Recent Film Review: 2012’s The Avengers

As Thor Week goes on, let’s take a look at 2012’s The Avengers, pitting Thor against Joss Whedon and Loki, along with new friends!

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The Avengers is the first superhero movie in over ten years that I was excited for.  Even with new brand-new heroes (Black Widow and Hawkeye), this movie manages to skip all of the things that annoy me about most superhero movies and is able to skip right to what is best.  It also doesn’t hurt that this was a great year for Joss Whedon; shortly before The Avengers was released, The Cabin in the Woods was.  Unfortunately, I was unable to see either of these films in theatres, but I did watch them both as soon as possible, and wished that I had.

Perhaps it’s become a cliche of its own, but I feel it’s proper to state my point of view when going into The Avengers.  I’m a person who loves comics, hasn’t read a ton of comics involving the Avengers themselves, and have not been hugely into comic book movies, which I generally find to be overloaded with CGI and otherwise repetitive.  I watched Iron Man for a date, but beyond that I didn’t watch any of the lead-ins until after Avengers was released.   I know the backstories of the characters, but have little interest in their individual movies, although Iron Man 3 was pretty good..  For the record, I haven’t read the Ultimate comics to know how much the various versions of Nick Fury differ from one another, either.

Thankfully, Joss Whedon took into account that not every person who watches this movie will have watched the four or five prequels that aren’t available on Netflix instant.  As long as you have some understanding of these characters, either through comics, cartoons, movies, what have you, you have enough background information to go into this film.  If not, you at least learn that Thor and Loki are brothers from Asgard and considered gods, that Bruce Banner was a genius scientist who became an immortal smashing machine in an accident, that Captain America is from the past and took a serum to gain his powers, and that Tony Stark is…well, how much do you need in order to know Tony Stark is Tony Stark?

As for the new entries, [Ultimate] Nick Fury is Samuel L Jackson, rated PG-13 (a little harsher than Mace Windu, a little nicer than Jules Winnfield), Black Widow (referred to only once by her code name and otherwise as Natalia Romanova) gets the most development of anyone else in the movie (by a slight margin). Hawkeye, by virtue of his role, gets virtually nothing, being little more than a cameo for the climax and a sympathetic face to attach to a possessed minion.  If it seems like I’m spoiling the film, don’t worry; anything that I’ve mentioned so far is established pretty early on, or else is repeated information from the prequels.

Now that the infodump is out of the way, let’s get to the opinions, shall we?  Robert Downey Jr. plays his version of Tony Stark just as well as he does in Iron Man.  He plays his character consistently and he’s actually written a little more likable here, having given up womanizing and drinking a bit less with each movie.  Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is exactly what I would expect from the character.  I’ve heard Captain America referred to as the weak link here, and I have to agree.  While the other actors draw into mind the storied histories of their characters, everything “Steve Rogers” about this character comes from the writing, rather than the acting, in which Chris Evans delivers the lines passably but is unremarkable.

But anybody who watched the prequels knew how these guys were going to do, right?  The characters are the same; they’re all on the second or third film in their contract.  No, it’s Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner that everybody wants to talk about.  I was surprised by this, despite having heard a bit about how Ruffalo’s performance went.  No, what surprised me was that the Hulk wasn’t recruited to the Avengers in the beginning of the movie – it was Banner.  He was recruited as a scientist; for the mandatory Joss Whedon reference, this makes him to the Simon Tam to our merry crew.  If Simon had the temperament of Jayne Cobb, that is.

This gives Ruffalo a lot more to do than simply smashing his way through the set, or even moping around in fear of the Hulk would give him.  Some of the most awesome moments are when Banner and Stark are discussing physics that no one else in the room is even close to comprehending.  Banner is a carefully controlled bottle of rage, ready to blow his top the minute he gets shaken up, something that I’ve been told is a forte of Mark Ruffalo.

This is the exemplary superhero movie.  There are too many characters to bog us down on one plot for too long, but there also aren’t enough for us to get lost, either.  You grow to love every character, or at least respect for them and root for them.  There’s a ton of action, but it’s well broken up, and every character serves their particular niche in the way that works best for them.  There’s drama about the characters’ past and future, but it’s handled quickly and isn’t distracting.

This sounds like the ideal ADD movie, and in a way, it is.  Still, I don’t think that takes anything away from the film, especially seeing as how it’s much less brightly colored and explodey than it could have been.  There are subtle references to the comics and even a nod to the importance of downtime.  I wasn’t all that excited about this movie before watching it, but The Avengers stands up there with some of my favorite comic book movies of all time and one of the few movies to demand my full attention the whole time it’s on screen.

A large part of this contrast is the way that many comic book movies get heavily bogged down in origin stories.  I’m not saying that origin stories don’t need to be told and that people shouldn’t be aware of them.  At the same time, if you follow new releases films, comics, and television shows, there’s a good chance you’re watching Peter Parker get bitten by a Spider and Bruce Banner get lit up by Gamma Radiation close to once a year.  In the end, no matter who the hero is, most superhero movies consist of an extra chance to watch the same origin story.  Again.  And again.

Avengers?  Doesn’t have that.  Okay, yes, it has the brief, exposited origin story of a hero I knew absolutely nothing about.  That’s mixed in with the stories of Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor, Hulk, Captain America and Loki, none of whom we spend thirty minutes to relearn the backstories of.  This makes The Avengers one of the rare superhero movies that actually focuses on the superheroing, and it is awesome.

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2 thoughts on “Recent Film Review: 2012’s The Avengers

  1. Good review Bill. It was practically everything we wanted from the team-up we’ve been anticipating four years prior. That’s why, when it came around, there was no disappointment to be found whatsoever.

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