Review: The Avengers

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I think The Avengers best replicates the experience of being a kid and reading a comic book. And I mean comic book–the kind that sold for 25 cents and had ads for X-ray specs and sea monkeys in the back, not the more seriously considered graphic novels that are for adults. The Avengers is for kids, and the kid within us.

The key to the success of this film is Joss Whedon’s script, which is based on a story by he and Zak Penn. Even with six heroes (plus their leader, Nick Fury), Whedon manages to give each of them a story arc and a good scene or two or three. He even manages to give the formerly forever in the background character Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) some scenes to steal. While The Avengers may not have the gravitas of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

It helps if you’ve seen the films leading up to it (as they have been teased in post-credit scenes for years now). Loki, Thor’s brother back up in Asgard (Thor points out that Loki is adopted) has used a glowing blue cube (that was seen in Captain America) to open a portal to another world. He has recruited an army to come down and destroy the Earth. All of this makes little sense, but it’s perfectly in keeping with the comic books I used to read. Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson, finally cashing in on all those cameos from the other movies) pulls together “Earth’s mightiest heroes,” that includes Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), plus a couple of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Johansson then tracks down Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) doctoring the poor in India. For those who don’t remember, Banner has an anger management problem.

The first half-hour or so is slow going, as we get all these introductions. But when the group is finally together things kick in. First we get a lot of internecine squabbling, which among these folks can involve knocking down trees. We get a nice fight between Iron Man and Thor, and later Black Widow and Hawkeye will go toe to toe (Hawkeye falls under Loki’s spell). But everybody learns to play nice when ugly aliens start descending on New York City, leading to some pretty massive destruction. I’m still a little queasy about seeing buildings in New York blown up, and also wonder about how busy claims adjusters will be.

The pleasures of this film are many. The dialogue, as usual for old-style comic book movies, is full of witticisms, often even while people are slugging it out. Iron Man, of course, has most of the zingers, but Banner also has some great lines, and Ruffalo, in a mild-mannered yet simmering sort of way, is the first actor that makes the Hulk work (again, Whedon deserves much of the credit). Johansson also gives the Black Widow some life, giving hints of a backstory. I wouldn’t suggest she deserves her own movie, but I would like to see more of the character. Only Renner seems a little short-changed, but after all, he only shoots arrows.

The biggest surprise is probably Clark Gregg as Coulson. He has a few great scenes, including asking Captain America to sign his vintage Captain America trading cards, and then, in a face-off against Loki, tells the demigod, “You will lose. It’s in your nature.” Less interesting is Fury’s aid, played by Cobie Smulders. But maybe we’ll learn more about her. Her deal is to appear in nine films.

Speaking of which, we get another tease mid-credits for either a sequel or maybe to Thor 2, which is the next marvel film coming. I won’t say who the villain is that is revealed, but suffice it to say I read Marvel Comics for years and I didn’t know who he was until I Googled him.

Whedon, for a guy who has worked mostly in TV, also handles the massive action scenes well. In the climactic battle, there’s a lot to keep track of, but I never was disoriented or lost. A lot of the credit should go to editors Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek. Whedon also injects the film with a sense of wonderment. A small boy sitting in front of me perked up when Iron Man first appeared. “That’s Iron Man!” he told his dad. Later, when it looks like Iron Man is down for the count, he is revived (in a humorous fashion), and father and son shared a laugh together. That’s the kind of movie this is.

Seeing this film, which cost a quarter of a billion to make, rake in dough, keeps my hope alive that one day the most expensive film ever made may come to fruition: Marvel’s Secret Wars, which was a 12-issue series back in the 80s that saw The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Spider-Man, plus a gaggle of Marvel’s greatest villains all battling it out. It would be awesome.

My grade for The Avengers: A-.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

27 responses »

  1. Great review Slim, and I pretty much agree 100%. People wanting to compare this to TDKR are mixing apples and much darker apples. Whedon’s film is pure entertainment with great laughs, solid action and payoffs for comic book fans.

    Also, in that last paragraph, should it say “quarter of a billion” instead of million?

  2. I think that what he meant is that “seeing this film” cost him the equivalent of 250,000 in Zambian Kwachas, once tickets, concessions, parking, gas, etc, were all factored in.

  3. I feel like a man alone on this one. I enjoyed the film, but there were so many flaws (the dodgy first 45 minutes, the endless second act on board the helicarrier, some iffy performances) that I couldn’t help but to feel let down by it. Hopefully it will improve on video without the weight of hype.

  4. ScarJo’s limitations are evident, but I continue to be disappointed in Evans’ work as Captain America. I think Whedon had an excellent grasp on what makes the character tick, but Evans is just…there. He’s not engaging in the least. It wouldn’t be as big of an issue if he weren’t surrounded by that cast. He’s like a Paul Walker-level talent, a guy that should be thankful he’s in movie and not on a daytime soap.

    The guy seems incredibly charismatic in interviews, though. He just seems to struggle bringing those charms to his on-screen work.

  5. I will say that Hemsworth is starting to figure out the whole Thor thing. He’s basically playing it like a dumb jock, and it works. I thought he was much better in this than his own film.

  6. By the way, I doubt you’ll be alone. Based on their track records, I’ll guess that Filmman and Brian won’t like it. Just a hunch.

  7. I feel like a man alone on this one.

    You’re not completely alone on it. I’m somewhere between you and Slim/Rob. It’s not a disappointment, but I’m not blown away by it.

