One of my favorite things to do is see summer blockbusters. I also love to review them. I also hate spoilers. What follows is the first of several reviews I will write this summer:
I remember sitting up past my bedtime to watch Bill Bixby in The Incredible Hulk. I would watch in amazement as one of my favorite comic book heroes was realized, however cheaply, on the small screen. I thrilled the first time I saw Superman with the late Christopher Reeve. Finally seeing Superman on the big screen was something I anticipated for weeks as a young boy and when I saw him finally it was as if I didn’t know if I was awake or asleep. Marvel’s The Avengers brings back that feeling of being a kid again, but doesn’t have the simplistic plot and acting that would disappoint the educated adult I have become.
Usually, superhero franchise movies take it easy on us, introducing us to characters through origins or backstory, but this film has the advantage of five other successful films that have already accomplished this, and now we are ready to see what these heroes can do together as a team. Helmed by Joss Whedon, the wunderkind creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, and a writer of several of his own comic book stories found within the pages of Marvel, the film takes on a different aspect that may never have been done before. For this film, the directing job was given to a person who understands what fans need to see, what is true to form for a modern comic book story, and one who understands the genre better than anyone else. Not only does he translate the pages of a comic book to screen, but he does so with a grace, wit and intelligence that rivals any other director.
The story has a theme of revenge. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), demigod brother of Thor arrives on earth to cause mischief, his sole purpose in life. He is more than your average villain bent on world domination, and we realize right away that there is a motivation for his vengeance that runs deeper than the hatred of his brother. The team is scattered at the beginning of the film, each of them doing their solo work, but Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) manages to bring them together to fight against the god of mischief in several ways. The storyline flows naturally, explaining the stakes of the heroes choice to not band together, but in the end the motivation for their union as a team is surprising and emotionally real. There are, in my opinion, some of the best action scenes ever filmed in a superhero genre film coupled beautifully with some very emotional and realistic performances by the entire cast. As in all Whedon films, the humor is sprinkled in to the clever dialogue, and there are several action sequences that caused raucous laughter to rip through the audience.
The acting in superhero genre films can be over the top or too understated, but the actors themselves were like a superhero team alone. Robert Downey Jr., in my opinion, and in most everyone’s opinion is Tony Stark in the flesh. His millionaire genius persona is something to be seen, and he brings a heart to the film that is unparalleled. His quips fire out like War Machine’s chain gun, and he never disappoints with his oscar winning acting chops. Captain America, played by Chris Evans, does an amazing job of duplicating his performance as the super-soldier in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). The character is identical in mannerisms, expressions and heart. One of the real surprises in this film is the performance of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. He has an uncanny ability to show pent up rage with small subtleties of facial expressions. His portrayal of Banner is probably one of the best I have ever witnessed, and is a perfect replacement for Ed Norton because of the sadness we feel about his unique problem, but then triumph as he explains to the team about his “secret” for keeping the Hulk at bay. One final word about Tom Hiddleston, whose performance as Loki is Shakespearean yet real. Great villains (as I have stated before on this blog) need a sympathetic element to draw the audience in, and Hiddleston uses this like a fisherman would use a lure, only to set the hook and make us sorry we did. He is a truly frightening villain that we love to hate.
Overall, I would give the film five out of five stars. It is difficult to say anything bad about it because it is just that good. The Avengers may be earth’s mightiest heroes, but Whedon has made (at least currently) earth’s mightiest movie. If you want to laugh, thrill, and have one of the best times at the movies you have had in a long time, go see this film. It will not disappoint.
(If you do see this movie, stay until the credits are over. It, like all five previous Marvel films have easter egg moments at the end that will cause you to wish for more. This one has two of them. One after the first animatic set of credits that details the next Avengers film, and one at the very end of the credits that is simply Whedonesque.)