Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Movie – The Avengers (2012)

First things first, I realize this is probably the umpteenth review of the Avengers you’ve come across.  I want to say thanks in advance for taking the time to read it and comment.

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. Jackson) 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.

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 Hollywood, 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.

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 America, 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?

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 America”.  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.

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 America 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.

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 America 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).

Whedon even wrote a funny scene with Agent Coulson in full on geek fanboy mode over Captain America.  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.

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


  1. Nice review, man. I loved it too, for the all of the reasons you did. That's interesting about Cobie Smulders... I love her on HIMYM and was surprised to see her in this movie. Now I know why she's there. :-)

    Keep up the great work, Chip. I'm a regular follower.

  2. Nice review Chip, thanks for that info about Spiderman, Fantastic 4 and Daredevil, not pitching in with the battle in NYC. I had been wondering about that very thing.

    No comics for 15 years!!! I took about a 10 year hiatus myself and got back into it a few years ago. Not so much super hero comics for me at this point. However lots of good adult oriented books out right now worth checking out.

  3. Nice review Chip. I had such a great time with this flick and definitely think it's one of the best superhero flicks since Spider-Man 2. Hopefully, Whedon will return for the sequel and makes it even better than this. Best way to kick off the Summer!

  4. Excellent review Chip. I'm glad you mentioned those scenes between Stark and Banner. I loved the chemistry between Downey and Ruffalo.

    It was as if the two men found an equal in each other for their love of science and it made Banner feel more relaxed. I just read an article from the New Yorker about why Ruffalo made the Banner/Hulk character work this time around. It nailed it on the head. The scenes where everyone else is arguing, I liked how Banner was enjoying it because he realizes that they all have issues while he's like "ah... people who are more complicated than me."

  5. I agree with absolutely everything your wrote and also may go back and see it again. I told my son it was one the most enjoyable movies I have seen in years. I actually shouted and cheered at moments in the movie and also , as you might suspect laughed very loudly at comments like, " He was adopted" Thank you for introducing me to Josh years ago, he is a talent!

  6. @Dave - Thanks. It's always nice to find out about another Follower. I will check out your site when I get a chance.

    @3guys1movie - Thanks. I read comics when I was a kid, then stopped. I picked them up again when a friend in college was reading them. I kept reading them for quite some time, but by the late 1990s I was disenchanted with most of them. There were no heros left in them; everyone was a vigilante in hero's clothing. I dropped all superhero comics. I was still reading Bone and Strangers in Paradise, but I finally decided it wasn't worth driving to the comic shop for only two comics. I did read the collected editions of Buffy Season 8 comic that Whedon wrote the lasy few years.

    @Dan O. - Thanks. I'm also hoping Whedon returns for the sequel. Bringing him back will show me the studio is serious about making the sequel more than just a money grab.

    @thevoid99 - Thanks. I'm glad someone else liked the Stark/Banner scenes, too. Do you still have the link for that New Yorker article?

    @Peter Bernier - You're welcome. Thanks for urging me to go see the first Iron Man movie back when it came out.

  7. Wonderful and very informative review! I'm a woman and I liked the movie a lot, I think it's the kind of entertainment everyone will enjoy -t's not boring, it has nice visuals, great actors and a lot of humour.

  8. Nice, heartfelt review Chip! I also saw this movie and was pleasantly surprised. I felt that Whedon did an excellent job of balancing the story between the various superheroes (not an easy thing to do). I also thought it was a better Iron Man movie than Iron Man II. A great summer kick-off.

  9. Here's that article:

    It's a recommended read about what they did right.

  10. @Sati. - Thanks, and thanks for sharing.

    @Barry P. - I agree with everything you wrote. Thanks.

    @thevoid99 - Thanks. I read the article. You are right that it is a good read (although the all caps took a little bit to get used to).

  11. Very good and very long review, I appreciate the fact that you took the time to do it and express your opnions in such a good and interesting way. I, too, was very happy to see Colbie Smulders get the part of Agent Hill, I really like from How I met your mother, plus she is(almost) married to Taran Killam, a great guy from Saturday Night Live. As I said before, the ones that stood out for me were Mark Ruffalo and Tom Hiddleston- love them both!

