Per usual, 3D has come between me and my beloved midnight movies.
I had planned to see this Thursday night with the rest of the geeks, but 3-D forced me to reevaluate those plans. Of course, the next day I was hopping on a bus to go to Reno for the weekend with about fifty other women who had nothing on the agenda but three full days of gambling, drinking, and dancing.
. . . well, I managed to squeeze in The Avengers. I’m not a much of a dancer, anyway.
Mild spoilers for Thor. Although you should really be prepared for that kind of thing in a review for The Avengers.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D, assembles a team of superheroes called The Avengers when Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his alien
back up singers army wage war on the Earth.
1. I don’t know if there’s ever really been a film like The Avengers before. I mean, clearly, there have been superhero movies. There have been all kinds of superhero movies, ranging from great ones (The Dark Knight), really good ones (Iron Man), adequate ones (The Fantastic Four), and godawful ones (Elektra). But offhand, I can’t think of any movie in cinematic history that has this kind of buildup, where you have four different franchises over the span of four years come together in a crossover event like this. That’s what watching The Avengers feels like to me, an actual event in film history. And because of that, there are crazy high stakes here.
2. So I’m pleased to announce for my money ($18.50—non-matinee ticket, Milk Duds, and a Coke), I was very, very happy with how The Avengers turned out. I think it’s excellent. For starters, it has a run time of 143 minutes, and it didn’t even seem long. I know not everyone agrees with that—I’ve read a few reviews arguing that the first hour drags—but I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about. Sure, it takes a while for the Avengers to actually assemble. But not only is that necessary for the story, I was entertained the entire time. I was never bored once during this film. I never felt myself squirming, wondering how long we had until the end of the movie—and that was knowing I had a limited time to leave in order to catch my bus back to the hotel. (I did skip the after-the-credits scenes, however, which I’ve since read about. I had about ten minutes to run through downtown Reno in heels as it was. Maybe I’ll stick around to watch them if I end up seeing this again in theater. I probably will.)
3. Now, let’s spend an inordinate amount of time going over cast and characters.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)
One of the things I really liked about Samuel L. Jackson’s performance is that you actually get to see two sides of Nick Fury. Honestly, I’m not sure I was really expecting to see any side of Nick Fury—any side that wasn’t Badass With Eyepatch, anyway—but even with limited time, there are moments that serve to humanize Fury . . . and also moments that show just how manipulative and cold he is capable of being. I like that he wasn’t just one thing or the other.
Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)
I’m not even sure what to say about Robert Downey Jr. because I feel like it’s all obvious. Though I had some problems with Iron Man 2, I don’t feel like his performance was one of them—he has a very solid grip on his character, and that’s just as evident here as it was in his previous Iron Man films. He seems to wear Tony Stark like a second skin, honestly. Somehow, Downey has managed a perfect balance between Tony’s vulnerability and his need to be the loudest kid in the room. He’s an awful lot of fun to watch. And let’s not forget, it’s no small feat, keeping Tony Stark on the right side of irreverence. Let’s face it: the character can be kind of a dick. If a lesser actor had hold of him? Train wreck.
Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)
Speaking of characters who could easily be train wrecks . . . Chris Evans continues to pull off Captain America’s sincerity without also becoming a corny, cloying cliche in blue tights. It’s interesting to watch him here, so displaced in a world that’s almost as alien to him as it is to Thor. There’s one funny moment where he’s ridiculously happy about actually understanding a reference, and it’s kind of adorable. While I wouldn’t have minded one or two more scenes with Cap thinking about the past or having flashbacks or something—I understand a lot was cut from the theatrical release—I think the movie works well as it is. I’ve read a lot of interviews and articles saying that Steve Rogers is actually the most cynical member of the team, and while I don’t exactly agree with that, I do think he excels at depressed idealist.
Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)
Oh, poor Mark Ruffalo. Out of everyone in the cast, he must have been under the most scrutiny, having replaced both Eric Bana and Edward Norton as the Hulk or, as his character puts it, the other guy. That being said, I think he easily surpasses Norton. (I wouldn’t know about Bana, not having seen the movie.) Even though Norton’s good—and he is—I just prefer how Ruffalo plays it. He’s shifty. I don’t mean Banner’s untrustworthy or shady—he literally shifts a lot, fidgets, looks away. I don’t think awkward’s the right word, exactly, but it’s the best I can come up with at the moment. Banner seems to be mild-mannered as hell, but it’s like his rage is always there, fighting right underneath the surface. I like that. I like that it’s not just about adrenaline or heart rates for him. There’s a lot more to becoming the other guy than that.
