Rating: 5 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Loki, bitter from his defeat in Thor, in which his brother prevented his attempt to become King of Asgard, teams up with an unknown but very scary partner in exchange for the power to become King of Earth, his brother’s new favorite place. Given a gem that can take over someone’s mind (a kind of “Mind Gem” if you will) Loki manages to take possession of the Tesseract, a gem that can create gateways across space (sort of a “Space Gem” I guess), with intentions to call forth an alien army to conquer the planet. Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D., realizes he’s outgunned, and looks to revitalize the scuttled Avengers Initiative, gathering together the “unique individuals” who may have the power to repel such an invasion.
The Avengers was not a sure thing. A lot of superhero movies have been brought down by bloat: the inclusion of too many characters and incidents and storylines in an attempt to keep one-upping what’s come before. On paper the idea of roping together the stars of all the previous solo movies and teaming them up to take on a bigger threat sounds like a no-brainer, but balancing all those characters so each one gets time in the spotlight, bringing all of their personalities and storylines together in something that even resembles an organic way, and ending up with something that is actually more than the sum of its parts… it should have been impossible. But The Avengers actually pulls it off, and is maybe the best imaginable movie resulting from this very difficult starting position.
First I want to point out how much I love that in the last 30-minutes of this movie, a terrific series of action setpieces in the Battle of New York, almost every scene is about the Avengers trying to minimize civilian casualties and protect people. It’s thrilling to watch, and it’s astonishing how many big action movies get that wrong (coughcoughMan of Steelcoughcough).
The Avengers is really just a bunch of “best parts” all stitched together, so let’s talk about each Avenger for a moment…
Black Widow going from tied to a chair to taking out a group of guys is a scene I had to rewind and watch again. Later she has a pillar dropped on her leg, is thrown into a wall by the Hulk, and still manages to beat up a brainwashed Hawkeye. She tops it off by taking out several alien soldiers, often with their own weapons, commandeering one of their flying jet skis, and personally shutting down their portal and saving New York. Yeah, she’s pretty badass, and is probably the secret MVP of this movie.
WIDOW: “I’m in the middle of an interrogation. This moron is giving me everything.”
GENERAL: (muttering, confused) “I don’t give everything…”
My favorite Captain America moment is when he gives the police officers orders, they ask “Why should I listen to you?”, followed by Cap taking out several alien soldiers, and the officer getting on the radio and distributing the orders almost verbatim. Because Captain America’s real super power is the ability to lead and inspire others to do their best, and this movie gets that. Honorable mentions include saving the people at the bank—the way he leaps up to fit his entire body behind the shield and is blown through the window is awesome—and taking a full blow from Thor’s hammer and not flinching.
CAP: “It seems to be powered by some sort of electricity!”
How about Tony Stark confronting Loki in Stark’s penthouse, being thrown off the building, and putting on his armor as he falls? Or reenacting the story of Jonah and the whale? Or being ready to sacrifice himself to deliver the live nuke through the alien portal? But really what Tony Stark brings to this movie is the constant force of his personality.
TONY: “That man is playing Galaga! Thought we wouldn’t notice. But we did.”
Thor going toe-to-toe with the Hulk, nailing him right in the face with the hammer, was so cool it required a brief second of slow-motion. I also enjoyed him falling off the helicarrier, tossed around in a glass prison, and managing to throw himself through the wall.
THOR: “Have a care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother!”
WIDOW: “He’s killed eighty people in two days.”
THOR: “He’s adopted.”
I wasn’t sure about Mark Ruffalo, too handsome in my opinion to play Bruce Banner, but he does a good job. He’s always nervy, and twitchy, and squirrely, like he’s right on the edge of a nervous breakdown. As the Hulk, he of course has the great “Puny God” moment, but let’s not forget his triumphant catch of a falling Iron Man at the very end, followed by a scream that can apparently wake the dead.
BANNER: “So… this all seems horrible.”
Hawkeye kind of sucks, but he does get to shoot a lot of aliens in the face with arrows at the end, and that’s all right.
WIDOW: “This is just like Budapest all over again.”
HAWKEYE: “You and I remember Budapest very differently.”
And the rest…
Loki is a fantastic villain. No one’s better at sneering than Tom Hiddleston.
Maria Hill jumping into a vehicle and chasing after Loki is a great moment for her.
Agent Coulson brings the charm so hard you actually believe that the team would rally around his death.
Nick Fury isn’t my favorite but he has some good lines. “Well, let me know if ‘real power’ wants a magazine or something.”
Did I mention that Hawkeye kind of sucks? Jeremy Renner is sometimes a very good actor, but you wouldn’t know it since he’s always getting cast as the kind of character he is terrible at playing: action movie badass. Plus Hawkeye spends most of the movie as a brainwashed bad guy, and because we only know him from five minutes of being boring in Thor, who even cares that he’s turned against our heroes? The most interesting thing about Hawkeye is that the Black Widow seems to value him for some reason, and she’s awesome, so there has to be something there.
Does The Avengers have any kind of theme or central idea? I don’t know. I thought about it but I couldn’t find one. It’s really just a bunch of awesome characters getting together and being awesome, and I’m kind of all right with that. Theoretically this movie would be even better if it had something smart going on under the surface, but when the surface is so damn pretty it’s hard to get too worked up about it.