Avengers, The (2012)

Starring:  Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lou Ferrigno, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Harry Dean Stanton.

Director: Joss Whedon
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference.)
Running Time: 143 Minutes
Release Date: May 5, 2012
Home Video Release Date: September 25, 2012
North American Box Office: $617.8 Million

Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, and Walt Disney Studios.

Written by: Joss Whedon; Story by Joss Whedon and Zak Penn, based on comic book characters developed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby..
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★★★★

With all of his success and beloved status in the Hollywood ranks, I still would love to know when the realization struck writer/director Joss Whedon that he was given the keys to a car that people have wanted to drive for decades.  The misfit and rather ragtag group of superheroes known as “The Avengers” have had their stories adapted individually for the big screen in the last several years, but Whedon was given the opportunity many would dream of, but few could ever hope to take on; create a definitive “Avengers” film, one which adheres to the Marvel Comics canon, but also plays true to the cinematic stories which have preceded it.  No problem, right?  Whedon also got a check for $220 million…and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  He also got tens of millions of people’s unquenchable anticipation around the globe, as they were finally getting the comic book adaptation they have always wanted.  So, no pressure or anything…

Whedon takes a predictable yet affable approach in reconnecting us to each superhero.  The necessity of The Avengers coming together is accelerated by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury and an immediate desperation to recover the stolen Tesseract, an energy source which has opened a space/time portal allowing Thor’s villainous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to come to Earth.  Stealing the Tesseract, Loki casts a spell on two “good guys”, Hawkeye and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and engages in what S.H.I.E.L.D. and the government view as an act of war.

As Fury assembles his team, Thor attempts to convince Loki to return home to Asgard, but eventually the Avengers capture Loki and place him in a lockdown facility, designed to keep even a Hulk of a man secure and imprisoned.  Intuitiveness and some simple reasoning on the part of the Avengers leads the superheros to realize that the government was harnessing the Tesseract as a means of creating new and more dangerous weapons to fight against new and more dangerous intergalactic visitors.  Infighting leads to Loki’s escape and soon Fury must convince his superhero team, which includes Natasha Romanoff, a/k/a Black Widow, to vanquish Loki and save mankind.  Loki has other plans however and calls on outside forces to help him win in his quest to rule the universe.

That The Avengers is terrific and in many ways, the pitch perfect summer blockbuster, should not come as a surprise when considering all involved here.  Joss Whedon, while a rather daring pick for a massive film like this, is a skilled and deftly attuned writer, knowing how to manipulate puppet strings as good as anyone.  As a filmmaker, he assesses the scope and range of this material expertly and despite an unraveling final act, for much of the 143 minutes Whedon takes in telling his story, The Avengers moves briskly with brilliant stabs of humor, stunning visual effects, and an effective balancing act between action, drama, and humor.

Everyone is on point with their roles and while an “equal time for all” mandate is hard to stick to, those who are not front and center still get their moments.  Here, Thor and The Hulk are more accessories as Whedon entrusts Captain America and Iron Man to be the alphas in the group.  Scarlett Johansson’s turn as Black Widow is given a fair amount of development (spinoff forthcoming perhaps?) and while strong female characters are lacking in comic book feature film adaptations, Johansson, as the only prominent female in the cast, shows a flair for her character.

Elsewhere, Chris Evans hasn’t missed a step as Captain America and Robert Downey. Jr. inhabits Tony Stark/Iron Man with the ease of breathing, ratcheting up his brilliant comedic talents to hilarity time and time again.  The real steal of the film though is Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Bruce Banner/The Hulk.  Taking over from disappointing or misguided performances by Eric Bana and Edward Norton, Ruffalo is ideally tempered as a man aware of his anger management issues, cautiously pleased that he has a winning streak in keeping his temper in check, but fearful all the same.  Whedon knows that Banner must become The Hulk at some point and he holds back about as long as he can until both the film and Ruffalo’s metamorphosis stands front and center to the story.

Additionally, the moments involving the Hulk, both in human and CGI form (CGI Hulk is voiced by Lou Ferrigno), is among the finest accomplishments in the film.  In one later scene, Loki utters a phrase that causes The Hulk to deliver the single greatest angered reaction I may have ever witnessed on screen.  If you excuse the hyperbole, the unexpected gem of a moment arrives as suddenly as it ends and caused my screening audience to howl with a mixture of shock and laughter.

To its detriment, The Avengers cannot resist the realization that it might be the biggest film of the year.  The final 45 minutes or so feature a long, unrelenting, drawn out action/destruction sequence that makes you shift in your seat more than once and regrettably calls to mind the insufferable third act of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, as well and any number of other big budget/massive scale action/science-fiction battle sequences that numb and mute over time, rather than engage and connect.  Perhaps Whedon saw this as inevitable.  Above all else, The Avengers may not be able to resist a few blockbuster movie trap doors, but with engaging characters, an interesting storyline tying everyone together, and great performances, pacing, and visual stylishness, The Avengers is consistently entertaining.

Joss Whedon has taken the impossible and made it possible.  He unified Marvel Comics fans, those who have individual favorites in the superhero collective, and the casual observers who thought Iron Man 1 or 2 or Captain America or Thor were fine films, along with those who liked the recent Hulk films.  Although I started to waver by the end, I loved a great deal of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers and have no desire to see these films discontinue any time soon.

A good friend of mine attempted to replicate the experience he had as a young boy seeing Star Wars in the theater as his first “grown-up” film and brought his 7-year old son to The Avengers.  Let’s just say that I think my friend got everything he could have hoped for and his son loved every minute.  Entertaining, well made, and smartly written for a majority of the time, The Avengers is worth all the hype and anticipation after all these years and a fantastic time at the movies.

NOTE: The fact The Avengers is exhibited in 3D is a farce, and The Avengers, perhaps more so than any other high profile post-production 3D conversion, was obviously never, ever intended to be shown in that format.  So, see it in 2D and buy the 2D Blu-Ray when The Avengers hits home video.

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SHOULD I SEE IT?

YES

  • The first mega blockbuster of the summer delivers with humor, action, and intensity.
  • Joss Whedon’s talents being on display for a wide audience is a good thing.
  • If your kids are not familiar with these characters yet…toy stores may be in your future.

NO

  • Eh, not my thing, no matter how funny, exciting, and well made it is.
  • You were not a fan of any of the precursor films.
  • You don’t waste your time with such pop culture, money grabs.