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)
I’ve never particularly liked Scarlett Johansson—I’m not even sure why; she just always seems to get on my nerves—but Black Widow is easily my favorite role I’ve ever seen her perform, and she does have quite a number of moments in this film that I like. At the very least, she’s better than a lot of female superheroes out there (Catwoman, Elektra, Sue Storm), although not my absolute favorite (Hit Girl). There is one moment with her in this movie, though, that I haven’t quite made up my mind about yet, and I’ll discuss that in the Spoiler Section.
Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)
Hawkeye probably gets the least amount of in-depth screen time, and Jeremy Renner clearly has as much practice playing a stoic soldier as Robert Downey Jr. has playing someone cocky and arrogant, but that all being said . . . I like Renner here. He can get across a lot with a little, and that’s exceptionally helpful in a movie where there are so many big characters with their own stories trying to come through. I wish I’d seen more of Hawkeye, but I don’t know that I’d call his limited screen time a real problem with the movie.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
I think, out of all the Avengers, I might have emotionally connected the least to Thor, but I don’t think that’s because of anything that Chris Hemsworth does wrong. And I don’t think the movie does a disservice to him, either—he gets some time to show that just because Loki is the Big Bad to everyone else, to him, he’s still his brother. I just think I was more interested in the personal arcs of other characters, that’s all. Thor is involved in a lot of the best fight scenes, though. It’s particularly fun to watch him and Iron Man square off.
Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
One of the things that a lot of superhero films forget to do, annoyingly, is create a good villain. This is easily true of the pre-Avengers movies, where Obadiah Stane and Whiplash are okay but not great, and Red Skull and the Abomination are both pretty damn bad. Tom Hiddleston in Thor was like a revelation, and here he’s just as good—but in a slightly different way.
Thor was sort of an origin story for both Thor and for Loki, and you really got a nuanced look at what made Loki become what he became. There was a lot of powerful emotion there, a lot of complexities going on in the character. In The Avengers, Loki isn’t quite as nuanced because he doesn’t really need to be—a lengthy exploration of his motivations would just come off as repetitive at this point. Instead, he’s pretty much a full-fledged supervillain now, complete with grandstanding and evil, witty banter, and Tom Hiddleston works that material. He’s got a great sense of comic timing and is, honestly, kind of delightful.
Plus, just because the script doesn’t bother to rehash all of Loki’s grudges in detail, that doesn’t mean Hiddleston himself has forgotten Loki’s own motivations for doing what he does. It’s something you can just see in his performance, how his childish envy and outrage has fueled all of his actions. Loki’s really a pretty spectacular villain, and 90% of that’s coming directly from Hiddleston.
4. Sweet Jesus. Am I really only on note number four?
All right then. The very best thing The Avengers has going for it is how much attention is paid to all the relationships between the various characters. There are a lot of very different personality types here, and not everyone plays nicely. Captain America and Iron Man, for instance, rather predictably can’t stand one another. Thor gets into it with both of them at one point, and pretty much no one trusts Nick Fury. What really works about all this is that you can see where every single character is coming from—no one person has to become an irredeemable asshole just so other characters can become more sympathetic. You might find yourself agreeing with one character more than another, maybe, but no one’s character actually suffers to advance the plot or make unnecessary drama. That’s skilled writing.
And, thankfully, there are actually characters who work well with one another too. Hawkeye and Black Widow already have a bond with very deep roots that is hinted at (though never fully explored) a number of times during the film. And I absolutely love the relationship that forms between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. You really get why they seem to bond so quickly with each other, the similarities that they share. It also serves a bit to humanize Tony, who it’s nice to see isn’t antagonistic with everyone outside of Gwyneth Paltrow.
5. On the other hand, if I’m going to talk about the movie’s weaknesses—well, the biggest one I can come up with is the aliens.
This is a character-heavy story, but lest anyone think it’s a snooze-fest, it’s also an action-heavy story. There’s a lot of dialogue, a lot of explosions, and a lot of booyah moments. What’s fairly thin, however, is the actual plot. Like, Loki’s met these random alien dudes, yeah, and they’re just going to supply him with an army if he can get them the Tesseract, and . . . well, okay, that pretty much covers the basic story. I couldn’t even tell you what these aliens call themselves. The movie does mention it, you know, once, but that’s about it. These guys are the stockiest evil aliens of all stock evil aliens.
