Okay, let's start off by saying I am quite possibly the most unabashedly biased person to have been chosen to write this review. I thought long and hard about submitting a one-word reaction to The Avengers:
"YES." Period. Full stop. That's it. Done. Start counting money, Marvel and Paramount Pictures. Your kid's college tuition? Paid for. That vacation you were planning? Book it. In fact, buy the mutha$#%in' island.
Alas, this being my first review, I figured I should probably elaborate a little further... The film is a fan-boy's (or girl's) dream. There's only one early period where the pacing seems to meander a bit, but beyond that: have your popcorn and Raisenetes at the ready and strap yourself in! This is what summer movies were meant to be. The action is non-stop.
The Avenger's could not have gotten a better writer/director for the task than Joss Whedon. His love for multiple character stories, incredible gift for banter and wit are on full display. Whedon was born for this challenge. As great as the first Iron Man was at realizing a Marvel comic to the big screen, The Avengers perfects it. Whedon's direction is deft and confident. He's assembled (pardon the pun) this group of outsized actors and potential egos, into a finely tuned ensemble. The Avenger's stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/the Hulk, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and of course Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (Director of S.H.E.I.L.D.). No single actor – save perhaps Downey, Jr – outshines the others. This is a true ensemble. Like a Robert Altman film. (Please don't send me hate mail for that one – hear me out...) I would pose that not since the Ocean's Eleven remake, has a group of big name actors worked so well together.
PLOT: IF YOU DO NOT WANT THE PLOT RUINED, DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING THREE PARAGRAPHS!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
The story begins with Nick Fury and S.HE.I.L.D. overseeing an experiment testing the power of the Teseract (the Cosmic Cube from Captain America: The First Avenger) – No, I have not seen the film, nor Thor, but it isn't absolutely necessary for you to follow this film. The experiment is interrupted by the arrival of Loki who steals the Teseract and abducts Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard from Thor) and Hawkeye, placing them under a spell. Loki's intent is to open a portal to bring an army of Skree/Krulls to the Earth and anoint himself God and ruler. In the escape, the S.HE.I.L.D. facility is destroyed, leaving Nick Fury to call upon Earth's mightiest outcasts. Loki is captured by Captain America and Iron Man and in route to the S.HE.I.L.D. Helicarrier, are attacked by Thor coming to retrieve his wayward brother. After a great fight sequence, Loki is brought to S.HE.I.L.D. a prisoner. The team comes together like oil and water, none are accustomed – save for Captain America - to working with others. And these are some of the best character moments in the film, including a scene I have coined "The Thanksgiving Dinner Scene" where they all get into a massive and incredibly well executed argument. What's great about how Whedon constructs this scene, is that these "super heroes" are not The Justice League. The Avengers are a group of rag tag, egotistical, outsiders who on paper should not work. What is great about the film, is that you really get to see this and all of their imperfections on full display.
Loki eventually escapes, aided by Hawkeye and the unleashed Hulk – making his first incredible appearance in the film. In the aftermath, The Avengers are scattered, demoralized and S.HE.I.L.D. is incapacitated. Loki's invasion begins and once again New York City is leveled with scenes, either deliberate or not, hark back to September 11th. The Avengers re-assemble (yeah, I said it again!), learn to put aside their difference for the good of the mission and open a can of whup ass that is simply a giddy joy to behold. These super heroes may not be friends, but like soldiers in war they get the job done.
Of the cast, special kudos goes to Robert Downey, Jr. who is at the top of his game. He proves once again why he is possibly the most dynamic action star in Hollywood. Mark Ruffalo is arguably the best Bruce Banner to don the role. His Banner is fidgety, insecure, intensely brilliant and a perfect specimen of passive-aggressive rage. Ruffalo also performed the motion-capture for the Hulk. The resemblance and mannerisms are uncanny. His charm and indie-subtlety come through in the giant green troll. You are emotionally connected to this Hulk. You both cheer and fear him. Alas, Industrial Light and Magic have yet to find the right way to make the Hulk look one-hundred percent real – which is surprising after all of the incredible work and example of WETA with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. But this is being nit-picky. Hulk merchandise will sell through the roof during the opening weekend. The big guy damn near steals the film.
(SECOND SPOILERS. YOU MAY WANT TO SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH)
My only major issue with the script is Bruce Banner's character arch of mastering control over the Hulk, which doesn't seem fully realized. It comes a bit sudden. My other issue is that this is yet another Hollywood film where black, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian people do not seem to populate the City of New York. I think I counted like seven – and one of them may have been Sam Jackson out of uniform. I mean, come on...
Look out for a couple great cameos: one for the fans, the other for film lovers – the latter of which earned giggles of pleasure and cheers from the premiere audience. And of course, stick around until after the credits – your inner and outer geek will thank you for it!
Additional kudos: Alexandra Byrne for her grounded costumes and Seamus McGarvey for cinematography.
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Gwyneth Paltrow
Director/Story by/Screenwriter: Joss Whedon
Story by: Zak Penn
Producer: Kevin Feige
Exec. Producers: Stan Lee, Louis D'Esposito, Patricia Whitcher, Victoria Alonso, Jeremy Latcham
Photography: Seamus McGarvey
Editors: Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Lassek
Music: Alan Silvestri, Dave Jordan