If it's crap ... We'll tell you
WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers
It’s good. It’s really good. It is probably the best crossover in cinema history. It’s also kind of by the numbers. Never did I feel a sense of dread or emotional attachment for any of the characters in the movie. Never did any of the actors ever get a chance to show their range. And for people familiar with Joss Whedon’s past works, many of his tropes pop up here.
I don’t blame Joss for this, this was the biggest crossover in history. One of the highest budget movies of the year, and one of the most hyped movies ever. In fact Marvel’s past three movies altered their own plots so that they could build towards this instead of standing on their own. Needless to say, a lot was riding on the critical and commercial success of this film.
The good news is that Marvel avoided a lot of mistakes that people feared the film would make. This is not Iron Man’s film, something that the popularity of Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark could have easily led this movie to be. It does not let a character get outshined by the others. Everyone here is given a few scenes to shine in and no one outright steals the show.
What Marvel did do was try and keep comic fans happy by putting major events from the early Avenger’s stories into the movie. I wrote an article a few years back describing what the early Avenger’s stories had and what to expect. Basically, Loki had to be the first villain to bring the Avenger’s together, and the Avengers had to have their first moment as a team fighting the Hulk, everything else was optional.
There were certain things from the newer comics (mainly The Ultimates) which were added into this movie to please newer fans; most notable were the Avengers working for SHIELD and the invasion in the final act of the film.
One of the problems with checking off all of the things that people expect to happen in the Avengers movie is that at times, the film feels forced and inorganic. There is a battle between Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America for no real reason other than it gives characters a reason to fight and show how they’d use their own styles against a hero from another movie.
Another problem that kept popping up is that the heroes would occasionally speak out of character to set up a line for a joke or pun. There is no reason for the character to say that except that there is a line that needs to be set up for a quick joke. This works in for Iron Man (Tony Stark) and Hulk (Bruce Banner) but many of the other characters, it doesn’t seem to fit. It seems very clear that Joss Whedon doesn’t know what to do to Steve Rogers, (Captain America,) as Cap can’t make all of the witty socially relevant references that the rest of the cast can. There are good chunks of the movie where Cap doesn’t really get to interact with the team as a whole, but just builds a relationship with Tony. Thankfully, Joss seems to recognize his weakness in writing Captain America, and only plays him as a straight man, focusing on him right before or during a battle.
Another trope is the damaged, yet strong female character who has the inhuman ability to kick ass. There is one in every Joss Whedon television show or film ever made. And if that film really only had one female character, you can guarantee that she’ll kick ass, make sassy comments and look great doing it. Even though she is supposed to be a mere human, Natasha Romanov (The Black Widow) must have some mutant powers or cybernetic enhancements or something. It’s why she can grab onto a hover bike going 200 miles per hour and not have her arms ripped off. Or fall off it at the same speed and get right back up. While all the other characters that did superhuman strength had some explanation behind them, Black Widow’s only reason was that she was a female as written by Joss Whedon.
The humor in this movie is spaced out the same way that the humor in the first Iron Man movie was. The movie knows that the concept is stupid, relishes it, having lots of goofy and fun moments, yet plays it straight, taking the material seriously for the most part. For the most part, it was a fun atmosphere for the melodramatic situations. Although some of the jokes didn’t work. It may be a cultural thing, (since Canadians seem to have a refined sense of humor,) but many scenes and lines that were meant to be funny fell flat in the theater I saw it in. Most of them seemed to work though.
One of the more annoying problems I personally had with the film was something that pops up frequently in Joss’s writing; Joss writes everyone in the film with a mentality of a teenager. There justification for facing down their own team is because they don’t get enough respect. They also seem to face the consequences of high school students, reluctantly putting past their differences, while still holding their grudges, and hanging out with the same characters like you see groups of students do all the time. Up until the final battle, the characters put their egos before getting the job done. But as the film goes on, they slowly look at the bigger picture, then they slowly show that they can work together, and that bond happening is one of the films, and Whedon’s, larger strengths
The biggest flaw I had was that there were no surprises in the script. I went in having only seen the trailer, trying my best to avoid spoilers, and recognizing that nothing permanent could happen to all of the main characters. In Iron Man one, I was constantly surprised about how the whole film connected the plots together, and in Thor, I was pleased with the unexpected sacrifice he makes at the very end of the film. In this movie, there was nothing like that. Right from when they introduced something, I knew exactly how it was going to play out. And when you have a film with no character development, you’d better damn well throw in some genuine surprises.
The only real elements that caught me off guard are the cosmic ones that were thrown in. I honestly thought that the invasion story would have been held off until a later movie, because now, it will be harder to raise the threat level that the Avengers will be called to face in the future. To surpass this, they’d need to face something on a cosmic scale. The other element from Marvel’s cosmic mythology added to this movie is the Soul Gem. It’s the blue gem that causes people to lose control of their actions and get taken over. This wasn’t used much in the comics, probably because fans would have thought it was a cheap way to get the heroes to fight each other.
The reason the soul gem was important to mention is because in the comics, it was later used with other gems to create a device called the Infinity Gauntlet; an object of power which could alter anything in its reality. (It can also be seen in the background of Asgard in the Thor movie.) The reveal at the film’s credits is that the mastermind behind the Invasion was THANOS, a purple alien obsessed with death, who was the first character to wear the Infinity Gauntlet in the comics. This could very well be the plot of the next Avenger’s movie, or a Marvel space opera, once Marvel starts establishing cosmic characters in its future films.