But . . . here’s the thing. While the plot could be more complex, sure, and the aliens could be a little less random—I think you’d have to sacrifice a decent amount of time to accomplish it, time spent on the heroes and their relationships with one another, time showing how badass and damaged and angry they all are. And really, that’s time I wouldn’t give up, not for anything, certainly not for aliens that I don’t really care that much about anyway. The plot could be stronger, yes, but I think it’s a necessary sacrifice. I don’t think I can even really call it a serious flaw with the film, not if I’m not willing to trade actual characterization time, which, yeah. No.
6. Although I did laugh at the throwaway line of exposition about how Thor got to Earth without Bifrost. (Bifrost is the Rainbow Bridge that connects Asgard and Earth. For those of you who don’t remember, it was destroyed at the end of Thor.) I was curious to see how Thor would get back, since he oh-so-tragically and permanently separated himself from his lady love Natalie Portman . . . and then it’s just Loki quickly saying something like, Wow, Odin must have really spent a lot of energy sending you here, huh? And that’s about all they have to say on the subject.
. . . yeah, it’s a bit of bullshit. But whatever. I’m willing to overlook it.
7. I am, for once, not going to tag a review with CGI Fail because I actually like how the Hulk looks in The Avengers. In The Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton turns into this . . .
. . . which looks absolutely nothing like him. (Also, he just looks very . . . flat, or something. I don’t know, something’s just wrong with him. I can’t stand the way The Hulk looks in that movie.) In The Avengers, however, I could really see Mark Ruffalo in The Hulk:
And I like that. It makes him slightly more realistic—or as realistic as a giant green monster thing rampaging around New York can be, I suppose.
8. I also kind of like that everyone is a little unnerved about The Hulk. Well, maybe not Tony, the little shitstarter, but pretty much everyone else on the team. I guess I just figured there would be a lot of I could take down The Hulk in my sleep nonsense coming from everyone, you know, a lot of whose bigger contests. And, well, there were definitely some whose bigger contests in this movie, but even with all that going on, almost everyone treats Bruce Banner with kid gloves, wary of his incredible capacity for destruction. I like that. On one hand, even the freaks kind of look at Banner like he’s diseased (to an extent), and that’s sort of sad. On the other hand, it kind of makes the Hulk the ultimate badass. I mean, no one’s winning a fight with this guy. That’s all there is to it.
9. I will now quote half the damn movie to you:
Bruce Banner: “So, this all seems horrible.”
Iron Man: “I’m bringing the party to you.”
Black Widow: “I don’t see how that’s a party.”
Tony Stark: “Let’s do a headcount: your brother, the demigod; a super-soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breathtaking anger management issues, a couple of master assassins; and you, big fella, you’ve managed to piss off every single one of them.”
Loki: “That was the plan.”
Tony Stark: “Not a great plan.”
Thor: “Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. He is my brother.”
Black Widow: “He killed eighty people in two days.”
Thor: “. . . he’s adopted.”
Tony Stark: “You have reached the life model decoy of Tony Stark. Please leave a message.”
Captain America: “Ma’am, there’s only one god, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”
Black Widow: “This is the Tesseract. It has the potential energy to wipe out a planet.”
Bruce Banner: “What does Fury want me to do, swallow it?”
Loki: “There are no men like me.”
Guy In Crowd: “There are always men like you.”
Captain America: “What’s the matter, scared of a little lightning?”
Loki: “I’m not overly fond of what follows.”
Councilman: “Mr. Fury, the Council has made a decision.”
Nick Fury: “I recognize that the Council has made a decision, but given that it’s a stupid ass decision, I’ve elected to ignore it.”
Black Widow: “This is just like Budapest all over again.”
Hawkeye: “You and I remember Budapest very differently.”
10. Finally, Mek and I have been talking lately about how the big, climactic battle scene at the end of a movie is often kind of a letdown. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II is the film that springs to mind most readily. More than half that damn movie is a giant battle, and yet . . . something’s just missing from it, something that lacks in scope. It’s the thing you’ve been waiting for, the penultimate fight, and . . . it’s just not epic enough.
Fortunately, The Avengers is more successful at this because their big, epic fight scene is, well, EPIC. The battle is awesome and super high-stakes and gives everyone something to do. It also contains the Best Damn Moment In The Whole Damn Movie.
Want to know what that moment is? Follow below.
Okay. So Loki starts off the movie by busting into a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility and stealing the Tesseract. In addition to this, he uses his magic staff to turn both Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Hawkeye into his brainwashed slaves.
This whole brainwashing turn of events surprised me. I was not expecting Hawkeye to be a zombie for more than half the movie. But it’s nice to be surprised by a film, now and again.
