“The Avengers” (2012) Review

Welcome to Frepow Films – the blog that reviews all the latest cinema has to offer under a name that could be mistaken for an IKEA product. We update every Wednesday evening to coincide with the exact point in the week you begin to lose motivation at work, school, hygiene, etc. and are begging for anything that will make time go faster until the weekend.

This guys knows what I’m talking about.

I think it’s appropriate that my first review be the film that kicked off the summer blockbuster season. While most people have already heard about how incredible The Avengers is, I dedicate this post to the five of you who haven’t. Along with many other filmgoers, my expectations for this movie were incredibly high. After all, this has been a project in the making for nearly half a decade and required five feature-length films to set up. The last thing in Hollywood to demand this much time and effort was Cher’s most recent cosmetic procedure (ZING!).

I’m happy to report that The Avengers does not disappoint. Joss Whedon (famous for Alien Resurrection, Titan A.E., and bunch of random shows about fireflies and trying to kill James Marsters) is extremely competent as writer and director and definitely did not shy away from the challenges this film posed, which primarily involved overlapping several strong leading characters and their respective storylines into one film. In this respect, a lot could’ve gone wrong, but The Avengers works. While I don’t believe that Whedon’s ability to write dialogue is anything to call home about, I must give the man props in two regards: he is an incredibly gifted storyteller and he knows his characters well.

For a film that features multiple characters with strong, distinct personalities, Whedon recognizes each character’s strengths and plays them up to a point where they compliment one another nicely. Everyone brings something unique to the table. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is slick and wise-cracking. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is aggressive and has a bit of a superiority complex. Captain America (Chris Evans) is the moral backbone of the group. And Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is cynical and mild-mannered when he isn’t destroying things like cars, buildings, and Lou Ferrigno’s career.

You know you’re in trouble when Stan Lee looks more intimidating than you.

The plot of The Avengers is nothing new. Tom Hiddleston reprises his role of Loki and makes a deal with a hostile alien race called the Chitauri that involves an exchange of a cube of unlimited energy called the Tesseract for the chance to rule Earth. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles a team of superheroes called “the Avengers” to thwart this plan. Okay, when I describe it like that, it sounds pretty new, but the whole alien invasion/world domination thing has been done a million times. Where the story of The Avengers succeeds, however, is in its execution. Needless to say, the action scenes are breathtaking, but they are also used sparingly and compliment the main story rather than dominate it. The scenes in between the action are not simply throwaway filler, but are used to develop the characters further and explore all the possibilities of their dynamic. The Avengers is a film about its characters and great care is taken to maintain everything we already know and love about them, but also to test their limits in new ways. For example, we are shown a few scenes where Iron Man, who always seemed just a tad too comfortable in his previous films, breaks down, loses his cool, and becomes completely vulnerable. It’s fascinating to watch.

But not as fascinating as THIS! How is he even…?

The acting overall is superb with everyone disappearing into their respective roles. Mark Ruffalo does a great job stepping in as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, retaining the inherent tragedy of the character, but also having fun with him too. I thought Tom Hiddleston stole the show as Loki in Thor, but a lot of viewers found him a bit bland and predictable. Fortunately, The Avengers makes it cool to like Loki. The script gives him a lot more to do this time and the character really comes into his own. Most notably, he is far more menacing. A personal highlight for me was the scene where he is interrogated by the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). It has a striking resemblance to when Clarice first meets Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs and establishes the same type of intensity and creepiness. I guess I could complain a bit that Samuel L. Jackson basically plays himself in this film, but this criticism is moot. Short history lesson: when Marvel was revamping all of their famous characters for their “Ultimate” comicbook series, the new Nick Fury was actually based on Jackson. So basically, by playing Nick Fury, Jackson is also playing himself … who is Nick Fury.

It’s like Inception … if Inception could stare you into compliance.

I do, however, have a few minor complaints about The Avengers. I already hinted that I found the dialogue to be contrived at times, but the real weaknesses have to do with character development. While the film gives each character time to develop to a satisfactory point, the audience is left wanting more at times. This is mostly apparent in the characters of Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Implications about Widow’s past are frequently made and while this does add an enigmatic aspect to the character that we didn’t get in Iron Man 2, she’s still rather bland. Hawkeye, on the other hand, we know pretty much nothing about. He’s just kind of there. While this isn’t a big problem because these are both minor characters, the movie presents us with a couple of scenes intended to spark some type of emotion for these characters, but I simply didn’t know enough about them to care. I found the Chitauri to be somewhat underdeveloped as well, taking on more of a disposable henchmen role to Loki. I realize this could be intentional in order to build up the Chitauri for a more prominent role in a future film (minor spoiler – a mid-credits scene alludes to this), but judging this film alone, these characters fall short.

I also found that Captain America felt a bit out of place in this film. When held up next to Iron Man, Thor, and The Hulk, Cap’s superpowers pale in comparison. As a result, he isn’t given much to do. The comics compensated for this by establishing Cap as the driving moral force of the team and a master strategist. While the movie is consistent with his morality, the strategist aspect arrives very late in the film and does so rather abruptly and arbitrarily. It’s like one second, everyone’s arguing and the next, they’re all taking orders from Cap for no apparent reason. This was especially jarring considering Cap is the butt of several of the other characters’ jokes during the first and second acts. I haven’t seen such a sudden and seemingly random acquisition of power since high school student council elections.

Vote for me and every Friday becomes “Lumberjack Day”!

Overall, The Avengers is a fun, effective film that certainly lives up to its hype. The action is amazing, but not dominating over the real attraction – the characters. Check it out.

I give it 4/5.

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