  12. @Diana - Thanks for the comments. Yes, sorry about the length. I have a tendency to want to include too much information in my reviews, which I watch for. I sometimes remove content I've written to try to make them flow quicker. In this instance I couldn't bear to cut anything out, so I left it alone. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

  13. Excellent review! Yep, you loved the movie...and for many of the same reasons that I did. I totally agree with you regarding the chemistry between Stark and Banner. Those were great scenes, and it was important (I think) for Stark to let down his guard a little bit. I really want to go see this one again, too, but I'm afraid if we spring for more babysitter time we won't be able to when some of the other summer blockbusters I'm looking forward to arrive. Alas.

    One thing, though. The actor who plays Loki is _Tom_ Hiddleston, not Eric. :)

  14. @banaoilmovies - Oops! Thanks for catching that. It's corrected. I read this review I don't know how many times before posting it and I never caught that. I have no idea where it came from, either. I knew his name was Tom. I don't know anyone who's name is even close to Eric Hiddleston. Oh well.

  15. Will have to wait to see it on DVD. I don't go to the theater very often, and I don't know that I'm willing to spend $10 on an action movie. You are obviously quite enthusiastic about it, though.

  16. @KimWilson - I don't often go to the theater, either, but this was one that I had been anticipating for quite some time.

  17. Great, exhaustive review.

    I wanted to see a scene between Cap and Stark discussing Stark's Dad as well. It seems odd that they left something like that out. I think the closest they got was Stark mentioning that his Dad never shut up about Cap.

    I really enjoyed the relationship between Stark and Banner as well. Loved it when they rode off together at the end.

    Another scene I wanted but didn't get was Cap wielding Mjolnir. Maybe Avengers 2.

    Again, great review.

  18. @Robert - Thanks. My hope is that a Cap/Stark scene will be included on the DVD among the extra 30 minutes of footage, which is said to mostly focus on Cap. I agree on Stark/Banner and it made me wonder if we would see Banner in the next Iron Man film. In regards to Cap wielding Mjolnir, that will not happen unless they change things from the comic. The hammer can only be lifted by Thor, per Odin's "magic". (Technically, by an Asgardian who is worthy). That's why they showed even the Hulk could not lift it in The Avengers, even though he is stronger than Thor.

    1. It's rare but others have been able to pick up Thor's hammer. A friend of mine found this list, check it out:

      Makes me hope Beta Ray Bill will make it into a Thor sequel...

    2. Thanks for the link. I was aware of two of those people, but only one of those events. I will explain.

      I read comics from roughly the mid 80s to the late 90s. I didn't know of Superman and Cap, and the Wonder Woman one was new to me. Not mentioned in that post is that Wonder Woman picked it up in the first Marvel/DC crossover. They weren't fighting each other, but were helping each other. At one point Thor gets his hammer knocked out of his hand. Womder Woman picks it up, hands it to him saying something like "Here, you dropped this", then continues on. Thor thanks her, then does a "wait a minute" doubletake. He could wield it because he was a god and she being a goddess was the DC equivalent of him.

      As for Beta Ray Bill I still have the entire Walt Simonson run on Thor, including that landmark issue. Simonson's writing and art were the only time I was interested in the Thor character.

  19. Wowww..longggggg, informative and apt. Very well written Chip. I'm gonna be a regular reader now. Have subscribed to your site too

  20. Great review. I heard in an interview with Kevin Feige that the beloved character who got Whedon-ed was a decision from Marvel, not Whedon, but he knew he'd be blamed for it.

    Can't wait for the DVD and the extra 30 minutes (though Cap is my least fave character of the crew), and hopefully I'll finally be able to see the 2nd end credits scene, as it was added only for US audiences, us in the UK didn't get it!

  21. @Haricharan Pudipeddi - Yes, it is long. Thank you for taking the time to read it. I find that if I write a review right after seeing a movie I remember so many interesting things I want to share that I include them all, then I have to go back and remove stuff. In this case I didn't want to take anything out. Most of my reviews are written long after I've seen the movie, so I know the highlights, plus one or two interesting facts, and as a result they are shorter than this one. Thanks for becoming a Follower.

    @LifeVsFilm - Thanks. And thanks for the info on Marvel's decision. That's interesting. When I wrote this review I didn't realize the second end credits scene was added only after the movie's Hollywood premiere. Since the movie opened overseas first, it makes sense that the scene wasn't included because it didn't exist yet.