    But I liked the review, Slim.

  8. It’s not a disappointment, but I’m not blown away by it.

    That’s pretty much my opinion. I enjoyed it, but it’s certainly not something I’m going to be talking about at the end of the month…let alone the end of the year.

  9. You know what, I don’t know what the year portends, but this could end up on my Top ten this year. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I saw it two days ago. But I don’t challenge the lukewarm responses, and understand them.

  10. I like this Slim. …too bad he wasn’t around when he watched Transformers. :-(

  11. I still can’t get over just how wrong the industry was (and morons like me) regarding this whole endeavor. The creation of four simultaneous, interconnected franchises never should have worked, yet Kevin Fiege and the team at Marvel did it.

    If they can keep it going through another cycle or two: it will almost certainly be the most successful franchise in film history.

  12. You have to wonder if FOX will start trying to weave together their X-Men, Fantastic Four and Daredevil properties? There are a lot of characters in play there. Mr. Fantastic hanging out with Professor X, Wolverine fighting Elektra…

  13. James, you think Disney will try to get the rights to all Marvel characters? (I can’t wait for the Moon Knight movie).

    I like this Slim. …too bad he wasn’t around when he watched Transformers. :-(

    Same old Slim. Only difference is the Transformers blew chunks, while The Avengers is really good.

  14. Same old Slim. Only difference is the Transformers blew chunks, while The Avengers is really good.

    Point taken.
    And any Slim is excellent.

  15. There’s no way X-Men et. al. would equal this.
    It’s The Avengers. A team by definition. They’ve set it up perfectly and found the perfect director for it.
    I’m supremely happy for Whedon. He got skunked on Serenity, no one showed up, and now he has this. Here’s to hoping it gives him the chance to make what he wants to make and to make some more Serenity’s…because it was fecking AWESOME.

  16. I think Anthony Lane hits it on the head, and explains why I’m partial to this film:

    “If you are a Marvel fan, then “The Avengers” will feel like Christmas…
    If you are not a Marvel fan, on the other hand, then watching “The Avengers” will feel like being mugged by a gang of rowdy sociopaths with high muscle tone.”‘

  17. James, you think Disney will try to get the rights to all Marvel characters? (I can’t wait for the Moon Knight movie).

    Given the billions made by both studios: I can’t imagine FOX or Sony would be willing to sell back the X-Men or Spider-Man under any circumstances. Even if the bottom completely drops out of the genre, they’d probably just wait to reboot.

    From what I’ve read, it sounds like they retain rights as long as the property isn’t dormant for a specific period of time (I believe even having something in development satisfies that)

    There’s probably a slightly better shot at Daredevil or The Fantastic Four if their upcoming reboots tank.

    Moon Knight could be great, it could be Marvel’s Batman if done properly. They’d really have to find someone to crack the character, though. Very few creators have had success in that regard, hence the graveyard of failed relaunches.

    I’m hopeful that they get The Runaways back on-track. I don’t read comics often (the last series I really enjoyed was Grant Morrison’s run on X-Men a decade ago) but I devoured the first few trades of that series and loved it. Marvel pulled the plug on the film a couple of years ago but it’s supposedly back on their radar. Since Joss Whedon actually did a run on the book, I’m curious as to whether he’ll be involved in some capacity.

  18. It would be great if the studios could team up to have Spider-Man and Wolverine, or some other pairing. Marvel used to (maybe they still do) called Marvel Team-Up, which paired two different characters. Of course, Spider-Man was in every one of them. They should have called it Spidey and Guest.

  19. Well, I didn’t hate it. Mostly it just kind of chugged along, mostly OK, but I started getting bored during the big climactic battle. It might have worked better if it ever felt like the Avengers were vulnerable in any way, or if the alien invaders had any discernible abilities other than to fly around like glorified mosquitoes, or if it ever felt like anything was really at stake other than an extremely generic “end of the world” scenario. Even the big flying worm things didn’t seem like they did anything other than awkwardly run into buildings. It all went on too long for a sequence that was so repetitive, when everyone with half a brain knew that Whedon was just padding the runtime until someone came up with an arbitrary way to end the threat.

    For me, it really exposed the rest of the movie as lazily written and constructed, because really, it all built up to this? And I realized that Whedon had simply substituted a lot of wise-ass banter for character development – and it’s not just his fault, Downey’s Iron Man has had three movies now and does the character have any foundation other than wise-ass banter? – and that Loki’s big plot was absurdly convoluted, taking up nearly two hours of runtime for absolutely no reason. Think about it – did any element of his plan depend on anything that happened while he was on the airship? I can’t say how if it did, but that’s most of the movie. I honestly thought it would lead to more than it did.

    So I guess I’d sum it up by saying that it passes the time before the house of cards collapses.

    Less interesting is Fury’s aid, played by Cobie Smulders. But maybe we’ll learn more about her. Her deal is to appear in nine films.

    Boy, that’s too bad, because Smulders is awful in this movie. I’ve seen a lot of “How I Met Your Mother” over the years (Jeanine’s a fan), and that’s a good case of water finding its own level right there. She’s adequate but not really all that special as a sitcom actress, and she’s totally out of her league in even an undemanding film role such as this one.

  20. I don’t get the love. I felt it was a mess. Not a bad movie, but a mess. Not as good as Iron Man certainly.

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