If it's crap ... We'll tell you
When the Avengers truly assembled for the first time in San Diego two summers ago, Robert Downey, Jr. boldly stated that this film was "the most ambitious movie [he's] ever seen", even over the phenomenon that was Christopher Nolan's Inception. It has taken four years to develop the main characters in five previous films and it's taken seven years since the film's announcement to get everything to fall into place. Controversy has been stirred plenty of times and the film has encountered various roadblocks along the way. Terrence Howard and Edward Norton had to be let go for being too difficult to work with, Jon Favreau was pressured to make Iron Man 2 more of an advertisement for this film rather than its own stand-alone story, some people weren't as happy with The Incredible Hulk as others, Mark Ruffalo has had the pressure of measuring up to Edward Norton, Joss Whedon hasn't had the best luck when it comes to these kinds of projects, its main competition is The Dark Knight Rises, and everything else in between. An unprecedented film like this with as big a budget as it had with as eclectic a cast and crew and a bad reputation from past mistakes of the other films had the chance of being the biggest bust in a long time. This film was truly a make-or-break type situation. Now that the film is finally here, how does it hold up or fall upon itself?
For those of you who have been hiding under a rock for the past few years, The Avengers is a team of superheroes that is comprised of Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Ant-Man and many others and is basically the largest superhero team ever assembled. Now why does this team of people have to assemble at all in a relatively grounded universe that we could somewhat relate to in the modern world where each of them have troubles of their own? As it turns out, the past and the present have intertwined to provide us with an answer. An ancient artefact called the Tesseract (or the Cosmic Cube) is stolen from a research facility of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Loki, the god of mischief in the realm known as Asgard. He is an angry, cold and psychopathic individual who has delusions of grandeur that involve subjugating humans and enslaving them for his own tyrannical rule simply because he was the bastard son of his own world who had no place to call home. Not only that but he has made connections with some of the worst kinds of space criminals to give him an army to help with his plan in exchange for the Tesseract which is rumored to possess unlimited power. Since the Tesseract's theft, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury decides that it's time to finally bring out the big guns and launch the Avenger Initiative against the wishes of senior government officers even though Fury justifies it as bringing together an initial response team to deal with the immediate threat against global security. Soon after that, Fury recruits Steve Rogers personally for his first mission as Captain America in the modern world, Agent Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow finds Dr. Bruce Banner in India and persuades him to come and solve the mystery behind Loki and the Tesseract since it emits gamma radiation, Agent Phil Coulson manages to get Tony Stark to look at the research by Dr. Erik Selvig behind all of this before he was corrupted by Loki's magic and Thor ultimately shows up to the party late through unknown means (which is bothersome). The thing about this film that really makes it work is that writer/director Joss Whedon recognizes the silliness and the ridiculousness of this concept and so he uses that to his advantage by having the heroes' conflict and friction be the driving force of the story and since Loki is the god of mischief to begin with, it gives Whedon a great explanation as to why things are the way that they are. The only way to really prevent the heroes of the world from saving it and fighting him is to have them fight each other. A brilliant evil scheme if there ever was one.
It seems like this film will go down with the list of great blockbuster epics that will define a generation's childhood or adolescence. Anyone who goes to see this film will remember what happened on the day prior to seeing it, who they saw it with and what their feeling was after witnessing it because this movie is one of a kind. This film will go down with the likes of Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Terminator 2 and The Lord of the Rings in terms of what great epic blockbuster filmmaking should always aspire to be. Sure, the first Transformers might be one of the most awesome action films of the modern age but this automatically leaps bounds further than simply because you get so much more emotional investment in the characters who are all fleshed out right down to the seemingly superfluous Agent Maria Hill. Since we've known almost each and every character for at least one or two movies, it's so much easier to care for each of them and that much easier to feel frustrated to see them not getting along since they are supposed to be a team of people working together to save the world. While some may find it funny that they are fighting each other (and it can be very funny), it is extremely frustrating to watch since these people are supposed to be working together to prevent Loki's impending attack. However, once the team starts to work together and they begin to put their egos aside, it becomes apparent really fast why this team was put together in the first place because what they do together as a team is unlike anything that's been seen in a film of this or any kind ever before.
