The Avengers is a Marvel movie event 5 years in the making. Make it 49 years for those who’ve wanted one since they picked up the first issue in 1963. This is what each movie produced by Marvel Studios and Disney has been building towards since the end credits of Iron Man. With an emphasis on continuity spanning five films, the idea of a franchise team-up of this kind seemed difficult, if not impossible to pull off successfully. So the question remains, in the hands of Joss Whedon, a writer of many Marvel comic books, does The Avengers live up to its hype, or is it a team that was better left disassembled?
The story begins some time after Loki’s defeat at the hands of Thor. He’s since ended up in a bizarre and unknown region of outer space where he makes a deal with a race of aliens called the Chitauri. If he delivers them the magical device called the Tesseract (which you may or may not remember as a plot device from Captain America), they will provide him with an army to conquer earth, thus giving him his much wanted revenge on his brother. The plot's kept pretty simple and straightforward which, considering how many superheroes there are in this, may have been a safe choice. Loki puts his plan into motion immediately, attacking S.H.I.E.L.D. and stealing the Tesseract within his first few moments on earth. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. fights back against the impeding invasion by organizing the Avengers, consisting of Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). The team doesn’t get along as well as they should.
It’s a team-up of epic proportions and seeing the respective heroes on-screen interacting with each other is pretty thrilling. There’s a lot to be said for Whedon’s handling of the different characters and use of sharp dialogue. The characters are carefully balanced during both action and conversations, allowing each to have their moments to shine. It never feels like one character dominates the movie, and it’s an impressive feat. Having seen the previous films of the different characters is expected of the audience, as little to no explanations of back stories are given. What’s probably the most entertaining aspect of the movie, at times more so than the action, are the verbal exchanges between characters. By this point, everyone should know who’s who, so seeing Tony Stark clash with Steve Rogers or Thor is surprisingly engaging. The actors are quick and natural delivering their witty remarks and it makes for some genuinely humorous banter.
|The Hulk, looking his best.|
The one actor to be replaced is Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/the Hulk, who's now portrayed by Mark Ruffalo. His presence is not missed. In fact, Mark Ruffalo takes a character that’s never found very firm footing in his own films and makes him infinitely more compelling and likeable than before. Both his Bruce Banner and Hulk characters feel much better utilized in this group setting.
In just about any given scene, there’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing these superheroes argue and fight each other. It’s almost too satisfying. If there’s one weak point in the film it’s probably the villains. They just aren’t interesting enough (or threatening enough) to compete with the on-screen presence of the heroes. The worst case is probably the alien threat, being the Chitauri. There’s nothing shown or explained about who exactly these creatures are or where they come from. Are they a militaristic society? Do they even have a society or are they just an army of evil aliens floating out in the recesses of space? Can any of them even speak? Aside from their leader (who only talks to Loki in two scenes), they're never shown outside of an action sequence. Their threat comes only from their sheer numbers. And giant flying slugs.
Loki is better, but also not worthy to be a villain to stand against all these heroes. You never get the sense that he’s in complete control of what’s going on around him and most of the Avengers could probably take him down alone. Tom Hiddleston does a decent job and I’ll admit makes Loki come off as a much more menacing antagonist than he was previously depicted in Thor, but the character isn’t big enough or dangerous enough to warrant uniting the heroes of so many movies. The real threat is the alien invasion, but they’re just a mindless rabble of monsters.
The Avengers is an action packed popcorn film, and it’s one of the best in recent years, especially amongst the sea of superhero movies. The action is entertaining, though there's a plethora of it, especially towards the latter half of the film. This is also where the large cast comes into play, as seeing them each battle the forces of the invaders in their own unique way prevents it from getting dull or monotonous. There's an interesting tracking shot that spans many streets of the city and manages to capture all of the heroes in their specific locations fighting off the aliens. It adds a grand sense of scale to the action and showcases each of the heroes doing what everyone wants them to do.
A cross franchise team-up of this scale has never been done before; at least not outside Japan to my knowledge (I know there are some unofficial crossovers like King Kong vs. Godzilla and Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo). It’s hard to believe, but they managed to make it work, and the end result is a fun and thrilling action film that surpasses many of those which preceded it.