Anyone who has read enough of my reviews and comments knows that my expectations for a movie usually end up affecting how I feel about it. If those expectations are low I can find myself pleasantly surprised by an okay movie; if they are high, I can find myself disappointed by an above average one. My expectations going into The Avengers, a film written and directed by Joss Whedon, were very high. I am here to tell you that not only was I not disappointed by this movie, it even exceeded my expectations. It had everything I could have ever hoped for from a Joss Whedon Avengers movie.
Anyone familiar with Whedon’s work will know what to expect – a great story with humor mixed in, expectations in some scenes being turned on their head, strong female characters, pop culture references, and occasional long takes. (If you are not familiar with him, click on the “All Things Joss Whedon” Label after reading this review.) The humor in this film is outstanding, yet without turning the movie into a comedy. The audience I saw it with was laughing so hard at one scene that I didn’t even hear the only words the Hulk spoke during the film. I’m laughing about it now, recalling it while I write this. The movie is not all laughs, though. Whedon also has an inherent need to kill off someone likable. Going in I figured there was probably only one character the studio would let him do that with and I turned out to be right. It adds a sobering moment amidst the action going on in the film.
The film returns all of the main characters from the prior Marvel-owned films – Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor aka, well, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans). It also brings in heroes introduced in prior films – Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) and Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). In addition, Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts from the Iron Man movies) and Stellan Skarsgard (Professor Erik Selvig from the Thor movie) make small appearances. Of course, the SHIELD personnel introduced in prior movies are here – Colonel Nick Fury (Samuel L.
) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), whose first name it turns out is “Phil”, not “Agent”. And of course, we have the big villain that forces all of them to come together – Loki (Tom Hiddleston from the Thor movie). Also watch/listen for cameos by Harry Dean Stanton, Lou Ferrigno as the voice of the Hulk, Paul Bettany as the voice of Jarvis, and, of course, Stan Lee. Jackson
There’s one other bit of casting I want to mention because it involves some Whedon loyalty. Cobie Smulders (TV’s How I Met Your Mother) plays a SHIELD agent named Maria Hill. Why Cobie Smulders and not someone better known? After Whedon wrote and directed 2005’s Serenity he was tapped to write and direct a revival of the Wonder Woman character. DC had rebooted the Batman character, which you may have heard went well. They also tried rebooting the Superman character, which disappointed. After a couple years of development Hell, they finally decided that Whedon didn’t have what it took to write and direct a superhero movie and they cancelled the film. It had gotten far enough along to cast the main role and Whedon had picked Smulders to play the iconic character. It would have been a huge break for her, so when it didn’t pan out Whedon vowed he’d include her in something he did in the future. That something is a great role in this film.
By the way, this studio wasn’t the only one to make a stupid decision regarding Whedon; he had written a script for the first X-Men movie, and was considered to direct, before that studio did a complete re-write that removed all but two of Whedon’s lines and gave the directing job to Bryan Singer. And just to show how everything is connected in
, it was Singer’s disappointing reboot of Superman that would contribute to the cancellation of Whedon’s Wonder Woman movie. Had DC gone forward with it they would now have four major characters (counting Green Lantern) towards their own team up movie – Justice League. Hollywood
By the way, don’t look for appearances by other Marvel movie heroes (Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, etc.) in this Avengers movies. Marvel does not own the film rights to them. That’s why you don’t see Spider-Man getting involved when a huge battle breaks out in
. New York
Speaking of which, I should at least give you a quick idea of what the story is. A global law enforcement agency named SHIELD is forced to gather together the powerful heroes Iron Man, Captain
, and Thor to join with their own agents to fight an even more powerful villain who is planning nothing less than a full scale invasion of the Earth. Joining them, ostensibly in a consulting capacity, is Dr. Bruce Banner, better known as the Hulk. Can the heroes get along well enough to succeed, and can they even trust the organization that has brought them together? America
You may be wondering if you will be able to understand who people are and what is going on if you have not seen the prior films or read the comics. The answer is a definite “yes”. Just as he did in Serenity for people who had not seen his TV show Firefly that the movie was based on, Whedon skillfully and quickly introduces each character. He also integrates these introductions right into the story, so there is no awkward “roll call” like there was in the first X-Men movie.
For those people who have seen the movies, Whedon makes several small references to them (Loki tricking Thor with a projection and asking him if he’s going to keep falling for it; the relationship of Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Pepper Potts; the “man out of his own time” Captain America being thrilled to finally understand one of the things coming out of Stark’s mouth – a reference to 1939’s The Wizard of Oz; etc.) The story in the film is great, but I was most impressed with Whedon’s writing when it came to the personalities of the characters. They didn’t become “Joss Whedon’s Iron Man” or “Joss Whedon’s Captain
”. He actually wrote each character as they were presented in their own films. Iron Man is smart, reckless, and witty. Captain America is earnest, thinks outside the box, and is a natural leader. Thor is still conflicted over his feelings for Loki – a man who has been his brother his whole life, and only recently became an enemy. America
It is precisely these very different personalities coming together that makes the film so great. Even in the comics the Avengers were not so much a “super team” as they were a collection of individuals gathered together. Whedon definitely echoes the early Avengers stories where they would bicker some amongst themselves, clash because two people both used to being Top Dog had to compromise, etc. It then becomes an even better moment when they can finally put these differences aside to work for the greater good.
