It’s finally here. That movie that they’ve been hinting at since 2008. Marvel’s Avengers certainly is one of the most anticipated movies of all time, and now it is finally here. It seems like we are going to be hopping from one big-time movie franchise to the next this summer, and Marvel’s tale of its band of super-heroes united is up first. But more than a singular cinematic experience, The Avengers is a culmination of 5 other films, previously released. These films all centered on one of the characters in The Avengers and served as a back story for all of us not too familiar with the character’s stories from the comic books. Similarly, the crossover film culminates in a plot that uses aspects of each of these films. It’s not essential that you understand what had happened in these Avenger prequel movies in order to understand what happens in The Avengers, but it does make the film’s fast-paced and detail-ridden story easier to follow. This post is a quick summary and review of those films to prepare you for seeing The Avengers.

Rated: Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man was the first Marvel superhero movie to be part of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, what Marvel is calling the universe in which The Avengers takes place. Overall Iron Man is a solid film, one of the big surprises of 2008 and helped to reinvigorate the superhero craze (along with The Dark Knight). But where as The Dark Knight was a heavy, brooding, philosophical piece, Iron Man is relatively light-hearted and flashy. It sets itself apart from the other films in this series by turning up the fun factor. Credit both director Jon Favreau and lead actor Robert Downey Jr. Favreau directs the film cleanly and with a focus on maximizing audience enjoyment. The film has a recognizable heart, which the audience can easily grab on to, which provides a strong base on which to build the action. Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in this film single-handedly revived his career. His Tony Stark is the pmpous spoiled brat that we all hate, but his performance makes us cheer for him by the end. It may be an all-too-familiar scrooge-recognizes-his-ways-and-changes-for-the-better story, but we’ve never seen it before with this much style and sophistication. Iron Man started the series out in the right direction, and introduced the type of heart-filled hero-grows-up-by-facing-his-demons story that the rest of the films would use as well.

Story: Tony Stark is a narcissistic but brilliant billionaire in charge of a weapons company. When he gets kidnapped by a group of terrorists using his weapons on innocent people he recognizes that something has to change and it’s up to him to make the difference…Good (22/24)

Acting: Downey Jr. is simply fantastic, his performance makes the film great. The rest of the cast includes Gwyneth Paltrow,  Terrence Howard, and Jeff Bridges, all who do a good supporting job, but Bridges seems out-of-place. Good (23/25)

Direction: Favreau doesn’t get caught up in the details, and the result is a crisp and clean film. He frames his actors well, and makes the action sequences easy to follow. The film looks and feels exciting. Good (23/25)

Special Effects: While some of the technology and action sequences might seem a little over-the-top, the special effects do hold their own. More importantly, even though all the action sequences seem relatively straight-forward compared to some of the other films, they all have a style and a substance that the other films are never really able to capture. Good (24/25)

Rating: (92/100) = A (A Historical Achievement)

  • What’s Good: The driving factor in this film is the enjoyable performance of Robert Downey Jr., and he is backed up with plenty of flash and style from the director and the special effects.
  • What’s Bad: Perhaps not the most inventive film in terms of action sequences, and we’ve seen the same type of story countless times before.

Summary: Iron Man is gold!

For my review of Iron Man 2, follow this link.

Rated: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Following on the tails of Iron Man came The Incredible Hulk. The purpose of this film was to erase from everyone’s mind the so-so 2003 Ang Lee-directed film, The Hulk. While the 2003 film focused on Bruce Banner’s metamorphosis into The Hulk, The Incredible Hulk follows Bruce Banner as he tries desperately to get rid of his curse. Of all the Avengers prequel movies, I’d have to say that this one is the most emotional. That’s not to say that the film isn’t action-driven, it is, but it has heavy emotional overtones that I feel bog it down and make it less enjoyable. Part of the problem is the fact that none of the actors in this film seem to have any chemistry with each other, which makes any attempt to add emotional appeal a mute point. Similarly, the bash and often stupid way that the film creates it’s action sequences also adds to the film’s unbelievably. In the end, The Hulk turns out to be a generic action movie, and the fact that it’s story is the one that is most contained (i.e. it doesn’t contribute much to The Avengers) means you’d probably be okay skipping it.

Story: Bruce Banner is on the run from the military, who want to use the monster hidden under his skin as a weapon. When they finally catch up to him, he has a choice to make; continue running and keep those who he loves safe, or risk his life and theirs in an attempt to find a cure…Good (21/25)

Acting: While Edward Norton does a capable job as Bruce Banner, and Liv Tyler has her moments as his love interest, Betty Ross, the rest of the cast totally ruins the film. Tim Roth is usually a brilliant actor, but I felt that he was just phoning it in here. William Hurt’s performance is equally to blame, maybe his part was just poorly written, but there is no conviction when he makes stupid unbelievable decisions and he doesn’t show any emotion at all. Okay (16/25)

Direction: Director Louis Leterrier is known for action movies like Clash of the Titans and The Transporter, and his work here is much of the same. The action scenes are as brutish as you may expect, but his attempt to add emotion and get great performances out of his cast goes nowhere. Okay (17/25)

Special Effects: Of all the Avengers prequel movies, this one has the worst special effects, verging on cartoonish at times. I understand that it is difficult having you main character be in CGI half the time, but the effects just feel dated and don’t live up to what the other films in this series have to offer. Okay (16/25)

Rating:  (70/100) = C- (Okay)

  • What’s Good: Edward Norton puts in a solid performance, and the high-octane action is enough to make you forget about Ang Lee’s 2003 snooze-fest.
  • What’s Bad: Stupid characters, unconvincing performances by the supporting cast and director, plus lackluster special effects turn this into a generic action movie.

