Mark Reviews Movies

The Avengers (2012)


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference)

Running Time: 2:22

Release Date: 5/4/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 1, 2012

After five movies set in the incestuous Marvel Comic universe establishing the origin of four characters and their individual fights against some great foe, we get The Avengers, which establishes the origin of a team of superheroes and then follows their collective fight against a great foe. Yes, the generic structure that led to the downfall of the heroes' separate cinematic adventures is still present here. In fact, it takes about half of the film's running time before the team assembles and works together—if begrudgingly so.

The Avengers works, though, and a major part of that success is the time writer/director Joss Whedon takes to establish the dynamic of the team, in which some characters admire and respect a few, others cannot stand a single thing for which another stands, and the big green "rage monster" doesn't have an opinion of any of them. He'd just as soon come to the rescue of one of his teammates as randomly punch one of them in the face during an otherwise victorious hero shot. The film's action sequences are all about chaos, and the presence of the Hulk as an agent of pure chaos amidst Whedon's admirably organized pandemonium is the figurative punch in the face the film needs.

That's not to say some of the other characters aren't worthwhile. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the billionaire with a heart made of a clean energy reactor, is still the snarky, mostly selfish antihero from his two previous outings. Quick with a joke and ready to pour a villain a drink before commencing with a beat-down, Stark is far more interesting than his alter ego Iron Man (The major reason why the second movie is better than its predecessor), and Iron Man has an arsenal hidden in the shoulders and arms of his suit. He's the de facto leader of the nascent Avengers team because underneath that tough shell—not the suit, mind you—is someone who wants to make a difference in the world.

Of top priority for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), agent of the top-secret military organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D., is obtaining Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), a doctor who experimented with gamma radiation and was cursed for his folly with the problem of becoming a massive, green beast with no super-ego when he gets mad. See, there's a cube called the Tesseract from another world that could open a portal to that faraway place and cause the destruction of mankind. It emits gamma radiation, and, since Banner is the expert in that field, it's vital that he tag along on the search for the MacGuffin.

Banner starts off in Kolkata, where he manages to keep his id at bay by treating the poor, unfortunate ill there. The good doctor is fascinating in the way cursed people of Greek tragedies are. It's a gift to an extent, since it saved his life. He'd rather be dead than have it, though. Banner tried that route once, he tells the team; the "other guy" spit out the bullet he shot into his mouth.

Even Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a former Russian spy named Natasha Romanoff who turned to fight for the United States, has a neat talent. She puts herself in dangerous situations and winds up interrogating the people who think they are interrogating her. In the big, climactic fight for New York City, she pulls out a pair of pistols, which seems anticlimactic given what the folks around her can do.

These are the Avengers that count; the rest are superfluous. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), an expert archer, isn't even himself for half the story, so his character is reduced to the fact that he has a quiver that attaches various accessories to the heads of his arrows.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, has been revived from his long sleep, has a line of punching bags he can take his aggression out on, and still has an indestructible shield. He's the tactician of the group, because the character's sole noteworthy hook—that he's a relic who has lost everyone he ever cared about (his curse)—is missing here. He was more interesting as a scrawny kid and a propaganda tool anyway.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns, as well. His solo cinematic expedition is the best of the setup films, and, sadly, he's just a god with a big hammer and the ability to control lightning again. His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is the one behind the plan to open the portal, bringing an army of hideous creatures to Earth so that he may take up a throne. The brothers debate the plan, and Stark calls it "Shakespeare in the park."

Whedon downplays a lot of these characters' niches, and that is the way it should be. For all the arguments between the heroes about whether or not old-fashioned heroics are still relevant in this day and age, the movies leading up to this one have made it clear that the more straightforward the hero (We're looking at you, Captain America), the less substantial he or she actually is. The way these characters dissect each other's flaws in the verbal barbs is only a reminder of what appeals to us about them.

The Avengers is half exposition (with a lengthy prologue that concludes with a nifty chase through a collapsing underground research facility) and half action. The second half gives the Avengers two setpieces—one in which they must save a flying aircraft carrier in freefall and the other in which they fight for the planet—and Whedon treats the sequences like he's a kid set free in a toy store.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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