Movie Review: The Avengers
So I saw The Avengers over the weekend!
People who know me know that I don’t care about seeing the Biggest Blockbusters. There’s something to be said for being a part of the cultural conversation, but I am pretty comfortable staying away from your Transformers, your Avatars. I’ve not seen any of those, and I’m not going to start.
The Avengers, beyond its massive, massive popularity, had two draws for me: 1. It got great reviews and 2. It was partially filmed in my adopted town of Cleveland. All of us here feel a poignant pride for this movie, now that we’re done complaining about all those downtown streets being closed for so long.
My prior Avengers education was limited—of the previous movies with these characters, the only one I had seen was the first Iron Man. I was glad to find that I kept up easily: Iron Man is really the only character about whom a viewer needs any previous study. I knew all about his past and how his suit works, etc., which I could see would have been confusing. (e.g., Why does his chest glow through his shirt? WTF?) The rest of the characters were much simpler, and I didn’t need the Cliffs Notes to understand what their motivations were.
And, true to the reviews, those characters were employed very well. When you have a movie with these many characters, all of whom (or most of whom) are have starred in their own movies once upon a time, dynamics become so important. And this movie plays them all like chess pieces, making clever pairings of characters who work together well—or who conflict interestingly—and even generally managing to keep everybody relevant, through the whole thing.
They all have disparate powers and strengths—that’s one way. Before the battling starts, Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Banner (the Hulk) partner together to study gamma rays and radioactivity and gobbledygook and et cetera. ScarJo as Black Widow, meanwhile, is the big-screen version of Kyra Sedgwick as The Closer. She gets Loki (the main villain) to let slip his long game plans. And then in the battle scenes, different characters get to step forward. Captain America, early on, seemed less important because he doesn’t have any magical powers—he’s just super strong, with an indestructible shield—and he’s not a scientific genius like Banner or Stark, either. But then when the final battle happens, America jumps into action as a military strategist. All the Avengers are in contact with wireless (apparently) invisible (seemingly) earpieces. Either that or they’re all telepathic and I missed it. Anyway, America is moving everyone like toy soldiers through the whole thing, telling Stark where to fly, telling Hawkeye where to post himself and his arrows, and so on. (And America’s fighting monsters off himself, too, of course.) So I just really appreciated the way everyone played their parts to such specificity, rising to the occasion when they were needed and receding to the background when they weren’t.
Logic and common sense behavior goes a long way in a movie like this, too. Yes, a movie where superheroes and flying lizard monster alien do battle over a mystical energy cube can still feature logic. When ScarJo, as Black Widow, who has no supernatural powers of her own whatsoever, is fighting them off and manages to kill one, and then immediately begins wielding that monster’s weapon against the rest of them, I nodded approvingly. That’s a smart thing to do. Only about 1 in 10 of your action movie protagonists are actually going to be quick-witted enough to do it.
The breakout star of the movie is the Hulk. This seems to be the consensus. He doesn’t appear for at least an hour—up until then Bruce Banner is charming indie mumbler Mark Ruffalo, who has been hiding out in India for a year trying to not Hulk out. Ruffalo is (so internet reviewers tell me) less mopey than previous Hulks (which is weird because Ruffalo is a classic moper), the kind of guy who cracks wry jokes about how cursed he is and shrugs off the notion that being part of this mission will overstress him to the point of making him go green. Yet the movie actually does an excellent job of making us anticipate the Hulk. In the very first scene, where ScarJo goes to India to get him, she meets him in this empty hovel somewhere. They converse; she is visibly tense despite it being just Mark Ruffalo over there. Then he yells at her and she whips out a pistol, and then we cut to an outside view where there are no fewer than ten SWAT-looking guys surrounding the house, in a state of readiness. False alarm, though. No Hulk yet.
Hulk’s mindless destruction ends up providing some of the best laughs, too. Here’s the second best one (I won’t spoil the first): working in tandem with Thor, Hulk lays waste to a huge group of insurgents in Grand Central Station. All the bad guys having been dispatched, Hulk and Thor survey the scene. Then Hulk, with no preamble, belts Thor so hard he flies out of frame. Why? ‘cause Thor was there. And he’s the Hulk.
Also present is Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, a Halloween costume I’m surprised more people have not picked up on, and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, who apparently has been in every single superhero movie I haven’t seen and none of the ones I have. The villain, Loki, has got trench coats and long greasy hair, and he’s a smug bastard. My favorite kind of movie villain.
The movie is fast-moving despite being so long (two and a half hours) and the action is all fully comprehensible. No shaky cam, no intense closeups of metal and movement where you can’t even tell what you’re looking at. Also no “wait, why is Thor here? Wasn’t he just in the skyscraper on the OTHER SIDE OF TOWN?” at least none that I noticed. All of these touches of genuine filmmaker care are courtesy of writer-director Joss Whedon, who I usually can take or leave (the episodes of Roseanne he wrote: Take – pretty much everything else he’s ever done: Leave), but his skills as a storyteller were much appreciated here.