Summary: Hulk turns out to be the weakest. 

Rated: Thor (2011)

Thor is the only Avenger who is not human, and therefore it is fitting that his film is more expansive than the rest. Thor takes the audience on an adventure across the galaxy to other planets, and seamlessly blends fantasy and science-fiction. It’s a story of epic proportions, something the other Avengers prequel movies don’t have. All the other movies feel relatively grounded in comparison, and therefore when the plot heads to Earth Thor loses some of it’s power. I understand that the movie had to come to Earth at some point, but the fact that this portion of the film feels like a giant intro to The Avengers movie makes it lose some of it’s grandeur. That’s not to say that the movie is not enjoyable, and in fact, by the end the film manages to make up for its shameless marketing ploy. Chris Hemsworth is absolutely spot-on with his performance, challenging Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark as the most enjoyable character in the franchise. Plus the epic scale that the film is set to means that there is lots of space for creative special effects and a variety of action sequences. In all, Thor‘s epic scale has the most to add to The Avengers, and even if it feels like it doesn’t commit totally to it’s premise, it is still different enough to be worth watching.

Story: Thor is next in line to be king of Asgard, but his ambition gets the better of him when he makes a big mistake and is exiled to Earth. Once on Earth, Thor must learn to calm his ego if he is ever to return home again… Okay (19/25)

Acting: Chris Hemsworth makes a name for himself in his likable performance as Thor. He is believable throughout the changes his character experiences. The same can be said about Tom Hiddleston. Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard headline the supporting cast, who do fairly well despite a sometimes cringe-worthy performance by Portman. Good (22/25)

Direction: Actor-director Kenneth Branagh takes the helm here, and for his first big-budget action film does a fairly decent job. He uses crooked camera angles and sweeping motion shots, trying to add some edginess, and for the most part succeeds. He also embraces the wide scope that the film encompasses, which gives it a different feeling from the other Avengers prequel movies. Good (21/25)

Special Effects: This film also differentiates itself from the rest with its special-effects laded environments and fantasy-like characters. In short there is more to entertain your eyes than in the other films, and that includes when the action heats up. Not that it’s ever entirely realistic, but that really isn’t the point. Good (23/25)

Rating: (85/100) = B (Recommended)

  • What’s Good: Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston put on a great performance, and the fantasy/sci-fi hybrid story means that this film is not your typical action movie with awe-inspiring special effects and an almost epic scope.
  • What’s Bad: The story trades in some of its vastness in order for it to work itself into The Avengers story line, and Natalie Portman’s performance is a little distracting.

Summary: A super hero on a larger scale. 

Rated: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America is the last film in the series, and as such, along with Thor, it had the task of setting up the dominoes so that they could fall in The Avengers. However, since the events in Captain America take place 60+ years prior to any of the other films it feels like it has more freedom. At least until the end, the film doesn’t feel like it is baiting you to see The Avengers as Thor and Iron Man 2 did. As a stand-alone piece, in fact, it works almost as well as Iron Man, but it isn’t quite as inventive or enjoyable. Similar to Thor, it has the same watch-the-hero-grow-up mentality but on a larger scale. The film’s events are not isolated incidents, but a tired-and-true attempt at the old hero saves the world formula. In fact, the film almost feels like what a G.I. Joe movie should have been like. One man versus an army of ruthless villains. Therefore, even though Captain America: The First Avenger is an all-around solid movie, it just doesn’t have the fun innovation that Iron Man had, or the awe-inspiring story of Thor. Nevertheless, Captain America is a step above the typical action movie, and the fact that it is well done means that you will be hard pressed not to enjoy it.

Story: Steve Rogers is a small meek man who wants to prove his worth by joining the army. When he is rejected due to his physical demeanor, he agrees to be part of a radical procedure to turn him into a super-soldier. The procedure works, and now with the ability to carry out his desire of fighting for his country he heads off to war to battle a dangerous foe… Good (20/25)

Acting: Overall Chris Evans performance is good, but surprising. All previous roles that I had seen him in he had been charismatic and full-of-energy. As Steve Rogers he is more mature and subdued. Hugo Weaving is as good as ever playing the adversary, and Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci head a supporting cast that fares well. Good (21/25)

Direction: Joe Johnson, who has done summer action flicks before, knows what he is doing. The film looks good throughout, and the action sequences are satisfying and gritty. This film seems more realistic than the others. Good (21/25)

Special Effects: One of the highlights of this film is the way that Chris Evan’s character is transformed. A little odd at times but nonetheless a triumph of special effects. The rest of the film is solid, with special effects that are realistic but perhaps not as eye-catching as in Thor. Good (21/25)

Rating: (83/100) = B (Recommended)

  • What’s Good: Chris Evans gives a mature and powerful performance as the titular hero, and the film’s exciting story line is empowered by gritty visuals and clean direction.
  • What’s Bad: If anything the story seems generic.

Summary: Captain America turns in a strong and capable performance. 

Look for my review of The Avengers coming soon!

For more mini reviews, see:
Rated: Mini Reviews – Harry Potter
Rated: Ten Mini Reviews of 2011 Movies
Rated: Ten Mini Reviews of 2010 Movies

My previous post: Ranked: The Most Anticipated Movies of All Time

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