The Avengers is now out — something that seemed impossible a decade ago — and it is pretty much exactly what you will have expected. It should; after all, it has had four years and five movies of build-up to satisfy. I’m not sure whether that amount of time is a good thing or not, as hype has been a killer in the past, but in this case, I wasn’t exactly buying in. I liked the two Iron Man films (especially the first one), and Captain America was a lot of fun, but Thor was underwhelming and I really disliked The Incredible Hulk, so I came in with tempered expectations — expectations that were promptly blown away once The Avengers started.
The very first scene sets the tone. In it, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the villain from Thor, manages to reappear, this time on Earth. He steals a big energy cube that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been using, much to the chagrin of super spy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Knowing that this could be the end of the world as we know it, Fury, along with another Agent, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), begin to call up the rest of the Avengers, a group of superheroes who have been individually recruited for the last few films. While the main goal is just to locate the cube, we know that soon enough, there will be a massive battle. There just has to be.
You know and presumably love almost all of the superheroes scattered throughout this film. We have Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner AKA The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton), and Captain America (Chris Evans). Natasha, who goes by the name “Black Widow,” is just a human, although she’s strong in hand-to-hand combat. The only unknown is Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who had a cameo in Thor, and here begins under Loki’s mind control. He shoots arrows really well, and is therefore worthy of being in The Avengers.
Essentially, the film is going to play in three stages. The first involves the recruitment of the heroes. Second, we have their agreements and disagreements while establishing the villain and how big of a threat he is. Finally, we have an all-out war, this time taking place in New York City, which takes our final hour of running time. You’ll notice when each section ends, as one of the action scenes will come to a close, signifying the transition to the next act.
Considering that the final act is just an extended action scene, you know you’re in for a very enjoyable film. The director here is Joss Whedon, a man who understands superheroes, action scenes, and balancing a multitude of characters. Here, he makes sure that everyone gets their time to shine, and makes each hero seem like they’re needed. Well, everyone except Black Widow, whose purpose seemed written in specifically for her. It’s like you can actually see that Whedon didn’t know what to have her do, so he just wrote something in late in the process to keep her busy. Whedon also avoids falling into one of the problems of the X-Men flicks, not ever focusing too heavily on one character (Wolverine in Fox’s movie franchise).
The most surprising thing about The Avengers — after The Hulk actually being fun to watch, that is — is that it’s hilarious. Iron Man was pretty funny in its own right, but Whedon’s dialogue and character interactions are always fun to listen to and watch. The actors get the timing down — I was quite surprised how well Hemsworth played the straight man — but the dialogue itself is just so funny. You go see this movie, and you will laugh more than you expect going in.
Actually, this is the first time I’ve ever liked The Hulk in a movie. There have been two attempts at a solo movie involving the character over the last decade, and neither worked for me, in large part because he’s only fun to watch when he’s in Hulk-mode. Making a movie about him trying to stop that from happening is dull. Here, especially in the final act, he’s allowed to go as crazy as possible. If this Hulk got his own movie, I would be okay with it. And yes, Ruffalo is good in the role, taking over seamlessly from Edward Norton.
Another thing that’s seamless is the integration of the special effects, which never actually seem like they’re not real. This universe has been established — we have magic, fantastical technology, and so on — and with the largest budget of a Marvel movie to date, these characters and their abilities have never looked better. I bought in completely — even though they’re sometimes facing entirely-CGI creatures which will always look a little off — and just took in the spectacle. It was a treat.
The Avengers does have a couple of minor problems. It’s too long, for one, even though it rarely drags. There are only two major locations that it takes place in, and it would have been nice for a little more variety. The battle of New York, while certainly impressive from a visual standpoint, feels kind of empty. There are only a couple of times when you actually see citizens, while most of the time the city feels like a ghost town that superheroes and villains chose as a battle ground. These are minor, though, and do not significantly hamper the final product or your enjoyment of it.
The Avengers is a spectacle. It didn’t seem like it could be done, but Marvel Studios has done it. The result is a one-of-a-kind movie, one that had five two-hour experiences to build up to it, and one that works not only as a continuation of that build-up, but as a single movie as well. It’s hilarious, action-packed, looks amazing, and is absolutely satisfying. If you liked any of the previous movies in this series, you owe it to yourself to see The Avengers.