There is also no one, dominant character in the movie. This is not “Iron Man and the Avengers” or “Captain
and the Avengers”. It’s “The Avengers”. Everyone gets multiple scenes in which to shine, including the SHIELD agents and the two heroes that have not yet had their own movies. America
For the comic book geeks – you know who you are (I was one for years) – Whedon does not leave you out. In fact, Whedon may be one of the biggest comic book geeks himself, so he hasn’t forgotten what he would love to see on the screen, which means you get to see what you love, too. There are many moments that come right from comic traditions. The biggest is the initial fight among Thor, Iron Man, and Captain
before they get to know each other. This was a staple in comics decades ago (pun intended). Kids would always argue over who would win in a fight – Thor or Iron Man, Iron Man or Captain America , etc. “Thor would beat Iron Man!” “No way, he’s got the armor to protect him!” “Thor would win!” “Oh yeah? Well the Hulk would kick Thor’s butt!” One of the reasons for the popularity of Marvel Comics in the 1960s was that they would have frequent appearances of one character in another’s book and they would seem to end up briefly fighting for some reason. They would also team up. Kids finally got to see their favorite characters together. This is also what is driving the popularity of the movie, too. There is the fight I mentioned, but there are also multiple instances of two characters teaming up for something (i.e. Iron Man and Captain America with the heli-carrier blade). America
Whedon even wrote a funny scene with Agent Coulson in full on geek fanboy mode over Captain
. He nervously tells Cap that he is a big fan; that he has all of Cap’s trading cards; that he watched him as he slept. Coulson realizes that the last bit is getting into creepy territory and tries to recover “I mean I was present while you were unconscious”. He finally gets up the courage to ask Cap if he will be willing to sign his trading cards for him when he gets the chance. America
Even though it’s been 15 years since I read comics, and I was never that big a fan of the Avengers, I still had a mini-geekout moment when the SHIELD heli-carrier made its appearance. “Hulk smash” was also a nice reference for comic book fans.
Going into this film I had several different meetings of characters I thought I might see. I didn’t get all of them (where was Cap and Iron Man talking about the elder Stark – “He liked fondue”), but I got a lot. I especially loved the conversations between the two geniuses Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Amidst the science talk – Stark to Banner: “At last! Someone who speaks English.” Cap: “That was English?” – was a great scene where the two made a connection. Stark tells Banner that he shouldn’t think of the Hulk as a curse, but a potential gift. Stark tells him about the metal fragments near his heart that required him to always have to wear the power core whose technology could end up providing clean energy for many. He compares that to Banner’s situation and he points out that Banner must be somewhat in control of the Hulk because of the actions the Hulk has sometimes taken. This allows for a key change in the Hulk’s approach later in the film. While the conversation is going on there is a great camera angle that shows Tony’s reflection as a slightly larger head just behind Banner’s – a great reference to the Hulk duality that they are talking about, and an image that is often used in the comic books when Banner is thinking about the Hulk.
While the main storyline is going on Whedon also skillfully sets up several other things for the future. He shows that Black Widow is more than just a set of fancy fight moves. She’s got a shrewd brain inside the killer body of hers. There are also hints of a dark backstory with her and Hawkeye that could easily function as a lead in to a movie with one or both of them. Whedon opens up some questions on SHIELD and just whether they are acting on their own or answering to a government. The presentation of the Hulk in this film is far better than either of the prior films dedicated to him. This will allow Marvel to try another movie with the character and hopefully they will keep him as Whedon’s version. Finally, the closing credits also have a scene setting up a possible big villain for the inevitable sequel. (By the way, this morning the studio announced that it had greenlit a second Avengers movie. In other breaking news, the sun came up.)
People who have seen any of the prior lead in films know to stay through the closing credits for an additional scene. Don’t leave after this first scene, though. There is also one at the very end of the movie that is quite funny, and is a reference to something Iron Man said earlier in the film. If you are in extreme distress over the massive soda you drank during the movie, you have a few minutes between the two credits scenes, so you probably have enough time to leave and come back to see the final scene.
The film is two hours and twenty minutes long, but it flew by for me. It has already been announced that there will be an additional 30 minutes of footage on the DVD/BD when it is released. Whedon had some scenes with Cap trying to adjust to modern life, and one scene reportedly includes him tracking down what happened to Peggy Carter, the woman he had feelings for.
As you can tell, I loved this movie. I am seriously considering going to the theater to see it for a second time. This may not seem like that big a deal to you, so let me put it in perspective. In my entire life I have seen a total of four (4) films more than once in the theater. The first one doesn’t count because I was a kid going with my family. That leaves three: 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and 1994’s Speed (which had an uncredited re-write by Whedon, by the way). That’s it. The last time I even considered going twice was with 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring. There was bad weather for a while the December it came out, though, so I only ended up going once.
The two biggest negatives I have read about this film are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Some people feel that there was too much action and they should have spent more time on character development. Others feel that there was too much talking and they should have gotten to the action sooner. I say that any movie that can generate opposing complaints like this probably has a good balance in it for the majority of folks.
You may be a woman thinking this is “only a guys movie”, but women have actually rated the film higher than men on IMDB (9.0 vs. 8.8). You may be an adult figuring this is only for kids, but even the oldest tracked demographic on IMDB (over 45) has rated the film an 8.5 (men) and an 8.8 (women). You may be someone who only sees critically acclaimed films, but this is 93% Fresh with critics at Rotten Tomatoes (96% Fresh with audiences). You may not be a fan of action movies, superhero movies, comic books, or even any of the lead in movies, but I still feel that at a minimum you will find The Avengers a fun movie to watch, and you may end up considering it to be a great movie. I do. I give it my highest recommendation.
Chip’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars