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Review: The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers (2012)

Directed by: Joss Whedon

Premise: Superheroes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) join forces when earth is threatened by an extraterrestrial invasion.

What Works: The Avengers is a satisfying popcorn adventure. This film gives audiences exactly what they have been looking forward to since the original Iron Man premiered in 2008 and it is a fitting capstone to the Marvel adaptations released so far. The picture pulls characters and other elements from the preceding superhero films and it benefits greatly from the strengths of those pictures, namely the casting of actors Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jeremy Renner in the lead roles. New to The Avengers is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, replacing Edward Norton from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and Ruffalo is easily the best live action iteration of the character since Bill Bixby in the 1970s television show. Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is a very compassionate man and he has a self-awareness of his own monstrosity that makes him the most interesting superhero in the film. Aside from Ruffalo the two performances of The Avengers that really stand out are Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Despite the fact that Hiddleston has some obtuse dialogue and occasionally looks ridiculous in his full costume, the actor makes Loki a worthy villain. Gregg’s performance as Agent Coulson is equally important, as he quietly embodies the heroism of the everyday person and in some respects the character is the most heroic figure in the film. The Avengers is also distinguished by its sense of humor and showmanship. The picture never lacks for action but while the film is busy providing its kinetic thrills it also has a sense of humor. This helps The Avengers stay light and it contrasts favorably with the unduly self-important tone of some other science fiction and fantasy films.

What Doesn’t: As good as The Avengers is as a rock ’em, sock ’em adventure film, there isn’t much more to it than that. Audience members are rewarded for dutifully watching the preceding films and thankfully the story streamlines its reintroduction of the major players but none of the characters do much throughout the duration of the film nor do they develop meaningfully between the beginning and ending of the story. Instead The Avengers drops all the characters into the story at the point in which they were last seen in their own movies and when they disband each character exits, presumably back to his or her own sequel to follow. Just as many of the previous films felt a little like a trailer for The Avengers, this film comes off as a promotional reel for Marvel’s future sequels and it does very little with them that is interesting. The Avengers also suffers from being a bit overdone in places. Compared to a lot other science fiction and fantasy pictures, many of the previous Marvel superhero films had a comparably modest style and created action scenes that were big but not so overblown that they lost their credibility. By the time The Avengers gets to its finale the film becomes a better version of Michael Bay’s Transformers pictures, with many similar visuals and set pieces. The film encounters an equivalent problem with its humor and the continuous comedic moments threaten to overshadow the drama of the climax.

Bottom Line: The Avengers is a really fun superhero picture and it ranks among the better entries in the genre. There isn’t much to it beneath the surface but as popcorn entertainment, viewers couldn’t hope for much better than this.

Episode: #388 (May 13, 2012)