Anyway, so, the whole facility pretty much collapses on itself. Nick Fury declares that they are now at war, and he decides its time to really get gung-ho about his whole Avengers assemble plan. Nick Fury recruits Captain America directly. Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) pries Tony Stark away from Pepper Potts. He also recalls Black Widow, who’s not really all that interested until she hears that Hawkeye has been compromised. Black Widow is also the one who brings in Bruce Banner—that’s a particularly enjoyable scene, particularly when he pretends to lose control just to see what she’ll do.
In the meantime, Loki gets himself captured by Captain America and Iron Man—mostly by Iron Man, truth be told. As they’re flying back to their new base (a flying, invisible helicarrier), Thor finally makes an appearance and steals Loki away. Thor tries to plead with his brother and take him back to Asgard, but Loki’s like, whatever, I’m evil now, and I’m going to be King of the World! Before Thor can get much further in his futile argument, though, Iron Man flies in and tackles him. They then proceed to get into a battle that, while awesome, also proves that they have serious problems with priorities. After all, Loki’s just sitting there, chilling, while these guys duke it out all over the forest. I don’t think he’s even restrained.
When Captain America pops up to break up the fight, I thought he might mention the not-so-insignificant detail that absolutely no one is guarding the evil, mass-murdering prisoner right now . . . but nope, he too gets suckered into the hero on hero on hero battle. So, you know, thank God Loki’s whole plan includes being captured, otherwise he’d be halfway to Jamaica by now, and try picturing Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America explaining that to Nick Fury.
Anyway, they all briefly make up, at least long enough to deliver the damn prisoner. Loki is put in a cage meant for The Hulk, one that will drop out of the helicarrier and plummet to the ground if anyone pushes this red button. (Well, it may not be red. I don’t remember. But they usually are. Like this one, which I would totally get if I didn’t think my landlords would have a fit.)
Meanwhile, the Avengers have not exactly come together as a big, happy family quite yet. While Tony and Banner have bonded, neither of them exactly trust Nick Fury or the military, and they manage to make Captain America suspicious too, despite how much Cap hates Tony’s attitude. As Black Widow tricks Loki into giving up part of his plan—unleashing the Hulk on his teammates—Cap discovers the truth: Nick Fury’s bosses have been trying to develop Tesseract weapons, which pisses off pretty much everybody. The Avengers proceed to scream at and blame each other, culminating in Banner both admitting he tried to commit suicide before and couldn’t—the other guy spit out the bullet—and also making everyone very, very uncomfortable when he manages to pick up Loki’s magical staff without even realizing it. Then, before anyone can take a moment to try and calm down, Brainwashed Hawkeye and the Goon Squad attack.
(Also, before I forget, I just wanted to mention how much I liked Banner’s yeah-I-tried-to-off-myself revelation. It’s very quiet, almost offhand, and it plays very nicely. Oh, also, does anyone know if “the other guy” is a Joss Whedon thing or a comic book thing, because I’m pretty sure that Edward Norton didn’t call the Hulk that in The Incredible Hulk.)
Okay, back on point: fighting. Lots of it.
1. Banner does indeed turn into the Hulk and goes after Black Widow, who escapes but is so terrified that she’s frozen for at least ten minutes. I keep going back and forth on this. On one hand, I’m not so sure I like that the only girl on the team is also the only one to show this kind of paralyzing fear. On the other hand . . . only an idiot wouldn’t be completely freaked out by the Hulk chasing them like this. Even if she is a ridiculously badass assassin, she still gets to have emotions, and I tend to like when movies take the time to point out that even superheroes aren’t absolutely fearless. So, I’m torn. I’ll probably make up my mind on the second viewing.
2. Black Widow recovers in time to duke it out with Brainwashed Hawkeye and eventually knocks him out, returning him to plain, good Hawkeye.
3. Thor and The Hulk fight for awhile. The Hulk appears to be winning, until I think he gets distracted and hulk-smashes his way onto another plane and eventually crash lands on the ground or something. (The scene with Banner waking up and the old guy who finds him is pretty funny. “Well, son, you have a condition.” Heh.)
4. Loki is freed and promptly tricks Thor into the cage and sends it plummeting to the Earth. Thor also manages to survive, thanks to Mjollnir.
5. Coulson, however, does not. He threatens Loki with a giant ass gun, but Loki does that trick where he pops up everywhere and stabs Coulson in the back. Before dying, though, Coulson shoots Loki like a badass. I mean, it doesn’t kill Loki or anything, but it’s definitely a hell yeah moment. Doesn’t keep Coulson from dying in Fury’s arms, though.
