of the most ambitious film projects of all time, but if you think of the journey the film has taken so far, I stand by that claim. The idea for a film version of The Avengers was mooted way back in 2005 by Marvel chairman Avi Arad after the studio declared its independence. The plan was to give each main member of The Avengers their own stand-alone film that takes place in the same cinematic universe, just like in the comic books.

To date, this plan has had mixed success. Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man was an inspired choice and the film worked really well. It brought a sense of fun back to the genre after “dark” became the buzzword on every producers lips due to the success of Batman Begins. I enjoyed The Incredible Hulk a lot less as in-house politics really affected the final film.  I was excited for Iron Man 2 but it seemed more concerned with adding too many Easter Eggs for The Avengers rather than focusing on its own story.  I was pleasantly surprised with Thor but Captain America less so.  It’s hard to get excited about a superhero whose main power is throwing a shield.  So how would The Avenger fare and what would be the catalyst for bringing these heroes together?

Norse god Loki has an army that is intent on destroying the earth. Nick Fury is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D, an agency with exceptional human beings, and is forced to put together a team of superheroes to fight the threat of Loki and save the earth at the same time.  This is when heroes who usually work alone, must come together as one team to save the earth. Robert Downey, Jr. once again returns as Iron Man, as does Chris Hemsworth as Thor.  Chris Evans is Captain America and Scarlett Johanssan and Jeremy Renner return as Hawkeye and Black Widow respectively.  The only difference in casting from the Marvel Cinematic Universe established so far is Mark Ruffalo, who has taken over from Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Hulk.

The danger with any film of this size and scale is that a) there will be too many characters with not enough time spent developing them sufficiently and b) the film becomes all spectacle with not enough story to keep you interested, ala Transformers 3.  I am happy to say this is not the case as Joss Whedon has masterfully crafted not only a great Superhero film, but a great ensemble piece where no character is left behind.  Of course at times the film feels like the Robert Downey, Jr./Iron Man show, but even characters who we thought may well be on the peripherals of the film play integral roles.  Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is given a substantial role which includes an opportunity for redemption, and Black Widow is more than the eye candy of the group.  In the mould of previous  Joss Whedon female characters, she has good dialogue and is a strong, important member of the team. I found it hard to envisage how the mortals Hawkeye and Black Widow would work in a team full of Superheroes, but they do and their skills are utilized to full effect.

The team work together well and I was particularly impressed with Chris Evans as Captain America.  You felt for his character as he tries to adapt to the modern world and only wants to do what’s best for the people around him.  I much preferred him in this setting than his WWII movie.  Chris Hemworth’s Thor brings a fiery performance and has a contender for funniest line on the movie, but obviously, most of those are saved for Iron Man.  The film could have quite easily revolved around him, but he’s subtle enough when he needs to be and goes on enough of a journey to allow him to become a team player.  The star of the show for me though, is The Hulk.  The victim of two poor attempts to bring him to the big screen, The Avengers gives us a Hulk we have always wanted to see;  a pure wrecking machine.  Watching captain America order “Hulk. Smash!” was a sight to behold and one particular shot of Hulk “smashing” brought the house down and was one of the funniest moments of the film. (Let me know if you catch the scene I’m talking about!).  Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner takes us back to the work of Bill Bixby as he is kind, confused and ready blow all at the same time.  I would love to see another attempt at The Hulk, or “the other guy” as Bruce Banner refers to him, if Mark Ruffalo is on board.  Especially if he is treated with the same kind of humour and is given free license to bulldoze everything in his path.

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If you were wondering how the film would be divided between exposition and action, you may or may not be pleased to hear after the initial (slightly rushed) opening 40 minutes to get our heroes together, the rest of the film is a sequence of set-pieces leading to one huge set piece at the end. I had no problem with this as the dialogue in between is good enough to make you actually care about the characters and their motivations, that you are not simply waiting for the next action sequence.  Whether it be Cap vs Thor or Thor vs Iron Man or Thor vs The Hulk or Cap vs Iron or Iron Man vs Loki or The Avengers vs Loki’s Army, there are a lot of them.  Some of the visuals are excellent, definitely on par with the last Transformers film.  So much so, that i actually regretted not seeing the film in 3D and that is the first time i can say that.

It’s not a perfect film by any means and several plot holes abound.  How Thor makes it back to Earth despite the Bifrost (gateway to Earth) being broken is covered in one throwaway line.  Nor is it mentioned how Bruce Banner can finally control The Hulk in the final scene, but not in the one before.  The opening to the film feels slightly rushed and if you are not too familiar with the Avengers or previous films, you may well feel two steps behind.  However, once the action sequences begin, this is all forgotten as you don’t  have enough time to think about the relationships and what brought them to this point, you just have to deal with the visual onslaught. As for the films villain, not once does Loki really feel truly menacing and totally in control. In fact, he has a helping hand in causing his own demise.  And i still can’t get on with the Captain America outfit.  It looks campy and out of place.  It will be interesting to see what direction they take Steve Rogers in the sequel to Captain America.

This next gripe may seem a little strange, but despite the action sequences being as good as they were, i think i would have liked a little more dialogue!  Watching the verbal battles of the superheroes was a joy and the chemistry between the actors was great.  This is something Joss Whedon has hinted at bringing more of in the sequel.  He wants the next film to feel more small scale.  He shouldn’t have a problem there.

So after nearly 7 years, The Avengers gets its full worldwide release on May 4th, and it has definitely been worth the wait.  Not only has Joss Whedon risen to the challenge of making a great superhero film, he has made a great ensemble piece that is extremely funny in its own right.  Sure, it has a few issues, but if you are a fan of any of the heroes in question, you will not be let down as the film is Superhero heaven from start to finish.  Be sure to stay for the customary post credits sequence which hints at a possible villain for the next Avengers film.  I for one can’t wait!

Categories: Previews, Reviews

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