Moviefy Review: The Avengers
Warner Bros. and DC attempted to turn their Justice League into a summer tent-pole but the project was happily scraped in favor of the superhero-less Batman reboot that Christopher Nolan gave us.
It is indeed very attracting for the common fanboy and action lover, the idea of bringing bunch of super heroes together to fight bad guys, but there was always the risk of not pleasing fans of each character, not enough time to develop their personalities, and no really good excuse to have them all in one film.
However, since the very beginnings of the independent Marvel Studios, The Avengers was the ultimate goal, so instead of trying to find a way to give each character its backstory in one film, the idea was to make standalone stories for the most important ones in preparation for the big event.
Testing the waters with Iron Man turned out great, as the film had a special quality about and extremely pleasing for an origin story. It truly helped matters that the charm and personality of Robert Downey Jr. fit perfectly the character of Tony Stark.
With the overwhelming good response to the first film and sufficient success of The Incredible Hulk that same year, The Avengers project was a go.
Fast forward five films and four years and now The Avengers is one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year, with so much hype it pretty much risked becoming one of the biggest flops in history.
That isn't the case with The Avengers.
To avoid losing focus and give fans what they wanted, the plot of The Avengers remains pretty straightforward and easy to understand for those who watched all five previous films set in this universe. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the villain of Thor, is trying to get his hand on the cube Hydra was trying to control in Captain America: The First Avenger. The Tesseract, as it's called, is a source of unlimited power that will give Loki the opportunity to open a door to another world, where a species known as the Chitauri who is bent on to taking over our planet.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is forced to proceed with the Avengers initiative recruiting the help of Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Tony Stark and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) who join Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johanson) to capture Loki and recover the Tesseract. They succeed in capturing Loki, and soon his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) joins the scene, but after an attack on their airship base by a possessed Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Bruce Banner losing control and turning into the Hulk, Loki manages to escape to proceed with his plans.
With chaos and war at hand, the Avengers must solve their differences and distrust in order to save the planet from annihilation.
Director Joss Whedon, the number one guy for geeks everywhere, pretty much sticks to the formula that has worked with each Marvel Studios film so far and delivers a film that is truly a mixed bag of fun action scenes, humor and character likability, but at the same time falls victim of the same shallowness and under development those films had.
Although the characters are given a fair amount of screen time, their personalities and what drives them is never given a real grounded focus.
Tony Stark is perhaps the best example of this. Sure he is still the narcissist, egocentric rich guy we all love, but he seems somewhat tame. His jokes come mostly unfunny and are terribly ill timed. There are precious moments where his actions are plain stupid (there a scene where he knocks over another hero, without thinking that the villain might escape).
Thor and Steve Rogers/Captain America are pretty much the same as we left them in their previous films, but nothing new is added to their arcs, a reflection of most of the characters in this film. It is a shame really, that Steve Rogers doesn't advance to be the leader of the group as he should be and instead comes along as a simple do-good boy scout. And you have to wonder the reasoning for leaving his old functional suit behind in favor of a dorky looking costume that doesn't offer anything new.
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow is given more things to do besides kicking ass this time round, but she pretty much stays in the eye candy zone yet again. There is an attempt at bringing a backstory and reason for her actions, but that falls flat. A pity because Scarlett Johanson has proven that all she needs is a good script to show her talents.
Mark Ruffalo has nothing to do for his character other than to be a nervous stand-in until the Hulk is finally out. There's nothing interesting about Bruce Banner this time, something that both Edward Norton and Eric Bana tried to do in previous incarnations. Here, the man behind the beast is boring at best. There's also never an explanation how he suddenly controls "the other guy" as he puts it, seemingly from one action scene to the next, going from a mindless monster to a team player. On the other hand, we are rewarded with the most fun version of the Hulk so far. Shallow yes, but very fun indeed.
Nick Fury has a lot more screen time now, and that is good thing, because Samuel L. Jackson gives the character a sense of darkness that makes you wish he had his own movie already. There's tension to be had when his "real" plans are uncovered, and that makes for perhaps the best character scene in the whole film.
Agent Coulson is back to comic relief after his short attempt at toughness in Thor, something I didn't really cared about, but since the character had little more in his personality than that is hard to feel anything for his character in the end. And then there's the cameo appearance by Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, Nick Fury's right hand, a totally inconsequential character.
Given how many nameless agents die at many points it is puzzling how the fate of just one, non-central character affects the main players.
The shortest straw to the Avengers is without a doubt Clint Barton/Hawkeye, he spends most of the film as a puppet with zero personality, only given the opportunity to shine during the lengthy final battle.
But perhaps my biggest concern was the way Loki was treated here. He was easily the best thing in Thor, a villain with emotional weight that it's almost stripped down here, making him a little more than whinny kid looking for attention. Hiddleston performance is painfully uneven, where at times he seems really dangerous and focused, only the become a comic relief in the next scene, and the script even gives him inexplicably and every-day human one-liners. Puny god indeed.
Gwyneth Paltrow makes a short appearance as Pepper Potts and that is good news, and certainly a proof of respect to her character. The same could not be said about Natalie Portman's Jane Foster whose whereabouts are mentioned "just in case."
While there's no character development in the whole thing, there's plenty of one-liners, and a good sense of "assembling" no doubt courtesy of Joss Whedon who is certainly an expert of writing for this kind of group. If the Avengers have something as a whole, is that they are fun and functional together, and even if their mission is never in real danger, Whedon tries at least to put them in really difficult situations including a clash of egos. Of course he doesn't have the freedom to kill off any of them as he had in previous films and TV series so the action loses the high stakes it should have.
There are plot holes that should have been addressed and instead come along like merely excuses to advance the story. For instance, how is it that Thor is able to return to Earth? I don't buy that one line that tries to explain it, because it doesn't make sense with the ending of Thor. Also, it is really that easy for any ship to find the Hellicarrier? Why the Hulk tries to kill Black Widow, when we know he only responds to aggression?
The action is of course the main selling point besides the colorful characters here, and in that aspect it certainly delivers. There's no shortage of cool action scenes and fights between heroes and faceless uninteresting aliens. Even if by the end of things, you feel like you're watching the Avengers fighting against the Decepticons in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
The visual effects are truly impressive and although at times the CGI is distracting, these moments are far and between. Even the Hulk is now, for the first time, a real character instead of a CGI cartoon inside a live action film.
One huge disappointment comes from the musical score by Alan Silvestri who returns after scoring Captain America: The First Avenger. Instead of trying to assemble the different styles and themes from each previous film the composer chose to write an standard action oriented orchestral score that doesn't really go anywhere. Despite a semi-interesting main theme, the music is pretty much unnoticeable and boring in the middle of all the mayhem on screen. I can only wonder what a composer like Brian Tyler, who merged so masterfully themes and ideas from all Alien and Predator films in AVP-R, might have brought to the table here.
In the end The Avengers pretty much delivers what fans wanted: entertaining action, larger than life characters together blowing stuff up with plenty of humor that avoids taking things seriously. Despite the attempt at trying to put a sense of danger to the proceedings there is never any real danger for out heroes, nor their fates are in doubt, and if you haven't watched the previous individual films you are caught with likable characters that you don't really care about.
Those people in the search for harmless popcorn entertainment and nothing more will surely like this Hulk better, and that's ok, but I see no reason why we shouldn't aspire to something more meaningful and deep akin to Loki's internal conflict as seen in Thor.