Action, Drama, Fantasy. 2012, U.S., 142 Minutes, directed by Joss Whedon
Medium: Currently in Theaters
Rating: 4.0 (5-point system)
I’m certainly going to take heat for this one. I can feel it already. But onward I shall venture into this review on the latest frolicking flight-of-fancy filled fiesta for fanatical fans of fantastical fiction from Marvel Comics—The Avengers, comprised of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and second-tier Avenger characters Natalia Romanova/Black Widow (Scarlert Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Samuel L. Jackson returns as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, only this time you’ll see him throughout the movie rather than during the end credits.
Marvel Studios has been building up anticipation for this event since at least 2008, beginning with the first Iron Man movie, and continuing right through Edward Norton’s turn as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Captain America, and Thor. I’ve already given reviews on two of these lead-in films — Captain America (3.5 rating)and Thor (3.0 rating)— so if you’ve seen those blogs then you probably know where I’m heading with this one.
Let’s face it: Of all the characters previously mentioned, only one is well-rounded enough that you enjoy watching him whether he’s in his superhero guise or in his civilian alter ego. That character is Robert Downey, Jr’s, superlative take on the comically ego-driven, every sardonic Tony Stark/Iron Man. The rest of the characters fall far short . . . with the possible exception this round of Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk. When I found that Edward Norton was not going to reprise the role, I was more than a tad disappointed. Mr. Norton did a remarkable job back in 2008. Well, Mark Ruffalo must have shown up at the studio with his game face on and knowing full well that he had some very big shoes to fill, because he managed to at least equal and possibly even surpass Edward Norton in the role.
But these bright spots were dragged down by the wooden portrayals of Thor and Captain America (although I found that this time Chris Hemsworth was much more enjoyable to watch than was Chris Evans—just the opposite of what I found in their standalone movies inside the same characters).
Not so with the second-tier Avenger characters of Black Widow and Hawkeye. I really enjoyed the introduction of Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow character and her “interrogation” of her captors near the beginning of the film. And Jeremy Renner (who was called upon to play both good and bad characters) did an admirable job as Hawkeye. It’s unfortunate that they so overshadowed the portrayals of the film’s two Chrises—Evans and Hemsworth—and by so wide a margin over Chris Evans in particular. This is not how a tiered ensemble effort should work, but the fact that it did here is testament to the abilities of the actors involved.
And then there was Tom Hiddleston’s deliciously evil turn as Thor’s adopted brother Loki. If you need an effective foil to match the aforementioned combined characters, this is the guy who can (and did) pull it off, all on his own, totally solo. It was an impressive feat, to say the least. Bravo, Mr. Hiddleston.
As for the plotting and various subplots—they meshed well together and served to build toward an adequate climax. Unfortunately, as is the bane of modern movies in general and most superhero films in particular, the whole thing degenerated into a computer-generated special effects love fest that detracted from individual stories and left me muttering, “Will this maddening mayhem ever end?” And considering the cost of movies today, that’s not what I want to be muttering to myself near the end of a two-hour and twenty-two-minute film.
Alas, I feel I may be in the minority on this opinion. When was the last time you heard an audience spontaneously erupt into applause at the end of a film? That this movie had such an effect on so many is the reason I stepped up my rating a notch and took it to four stars rather than allowing it to suffer the same fate I bestowed upon X-Men: First Class. To do otherwise would have shown a callous disregard for an impressive display of approval by those around me.
But my companion this matinee was not nearly so kind. Admittedly, Ursula is not one for movies based upon comic book characters, and she found the whole thing excruciating to sit through. Her rating: 2.5. That’s based upon the tedious, special effects-laden ending and the overwhelming number of competing personalities brought together in one film. Of course, being Swiss born and raised, her exposure to these characters is minimal at best. Her only familiarity comes from the preceding lead-in films. Thus, the lesson here is don’t take your Swiss date to an Avengers film.
In the end, the movie is definitely a big screen affair. And we may have enjoyed it even more in 3D (also available at selected theaters), but we find 3D not worth the headaches. Literally. So, unlike my review of Dark Shadows, I’m going to recommend that you take in this summer film at the local cinema rather than waiting for its availability either as a pay-per-view event or a DVD/Blu-ray rental.