The other reason that the soul gem is important is because it influences people from the Thor movie. Mainly Clint Barton (Hawkeye), because he was infected by it to even the odds for Loki’s character until the invasion was unleashed, he didn’t really get a chance to develop with the rest of the team. This is probably a bigger problem for non-comic fans, because comic fans know how dangerous the character can be, but for people who have only seen the movies, he had only had one cameo where he almost shot at someone. We never really got any depth to his character or had an ‘oh shit’ moment when he turned. Plus we knew he couldn’t kill or seriously wound or kill any of the main cast, because it would have made him too hard to redeem to the audience in the future. In the later scenes he comes into his own, but he’s such a small part of the story that the film could have been made without him and nothing would really have changed.
Speaking of characters with missed opportunities, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury chewed out the Avengers as expected, giving audiences that one Samuel L. Jackson moment. But after the first act, isn’t given much to do. And by that, I mean he was given nothing to do. Maybe he’s being set up to star in his own SHIELD movie. He’s surrounded by minor characters from the comics, and they’ve probably gotten enough exposure from this film to justify a SHIELD centric one.
The movie excels at providing fanboy moments and fun action sequences. There is a great moments given to all the characters, especially Hulk, whose appearance here should get people excited after the previous two Hulk movies failed to find a balance to the character which would have pleased the fans.
Joss Whedon is proving himself to be a better director than he was in past projects. Although for fans of his work, you’re going to see some scenes taken directly out of Serenity. The vehicle chase at the beginning is taken step for step out of the vehicle chase from there. And the way Agent Phil Coulson dies is the exact way Serenity’s pilot Wass goes out. Still, Whedon probably knows that the great majority of people seeing this film probably haven’t seen his other ensemble science fiction one.
Agent Coulson was a fan favorite in the Thor and Iron Man films, and was played as a straight guy with a dry sense of humor. In the Avengers, his character changes into a gushing fan boy whenever Captain America in near. The reason for this was because Coulson already had connections to Thor and Iron Man, but needed to have a connection to Steve Rogers (Captain America) too. So they betrayed a large part of his character in order to get him closer to Steve so that when he was killed, it would give him a reason to care. It was just one of the many times where the characters were written to move along the plot, instead of the plot being written to move along the characters.
I also thought his death was needed, but not well handled. Never for a moment did I think he was going to stay dead. Even the film admits that his last moments seemed forced. Expect him to return to the Marvel movie universe is some way. Either with the reveal that his death was faked or that he’s coming back as a character called The Vision. Plus Joss cannot just let his characters die, there deaths always have to mean something, or the dying character gets one last laugh and does a strike against the villain.
I’ve heard people complain that the film was too bright and it didn’t feel like a movie, but an extended episode of a television show. If you see it in 3D, the brightness is a benefit, otherwise, the lighting can be a bit off putting.
But for all its flaws, many of which are little more than nitpicks to most, the film accomplishes everything that it sets out to achieve. It’s not going to be an all-time classic, or be nominated for tons of academy awards, but Avengers will be seen again and again by its fans. While there are plenty of stupid moments in it, there are plenty of stupid moments in the source material too. And while the film may seem a bit too silly at times, it’s never boring, which is an accomplishment for something that is almost two and a half hours.
The characters are, for the most part, balanced very well. Most SHIELD personnel are shoved to the background, and there is a league of shadowy figures that are never mentioned in any of the comics and (as far as I could tell) had no reason to be in the movie. But no one in the theater is going to watch the movie for those guys. The main six, and Loki’s screen time are very well balanced. And the film even fixes some of the problems with the characters from earlier films, mainly the black widow. Hard core fans may be disappointed that Hank (Ant-Man) and Janet Pym (the Wasp) are not in this movie, since they’re the only characters who were founding members of the team who have yet to be seen in any movie. But if their absence completely ruins this movie for you, you seriously need to relax and find another hobby.
The movie does exactly what it sets out to do, and there are tons of moments for comic book fans to glee over. The reveal of the airship, the familiar looking jets, the heroic poses, speeches, and superhero fights. It’s grand, and gives everyone exactly what they think a superhero movie should have. And they do it very well. Unfortunately, this is the pinnacle of what most people think the superhero genre is capable of and doesn’t use the exposure to push people’s expectations, merely meet them to the fullest.
As a comic fan, I felt that the movie needed an original element of its own thrown in to keep me guessing of what was going to come next. But for the majority of people, this won’t be a problem, as long as you accept that the movie is a by the numbers film and written in such a way that it checks off a huge list of what comic fans, producers, and average theater goes want to see, giving up any chance it has of gaining a life of its own.
Overall, I feel the Avengers an 8 out of 10, but will be generous and bump it up to a 9 out of 10 because it’s the biggest crossover ever made, and sets a high bar for everything that will come after.
It will be interesting to see where the movies will go from here, and if more characters will crossover into each other’s films, or if they’ll be stand-alone character pieces that give explanations to why the Avengers just can’t assemble to solve the problems.