But we must stop to talk about this because Joss Whedon has something of a reputation for abruptly and shockingly killing off beloved characters. Mek and I even got into a discussion about this before the movie, wondering if anyone important would be axed, but even with Whedon at the helm, it was hard to imagine him killing off any of the Avengers. Admittedly, superheroes come back to life every other day, but still, these guys are all potential franchises (or are already actual franchises), and we didn’t exactly see, say, Iron Man biting the big one at the end of the film. Pretty much the only people who could have been killed were Maria Hill and Phil Coulson, and I had money on Coulson the second he wanted Captain America to sign his vintage trading cards. Still, it was kind of sad. Not shocking, exactly, but sad.
Speaking of those trading cards, though—after the battle, Nick Fury talks to Tony and Cap, telling them that the Tesseract Weapons of Mass Destruction were always a Plan B, that the Avengers Initiative was what he really wanted to create it in the first place, an idea that Coulson died believing in. Fury then throws down the bloody Captain America trading cards that Coulson had on him when he died, saying that Cap apparently never got a chance to sign them. (Later, we find out that Coulson hadn’t been carrying the cards at all, that he kept them in his locker, which—dude, cold. I love that Nick Fury is honestly upset when his agent dies but has no real moral compunction about using his death to band these people together. The moral ambiguity on display here is awesome.)
While this is going on, Hawkeye and Black Widow have a good scene here too, talking about guilt—Black Widow has “red in her ledger” and Hawkeye is struggling to come to terms with how many people died while he was under Loki’s control.
I like the bond these two have. I wish there could have been more time for scenes like this with the two of them, even though I understand why there wasn’t. This is exactly the kind of moment, though, that makes me pray that there will be another Avengers movie directed by Joss Whedon, because I think there could be even more time in the sequel for moments like this, and I trust Whedon to give them to me.
Tony and Cap share a good scene together, too, where Cap asks if Coulson is the first soldier Tony’s lost, and Tony realizes where Loki’s going to open the alien portal—Stark Towers, of course. I love that the movie is good enough to point out the fact that Loki and Tony are both total divas.
Everyone suits up and flies to New York. Well, Tony meets up with Loki first, and Loki tries to brainwash Tony with his magical staff, but of course it doesn’t work, much to Loki’s very enjoyable confusion. Then the portal opens and we proceed to Giant, Epic Battle, which Thor and the Hulk make it in time for. Lots of fighting ensues again, and it’s a lot of fun, but I’m not going over every single of second of it. I do have to talk about the Best Damn Moment In The Whole Damn Movie, though, and if you’ve seen the film, you already know the moment I’m talking about: the Hulk and Loki.
Loki’s whining, per usual, and saying how he’s a god, and he’s not going to be taken down by some mindless beast—or something like that—but before he can even finish, the Hulk picks him up and smashes him into the ground something like ten times in rapid succession. It is the most hysterical thing ever. Loki is left blinking, unable to move, and the Hulk walks away, muttering, “Puny God.” Jesus, I was dying.
Black Widow—with the help of Erik Selvig, who is no longer brainwashed—figures out how to close the portal. Unfortunately, the government has fired a nuke at New York, despite Fury’s best attempts to stop them. Iron Man grabs the nuke and goes through the portal, using it to hit the alien mothership. This takes down all of the remaining aliens below too. Iron Man manages to fall back through the portal before it closes, but he’s unconscious (or dead) and isn’t slowing down a bit as he hurtles to the ground. In a nice bit of a balance, it’s The Hulk who saves him, catching him in the air and taking him to the ground. Unfortunately, Iron Man appears to be more dead than unconscious now. Thankfully, the Hulk doesn’t take that kind of thing into consideration, and he literally yells Iron Man awake, which I guess is like the boy version of true love’s kiss. Tony, now alive and chattering away, says they should all go to a Shawarma restaurant to celebrate. Yes, I was one of the many people who had to Google that.
In the end, the Avengers all go their separate ways—well, except Tony and Bruce, who drive off together—and Fury says they’ll all come back together when the Earth needs them to. And while I didn’t stay for the after-credit scenes (like I said, I was too busy running through Reno in little black heels), I read about them. One was about the aliens (like, who cares) and the other one had all the Avengers eating silently at a Shawarma restaurant.
Awesome. That’s awesome.
Seriously. Awesome awesome awesome awesome. Okay, some aspects of the plot are a little thin, but the script, action, characterization, and acting more than make up for the actual story. This is about everything I could have dreamed this movie to be.
NUMBER OF JOSS WHEDON RELATED CAMEOS:
Two—Enver Gjokaj and Alexis Denisof
Teamwork wins the day.
Also, don’t piss off The Hulk. I mean, don’t piss off any of them, but seriously. Do not piss off The Hulk.