REVIEW: "Marvel's The Avengers" Is Blockbuster Perfection
Putting Robert Downey Jr. back on the A-list would have been a feat in and of itself, but then came the post-credits stinger: Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, come to tell Tony Stark of a little thing called the Avenger Initiative.
It would seem Marvel Studios had lofty intentions indeed—their first independent production was, it turned out, the flagship title of an interconnected cinematic universe. Everyone loved “Iron Man”, so onward they went, releasing a new Hulk film, an Iron Man sequel, and origin stories for Thor and Captain America, with the ultimate goal of uniting all of these seemingly disparate characters in a crossover event the likes of which has never been attempted.
So here we are. After four years and five films of build-up, “The Avengers” has finally been released, and all anyone now wants to know is how well this grand experiment has paid off. The answer? Spectacularly.
“Marvel’s The Avengers” is everything one could hope it would be and more, an astounding triumph of blockbuster filmmaking that justifies every second invested with the films that came before, every dollar put towards its completion, every dazzling scrap of ambition that Marvel Studios had to muster to think they could pull off something so fantastically audacious.
The set-up is as simple as it reasonably can be: After his defeat in “Thor,” Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has returned from the edges of the Universe to steal the tesseract (the glowing, infinite energy-providing cosmic cube from “Captain America”), with which he’ll summon an alien army to enslave Earth. Desperate to stop him, Nick Fury rallies the most powerful beings on the planet together in the hope that these “Avengers” can save the world. The beats that follow are more or less what one would expect, but it’s the ever-present sense of style, fun, and wit that really make it all worthwhile, and all of these triumphs can be traced directly to the man that Marvel Studios so rightfully entrusted to realize their vision.
Joss Whedon was born to direct “The Avengers.” If there’s one thing the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” understands, it’s how characters interact, particularly those with big personalities. And while many were excited when Whedon was handed the reins of the project, none had as much reason to believe he’d be up to the task as those who had read his run on the “Astonishing X-Men” comic book series, twenty-five thrilling issues that comprise the best story ever told about Marvel’s mutants. All signs pointed to the abundantly obvious truth that this is a man who comprehends better than anyone how to handle a team of superheroes; he skillfully balances the characters while making sure to give each their moments to shine.
It’s a talent Whedon displays with every scene in “The Avengers,” allowing each actor to function at their absolute best. Those who already had their own films retain everything that made them compelling. Downey gets all the best jabs as the brilliant and egotistical Tony Stark, Chris Evans’ Captain America grounds the team and provides the audience conduit as a good man who proves that purity of spirit doesn’t necessarily make one boring, and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has godlike otherworldliness while his newfound humility and genuine love of mankind make him much more likable than he was in his own film.
Despite not having any movies to their name (yet, anyway), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) more than hold their own alongside their more powerful teammates, while Mark Ruffalo effortlessly slides into the role of the quiet, self-restrained Bruce Banner, trying to hold back the show-stealing Hulk within.
On the S.H.I.E.L.D. side of things, Samuel L. Jackson is as commanding a screen presence as ever, with Nick Fury actually getting to do more than provide exposition. Then there’s the unsung hero of Marvel’s cinematic universe, Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson, who, by appearing in the Iron Man and Thor films, provided a great deal of the glue linking this whole enterprise together. He gets plenty of time to shine, and serves as the idealistic spirit intrinsic to the very concept of a team of superheroes.
As the villain of the piece, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki faces off against every single one of the aforementioned players in some capacity on his road to would-be world domination. That he stays consistently threatening is a testament to how much his performance has improved since “Thor.”
Here, the lie-smith really has the sense of gleeful malice that one would expect from the god of mischief, trying to get inside the heads of the various heroes and sharing his philosophical musings on the pointless suffering of freedom. He makes an excellent catalyst for an invasion of hostile extra terrestrials, offering some personality while the CGI creatures serve as an adequate legion of cannon fodder when they show up for the action climax.
And oh, what glorious action it is. Every one of the film’s set pieces is perfectly constructed, with a well-established sense of place and movement that’s never disorienting. From up-close and personal one-on-one battles between the Avengers to urban destruction on a scale eclipsing anything the genre has seen before, it’s all viscerally exciting stuff peppered with frequent, clever, fist-pump inducing moments that are directly linked with the actions of the characters. This is popcorn cinema with purpose.
Tying it all together is Joss Whedon’s miraculous script, which paces everything wonderfully, matches up every conceivable character combination to see what would happen, and keeps track of each one of the film’s myriad moving pieces without ever losing the audience.
The dialogue is a revelation, the banter hilarious to the point that the predominantly conversational scenes are just as engaging as the multi-million dollar action beats. It’s a masterfully devised film, save perhaps that the middle third hinges on a strategic move by Loki that never really makes sense, but it’s almost impossible to care when everything surrounding that small oversight is so remarkably well done.
In an amazing line-up of summer films, we have a clear frontrunner that may very well hold the crown not only for this blockbuster season, but for years to come. Marvel Studios knew they were taking an insane gamble when they set out to bring these characters together onscreen. Thanks to Joss Whedon and everyone else involved, they more than succeeded.
A new standard has been set. For its humor, its passion, and its irresistible sense of pure, awesome excitement, “Marvel’s The Avengers” is the greatest superhero movie ever made.