On the surface level The Avengers has everything you would want in a comic book film. It has a great team up developed from a series of films, recognizable characters and actors and a fairly cohesive plot. Take a geek’s dream of a director in Joss Whedon, who has tackled a similar ensemble type of film as a writer/director before in Serenity, and you have all the tools for an epic film. Unfortunately what follows is far from it; it’s certainly not the worst comic book film ever made but it’s easily the worst of the Avengers universe.
The film has a fairly simple premise. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has stolen the Tesseract, an object of immense power from Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and SHIELD. He wants to use it to bring over an army from the other side of the universe and rule Earth as a dictator. Standing in his way are Loki’s brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth), billionaire industrialist Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), World War II hero Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner aka the incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a pair of SHIELD agents (Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson). The group has to find a way to try and stop Loki from bringing the army over and, if that fails (and it does), defend the planet from an invading menace as Earth’s last and best hope.
When that part of the film comes around the film is an absolute marvel. The film’s final hour, of the Avengers finally assembling as a team and taking on Loki’s army of alien goons, is an absolute thrill. As an action spectacle it’s remarkable and powerful; Whedon has assembled an action sequence that tops the final action sequence of Serenity by leaps and bounds. Mixed with some humor to break it up, as well as some varied camera work, it’s an edge of your seat thrill ride once the film finds its groove in its final act. With a couple of effective plot twists to keep the pressure up, the film’s final act is amongst the best of the past decade by far. Its remarkable how well it comes together at the end; the problem is that getting there is a bit of a problem.
In fact the film shares enough similarities that an apt comparison to the Transformers trilogy is warranted.
That film series was made up of two mind-numbing and fairly pedestrian opening acts followed by a spectacular final action sequence. The Avengers follows in this grand tradition by having its opening and middle acts as remarkably grating. Coming into this film the characters are fairly developed from other films, of course, but the sort of depth Marvel has developed for these characters is thrown out the window fairly quickly. Instead of nuanced characters that we’ve grown to enjoy from prior films we’re given shallow versions; the problem with having so many headlining characters in one film is that there isn’t enough time to give them any true development. It’s as if Whedon wrote the film thinking that because all the heavy lifting had been done already that all he had to do is simplify them into easy to digest pieces and no one would notice.
A good chunk of the problem is that the script is essentially an action script with superpowers written in as opposed to volumes of gunfire. The dialogue consists mainly of any number of one liners; it’s essentially the same setup as Lockout was a short while ago. It’s clever and entertaining at times but overdone to an excessive degree. Instead of any true character development, which the film could use, we’re given a fairly pedestrian plot and witty one-liners instead. In a regular action film we’d find it dull and boring; we’ve seen it before and seen it done better. It feels fresher because it’s a superhero film but this is just an action film formula straight out of Predator but with spandex.
Even the film’s subplots are fairly pedestrian; small plot points that pose as character development pieces are swiftly and neatly resolved by the film’s conclusion in a predictable and easy to see manner. The Avengers themselves are turned into more of one note archetypes straight out of the action movie handbook for the most part; it’s sad that an actor making his debut in the series in Mark Ruffalo does the most with the least. Bruce Banner the character is fairly conflicted and Ruffalo gives him a quality that neither Eric Bana nor Ed Norton could. We genuinely like Bruce Banner because he’s given enough time for us to develop into something more. Ruffalo doesn’t have the presence of Downey, or the physique of Hemsworth, but instead gives us a Bruce Banner who is trying to find peace with the monster inside him.
He’s been through the years on the run and is now trying to make a difference; Banner is a sympathetic character that when the monster is finally unleashed the resulting aftermath means something. The beast inside is something he is trying to keep at bay and when it finally comes out there’s an ominous feeling of dread. Something bad is going to happen and we know it; Ruffalo does enough with Bruce Banner that the CGI creature that comes forth is something out of a nightmare.
For the year 2012, The Avengers came in with big expectations. What we got was a loud, dumb action film that Michael Bay could’ve made and no one would’ve been the wiser.
Director: Joss Whedon Notable Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Clark Gregg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson Writer(s): Joss Whedon, based on the Marvel Comics series created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby