If we can't protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we'll avenge it!
So, here it is. Five MARVEL movies later and we have been hyped with each one towards the release of The Avengers. Leading up to it, we were even more hyped but at the same time let down as news came out regarding the ultimate superhero flick, such as Edward Norton finally agreeing to appear in the movie after being pursued without an answer by MARVEL Studios for two long years, only to get the short end of the stick when negotiating salary and MARVEL blasting his good name afterward; or perhaps MARVEL approaching Jon Favreau to direct based off his success with the Iron Man films, only to turn them down but stay on as Producer, but then suddenly has nothing to do with MARVEL anymore and having been replaced as Director for Iron Man 3. With all these shady deals going on at MARVEL it's hard to be sure of anything that comes from them anymore, especially since the guys in charge seem to be not the best guys for the job. Luckily, at least, The Avengers pays off.
The plot played nicely forward from the five Marvel Cinematic Universe films that came before it, and all their after-credits secret scenes which set up this blockbuster movie event. The film starts out with a ten minute pre-title sequence showing the threat and villain of the movie, Loki and the Tesseract (The Cosmic Cube from the Cap film). Another nice thing about this film: no credits at the beginning of the movie. That's something I always hate, unless it's done in it's own sequence like many comic films are theses days, but when it just shoots directly into the movie without holding you up with titles that is the best way to keep interests peaked, and make it feel like a true comic book niche. George Lucas knew this with his Star Wars franchise, and ended up paying a fortune to the guilds in order to keep this format in all three classic films, and in the process, dropped out of all the major guilds he was a part of (which was just one step to distancing himself from the corrupt film industry). That may have either been used as precedence or just a standard option now, as Joss Whedon also gets away with it in The Avengers. I don't have too much to say on the story other than it was wildly entertaining while a bit cliché, with the alien invasion plot, but I suspect it's a build up to and forsee it's going to have dire consequences in the sequels.
Story: Comic Comparison
You can't have The Avengers without it's core members. Although unlike the expansive Justice League, there isn't seven co-founders. No, in the comics, it's only four main characters who serve as the center of Avengers, and they are (in this order): Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and sometimes Hulk. Hulk is usually an honorary fourth member as he is sometimes hard to control and therefore doesn't serve on the team much. So, most of the time, it's just "the main three." Regardless, whether or not Hulk is there, any members beyond Thor are just there to fill the ranks and are always interchanging with different Avengers teams. More recently, there's been a slew of Avengers series, and the teams are all different. A lot of the times, the so-called "official" Avengers flagship team will have the main four plus Ant-Man (also called Giant Man) and his wife, Wasp. Anyone who knows me best might know, even though I don't touch on Avengers much, that I despise Ant-Man and Wasp. I absolutely detest them. Why, you ask? To me, it's simple. Ant-Man is a dude that can telepathically communicate with ants and grow or shrink to predetermined body sizes. That's right, you read that correctly. Communicate...with ANTS. Grow or shrink...in SIZE. What does he do best, you ask? That's the problem. Hey, Ant-Man, next time we're on a mission and we need someone to talk to the ants, we'll call ya. Better yet, when we need a rip-off of The Atom, we'll call ya. What's that? Your wife? The Wasp? Wait, what does she do again? Oh yeah, she shrinks in size and flies around with her little bug wings and always gets caught, therefore putting the entire team in jeopardy. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Ant-Man and Wasp? You're fired. Anyway, where was I? (Sorry, total sidebar there.) When they don't put the usuals in, sometimes it can get interesting as to what characters actually make the cut. Black Widow is a hell of a choice, seeing as she is Director Fury's top field agent and develops relationships with a number of males in the Marvel U. One of which is Hawkeye. And while most of their uniforms were pretty much spot on with the comics, even down to chopping off Scarlett Johansson's hair to look more like her character, Hawkeye's was done differently, but to great avail. The purple face mask with the capital "H" on his forehead just would not have displayed realism without looking, well, corny. The subtle purple in his costume was a nice touch, though. As for the story of this movie, I cannot compare since I have not actually read Avengers titles myself, but what I pointed out I did know from appearances.
Samuel L. Jackson as SHIELD Director Nick Fury: I've said this plenty of times. Sam Jackson does not play roles. He plays Sam Jackson. That's not to say that he has limited range, which is probably most contradictory to my belief of actors who do this, but when Sam does it, it's just straight badass-ness. Sam Jackson is such a badass that he doesn't need to suspend your disbelief. His "ultimate" Nick Fury, introduced in the secret scene in 2008's Iron Man, has been making slight cameos throughout the five MCU films, most noteably 2010's Iron Man 2, but here is where we really meet the character behind the patch. Once again, I reiterate my statement and relevantly judge his acting by saying, Sam Jackson is a badass.
Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America: Evans comes into his own in this film, moreso than in his solo film, 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger. I say this because of the character arc that Cap goes through and the beautiful way it's handled by Evans. At the end of his solo film, he's unfroze and brought into the modern world, leading up to this one by setting up for Cap to be out of his element. He's constantly doted on as the Man Out of Time and must earn his respect with the team. He gradually earns this respect throughout the film and then at the end, becomes the Cap we all know and love from the comics. He's the soldier, the leader, knows when to resort to others' guidance and when to take charge and never falters. Chris Evans did this with amazing ability. While some may still not like him in the role, you can't deny he's not the worst actor that could've donned the vibranium shield. (Sidebar: the Cap shield is notoriously made from a mixture of both vibranium and adamantium - they purposefully left that out of the Cap movie since Fox used adamantium first in their film for the Wolverine character, so they own the rights as long as they own the X-Men film rights.)
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man: Downey Jr. is the man. Ever since his return to form in 2008's Iron Man, he has been at the top of his game, and in the MCU films, is usually the center of attention everyone wants to see. Props to RDJ for crafting yet another great performance on screen as Stark.
Chris Hemsworth as Thor: Hemsworth returns to helm the role of the Norse god. While he played mostly a background to the other characters except his two major scenes, his presence was still felt. I actually thought it was a wise move, as Thor's mysticism might be a little too powerful at times. Hemsworth bridged the gap with his acting between his first film and solidified sequel, due 2013.
Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner: This is the hardest acting role for me to judge, and I already know I may be the only one thinking this. Mark Ruffalo just could not personify Bruce Banner. Sure, he read the lines well, and is a decent actor in his own right. I'll give him that. But a Bruce Banner he is not. And while I prefer him over the lackluster performance given by Eric Bana in Ang Lee's controversial 2003 film Hulk, I simultaneously place him under Edward Norton, who brilliantly portrayed Banner in Louis Letterier's 2008 film, The Incredible Hulk. Now I realize that Norton was originally sought for two years after that film by Marvel Studios to reprise the role for this film, and ended horribly in a complete wish-wash by Marvel Entertainment and their President of Production Kevin Feige slandering his name in the press, but besides all that, Ruffalo went through hell to get the part through all this. Props to the guy for fighting for what he wants and making an attempt to add some range to his career. Now, there is rumors and talk of a Hulk 3 solo film starring Ruffalo. While I praise the man for his acting, I still stand by my judgment that he is not Banner. I wouldn't mind seeing more of him, though. Take that as you will, but he did not steal the show.
Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow: Mostly eye candy in Iron Man 2 (though I thought her much more), ScarJo shows us she's more than just a pretty face and a nice ass as she kicks some major alien butt in this film. Her hair may be short and wavy compared to Iron Man 2's long and permed, but whichever style you prefer, you must admit, she embodies the character well. ScarJo had a larger role in this film and was able to show off more of what she could do with the character. Can't wait to see more of that.
Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye: Jeremy Renner exceeded my expectations. That's not to say his acting was extraordinary, but for what he had to work with, he was the right actor for the character. There were some cheesy moments with Renner, I won't lie, but overall I enjoyed him as Hawkeye, especially the end battle sequence with the bow and arrows.
Cobie Smulders as SHIELD Agent Maria Hill: Cobie Smulders is best known for her work on the TV series How I Met Your Mother as Robin Scherbatsky. It was interesting to see her here with short hair portraying one of SHIELD Director Fury's most trusted agents, Maria Hill. She's in there right from the start, and gets enough screen time to be an important character. I liked her performance, I thought it was strong and unpredictable. She must return if a SHIELD or Nick Fury movie is to be made, and of course for any Avengers sequels.
Joss Whedon crafted a wonderful film. This comes as no surprise to me since he did some great shows featuring ensemble casts. He is a master storyteller and director for ensemble characters, so if not Jon Favreau (Marvel's first choice), he was the best man for the job. A lot of doubt was placed upon Whedon but the man got the job done, all while balancing his Buffy: Season Eight comic book duties so that gets an "A" from me since both worked out perfectly (get it, 'A'? wink, wink). I must also address here the writing duties of Joss Whedon. As previously stated, Whedon is a master storyteller in his own right. Working together with screenwriter Zak Penn (who comic fans may recognize as the writer of X2, X3, Elektra and Incredible Hulk), Whedon puts his infamous wordplay, lingo and humor into the script while altogether drafting an excellent story that sums up the Marvel Cinematic Universe to this point nicely.
Special effects were top-notch. I noticed maybe one quick scene when Iron Man and Thor fight each other that could have been cleaned up a little better, most likely it gave off that fake feel because it was a quick shot. The other shots were pretty much all great and I have no other complaints with them. Great work by a great computer graphics studio.
While I was skeptical as to what MARVEL was doing, and still am, for that matter, I walked out of the theater pleased. Pleased as both a fanboy and a general movie-goer. There's enough substance in the flick to satisfy the general public audiences' sense of family-friendliness as well as the most die-hard comic book fan's dream of sticking true to the source material. See Hollywood, take note, it 'can' be done.
This Official Review was sponsored by Norton... Antivirus.