Film review: The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers
Marvel Studios

STARRING Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany
WRITTEN BY Joss Whedon, story by Joss Whedon & Zak Penn, based on The Avengers by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

SHOT BY Seamus McGarvey
EDITED BY Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Lassek
MUSIC BY Alan Silvestri
DISTRIBUTED BY Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Screened 2012-05-01

Extra! Extra! Whedon Services Fans!

With this intonation your adventure begins: “Put your 3D glasses on.” It’s appropriate enough, I spose, and unlike 3D venture Avatar there is no pretense of depth, we’re here to go on an expensive, amusing ride. If you know you like superheroes, well, you know you’ll like it. I don’t like to imagine a viewer’s experience who had not previously seen Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk – surely a minority of Avengers viewers – but given Whedon’s love of formula, few will feel outright lost. I do like to imagine this film without any exposition or foreknowledge, one extravagant character after another being introduced, a preposterous chain of events unfolding without apology… could’ve been quite surreal.

The story’s central elements come from Thor: Thor’s angst-ridden brother, the demi-god Loki (Hiddleston), and his abuse of a Duex ex Machina called the Tesseract, a supernatural cube containing unlimited energy and a dimensional gateway (as well as an unfortunate similarity to Transformers‘s silly “Allspark”). Loki uses this Tesseract to travel cosmic leagues to our world with the intention of enslaving humanity, his previous pissy-ness now being bent to the will of a super-super-super-super-super-villain, some malevolent cosmic antagonist who comes off a bit like a prequel Sith Lord (less critical pundits may call him Lovecraftian). Loki earns the wrath of superhero spy Nick Fury (Jackson) and his superhero secret agency, S.H.I.E.L.D., whose goal becomes the assemblage of the superheroest crack team of superheroes who will protect the whole Earth from The Big Stuff. By the damn numbers, Whedon assembles his usual suspects:

1: Fiery Russian spy Anna Chapman – I’m sorry, Natasha Romanov (Johansson) – whose superpower is the ability to crush men with her thighs. Johansson has no trace of an accent and when her characters says, “I’m Russian, I’m used to revolutions,” the cognizant audience member cannot help but display visible consternation.

2: Elite military… archer?… known to us as Barton (Renner). That one’s never explained.

3: Genius geneticist Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) and his spotlight-stealing Hulk, who generally earned full house applause with every appearance.

4: “Genius playboy billionaire philanthropist” Tony Stark, the lovable Iron Man, played with usual relish by Downey Jr. Hands down the franchise’s cash cow (any successful ensemble needs its Han Solo).

5: Order-following goodie-two-shoes Steve Rogers (Evans), Captain America.

6: “God of thunder” Thor (Hemsworth), seemingly from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, back when men were men.

A few quantifications… Two major locations are featured extensively: Nick Fury’s floating fortress, an aircraft carrier taken flight (for reasons unfathomable to anybody but a villain wishing to down it) and New York City, that endless metropolitan terrain every viewer subconsciously expects/wishes to see decimated. Obscene amounts of time are spent watching the characters: struggle to prevent the flying fortress from crashing – an event whose ramifications seem totally irrelevant; exchange glib, sarcastic, oh-so-Whedon banter (in fact, a surprisingly large plot point involves getting them to bicker); and, naturally, battling one another in mortal combat which never, ever takes any lives. There are three levels of acting present in the film: the very satisfying acting out of the always charismatic Downey Jr. and Ruffalo, who I seem to like very much, and probably Renner, though we’re used to him having more to do than just look angry (or are we?); the passable performances by Jackson and Hiddleston; and the ‘alright, alright’ performances of Evans, Johansson, Hemsworth and Gregg. It wouldn’t be a big deal if each character weren’t given equal screen time, which of course is often considered an asset in this production.

Now… after all that nitpicky bitchiness… I kind of enjoyed myself. I grinned, I chuckled, I winced as the sycophantic adult fanboy next to me had his Christmas seven months early, laughing louder than anybody in the full theater (that’s the main grievance of writing for the internet: the company). I entered grimacing, a child dragged along to a chore, and in the interest of enjoying myself decided to [legally] drink during the screening. And wouldn’t you know it, it was not a miserable experience! This is how I would recommend seeing this film to anybody else who is not already convinced he or she will like it, and you all know who you are, and you all know what your opinion already is. Anybody else, get a mallet, an anesthetic, or a cadre of children to host, as you would at an amusement park, and get in line.

written by David Ashley

PS – To the man sitting next to me: I can understand the desire to assert your dominance over lesser nerds, but I was not interested to overhear you regale the single males to your right about how you saw Dawn of the Dead the first time it was ever (apparently) shown in a fucking mall.