In terms of acting, there is not a weak link in this film. Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth bring the same charisma, earnestness and strength of character that worked for all of them in their prior films as Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. Samuel L. Jackson commands the screen as always with Nick Fury and proves once again why he's the highest grossing film actor of all time. Cobie Smulders proves that she can very much hold her own against these other action stars as Agent Maria Hill, Jeremy Renner still makes for a mysterious Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson brings out the big guns in all ways as a much more developed and fascinating Black Widow than in Iron Man 2 and Clark Gregg still brings the same amount of fun as Agent Coulson and he makes the best out of what he's given in particular. Even though all these people bring their absolute A-game, there are two actors in particular that really elevate it to being a great film in terms of the casting: Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk! At this point, it's almost impossible seeing anybody else being Loki! Tom Hiddleston's Loki is simply the best supervillain to come along since Heath Ledger's Joker and with this role alone, he's proven that he's one of the greatest young actors working today and it's only a matter of time when he'll be on the red carpet at the Oscars because he is simply a powerhouse of an actor to say the least. Now that the Hulk has been played by three actors on the big screen, it almost seems like the Hulk might be done on screen since history has proven that they haven't gotten the Hulk totally right... until this movie! Yes, this is the Hulk that audiences all over have been waiting to see and Joss Whedon nails the dichotomy of Bruce Banner and why the Hulk is much more than a stupid, green rage monster. Even though Edward Norton was great in the role back in The Incredible Hulk, Mark Ruffalo delivers a truly Shakespearean performance that not only humanizes the Hulk in the greatest way without distracting us from the "Hulk smash" aspect that we love so much but also manages to make Bruce Banner the most fascinating member of the team. While Steve Rogers/Captain America is very earnest and opinionated, Tony Stark/Iron Man is very abrasive and cynically hilarious and Thor is very powerful and charismatic, Ruffalo's version of Banner really seems to take a back seat to everything until it comes to a point where he can't contain the monster anymore and he just unleashes the Hulk! While the Hulk isn't given as much screen time as many would like, when he is given the light of day, he just lets it all go and truly becomes the force of nature that does not care about who's in his way and it is the pure definition of awesome! For anyone who would dare to spoil the Hulk's greatest moments in this film should be punished severely because the film's greatest surprise laughs and applauses are from none other than our beloved Jolly Green Giant! From this point on, Marvel Studios has to keep Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk because no other actor has ever elevated a superhero's persona the way that he has!
Even though this film has great actors and characterizations, there are a few glaring problems that need to be addressed. First of all, the 3D is not worth spending your money on to see until the last twenty minutes and even then it's not all that impressive. Then there's the issue of the characters vs. story debate. While every character is given a moment to shine and a reason why they are placed within the story, the story itself wasn't able to justify it as a story-based film rather than a character based film. While each of the Avengers' previous solo films had focused almost entirely on the main character, their individual stories were compelling enough to watch on their own regardless of the main character being a superhero in a seemingly ridiculous outfit. Unless you have an incredible story on your hands that is unlike any other such as Back to the Future, Fight Club or even Inception, having a plot driven story can be a huge risk but thankfully for this film, the characters make up for it. Perhaps for an epic like this film, the expectations were naturally applied towards the complexity of the story and in that regard, it is underwhelming. The story is very simple, clear cut and straightforward (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). It's a "men on a mission" movie (along with some women) where the group of people in question are assigned to stop a threat that will either destroy them or something else around them that will threaten many innocent lives. The only major difference is that since these people in question have superpowers, few of the team members actually face the potential threat of an imminent and painful death. While it is clear that this is only the end of the beginning, it would've been more exciting and suspenseful if more of the actual heroes faced the potential inevitability of death (even though a select few come very close to biting the dust). While the film is fairly tight for a two and a half hour movie, there are some things that still warrant explanation. While the original cut was roughly three hours long, it wouldn't have been a bad idea to flesh out the characters a little more especially since the first third of the movie tends to drag for long periods of time that are unnecessary. What is Captain America's full immediate reaction to the way things are in the world seventy years later? Does he ever meet with his old flame and if so, where is that moment of pathos that tells Cap to adapt and move on from the past? Is Tony Stark getting closer to finding a permanent solution to his heart condition? How might he come to the day where he might not have to live on a battery all the time? How did Thor get to Earth if he closed off the portal last time and knew nothing of the Tesseract's power to summon Loki from another dimension? Where are the scenes that show the Hulk speaking in an intelligent manner like the way he was supposed to? What is the real deal with Hawkeye? What is his back story and why is not briefly explained like the Black Widow's story is? All of these things seem to take away from the pleasure of knowing the full details for what it is at stake so that we can care for these superhuman people even more.
Ultimately, this is the movie that shows other wannabe summer blockbusters how it's really done. All the Transformers, Star Wars prequels and G.I. Joes in the world can do their best and they will still never come close to what Joss Whedon has accomplished with such heart, optimism, self-awareness, sheer wit and extraordinary humour. Despite the underwhelming simplicity of the film's narrative, Whedon has managed to fill it with such texture that it almost glosses over your head once the aliens start to rain from the sky in the third act and the Avengers unleash their ultimate weapon that is the Hulk against them. It stands high and above as one of the funniest summer blockbusters ever made and it sets the benchmark for all things superhero. While it doesn't quite reach the ultimate greatness that is The Dark Knight in just being a great film, it will most definitely stand as that great superhero film. Unlike Christopher Nolan's Batman, this film completely embraces itself for what it is and it makes the most out of what it delivers and it completely makes you remember why you loved to go to the movie theatre at all as a child. Summer blockbusters simply don't get much better than this!
Rating: Full Price!!