MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS – The Review
” I’d like to speak with you about the Avengers Initiative “. Can it really be four years ago that SHIELD director Nicholas Fury ( Samuel L Jackson ) spoke those fateful words to a surprised Tony Stark ( Robert Downey, Jr. ) at the end ( the very tail end, after the final credits ) of IRON MAN ? Marvel fans around the globe were ecstatic. The fabled comic book company was now in the film business ( other characters were licensed to other studios ) and Jon Favreau’s rollicking action hit was the first in their partnership with Paramount. With this bit of dialogue, were they announcing their intentions to team up some of their greatest heroes in one massive movie event? Fans were teased again later that Summer when Stark strode into the bar where General ” Thunderbolt ” Ross was drowning his sorrows at the end of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Expectations rose two years later with IRON MAN 2 which ended with SHIELD agents in the desert surrounding a huge hammer protruding from the earth. The next Summer saw more Marvel superstars headline their own feature films: THOR and two months later, CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE FIRST AVENGER. The principals are all introduced, and now, finally, it’s time for Earth’s mightiest heroes to gather with a hearty ” Avengers assemble! ” Hold on to your popcorn!
Before we settled into our cushy theatre seats let’s take a look back at the comic book roots of this team. Legend has it that, in the early 1960’s, Atlas ( Marvel’s precursor ) publisher Martin Goodman was on the golf green with the head of his publishing competitor National Periodicals ( now DC Comics ). Martin supposedly overheard the man bragging about the big sales on his new book ” The Justice League of America”, about the adventures of a team of their biggest heroes including The Flash and Green Lantern. He made a mental note and instructed his comics editor Stan Lee to come up with a group of super-heroes. Ah, but it was not the start of the Avengers yet! Stan came up with the Fantastic Four along with artist extraordinaire Jack Kirby and so began Marvel Comics. Over the next few years several more characters were added to Marvel’s roster and Stan was finally ready to do his take on the Justice League. In the first issue of the Avengers back in 1963, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Ant Man, and the Wasp joined forces to stop a plot by Thor’s treacherous sibling Loki. Gathering at Tony Stark’s NYC mansion, the group announced their ‘tentative” partnership ( that Hulk was a wild card! ). Sure enough, two issues later, ole’ Greenskin has joined forces with Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner to take on his former team mates. Traveling back home via submarine after the battle, the heroes spot a frozen figure of a man floating at sea in the landmark fourth issue adventure ” Captain America Joins the Avengers “. Cap became an important Avenger and with issue 16 he was the group’s leader. In ” The Old Order Changeth”, Stan had decided to replace the other members because it was too difficult to co-ordinate their solo stories with the group’s exploits ( Cap’s solo stories in Tales of Suspense were set in World War II ). Bucking tradition, the new Avengers were former villains : Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch from the X-Men stories along with Iron Man nemesis Hawkeye. Since then heroes have joined and taken leave as the book continues to be one of Marvel’s best sellers. So much so, that when the company decided to create the Ultimate line with younger versions of their established titles, The Avengers were revamped for this alternative universe. Here the team was formed by the head of the secret hi-tech spy agency SHIELD, Nick Fury to battle an alien invasion.
For the new film, elements of both versions of the team are combined. Several theatres are holding Marvel marathons prior to the premiere in order to get fans up to speed. Without revealing too much I’ll try to do the same without 12 hours straight at the multiplex. as the epic begins, Thor’s evil half-brother Loki ( Tom Hiddleston ), who survived the collapse of the Rainbow Bridge at the conclusion of THOR, is conspiring with the inhabitants of a dark, desolate planet ( and, as the film makers have strongly stated previously, these are not the Kree and Skrull races from the Marvel Comics universe ). Loki believes he’s found a way to transport to Earth and open a portal for the aliens’ invading army. Back on planet Earth, Nicholas Fury, aided by Agents Maria Hill ( Cobie Smulders ) ,vet of three Marvel movies Phil Coulson ( Clark Gregg ), and Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye ( Jeremy Renner, who had a brief cameo in THOR ), is overseeing research headed by Professor Selvig ( Stellan Skarsgard, also from THOR ) on the mysterious white-glowering cube called the Tesseract ( a powerful Asgardian power source retrieved from the ocean’s floor by Tony Stark’s father in CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE FIRST AVENGER ). Chaos erupts at the SHIELD facility as the cube opens a window that unleashes Loki. As the demigod escapes with the cube, the professor, and several entranced agents, Fury decides to enact the Avengers Initiative. Assembling the team is not an easy task. Coulson calls on Tony Stark as he’s setting up house with Pepper Potts ( Gwyneth Paltrow ) at the brand spanking new NYC headquarters of Stark Industries. Natasha Romanoff AKA the Black Widow ( Scarlett Johannson ) is pulled off her current mission in order to track down and retrieve Dr. Bruce Banner ( Mark Ruffalo ). Seems the Tesseract gives off a Gamma radiation signature and , uh…SHIELD may have need for Banner’s furious green alter-ego. Fury himself reaches out to Steve Rogers AKA Captain America, who’s not been eager to enter the modern world after nearly 70 years in icy suspended animation. Together the heroes, soon joined by the mighty Thor ( Chris Hemsworth ), have to overcome their differences ( and strong personalities ) and work as a team in order to track down the cube and prevent Loki and his alien forces from enslaving humanity. No time for a group orientation reception with these super-folks!
For a film so stock full of big characters ( and some who’ve starred in solo flicks ), it’s astounding that the actors still get individual moments to shine. The biggest gun ( with two features under his metal belt ) is Downey who’s still full of surprises as Stark. Of course we get the snarky attitude and tossed-off one-liners ( he’s got great nick names for his team mates ), but we get some more of his romantic side that we saw in the first Iron Man flick. He’s got a terrific rapport with Paltrow ( almost like a Tracy and Hepburn or Loy and Powell from the Thin Man movie series). Their playful banter is always a welcome bonus in this action extravaganzas; We also see Stark’s bravery and determination when they suffer a personal loss. Hemsworth acts the role of the thunder-god with great energy and bravado. He’s happy to get to know these Earth dwellers once more. Evans as Cap is not the morose warrior still battling WWII that the comics portrayed in many of those early stories. Cap embraces these new wonders and quickly takes command on the battlefield just as he did int he 1940’s. He even gets to crack a few jokes! New to the role of Bruce Banner after Eric Bana in Ang Leee’s HULK ( not officially part of the Marvel movie-verse ) and Ed Norton in THE INCREDIBLE HULK , Ruffalo combines elements of the two actors along with Bill Bixby’s David Banner from the TV series. He’s strong, quiet, sensitive, and intelligent while keeping a tight lid on his emotions. I like that the Hulk is a separate person in his mind ( ” the other guy ‘ ). As for that guy, the effects people have done a terrific job on him. He’s a good cross of the Bana ” Shrek on steroids ” and the ” vein-y”, tiny- torsoed Norton Hulk. When ole’ ” Jade-Jaws ” finally enters the film at midway point, he almost steals every scene. Back at HQ, the team’s guided by Jackson’s Fury. He’s a strong fighter with a lot of weight on his shoulders. Not only must he unite the team and kept track of Loki, he must answer to his mysterious bosses ( the real powers behind SHIELD ). The wiley Fury’s not above massaging the truth in order to placate his superiors and inspire his forces. As for his main agents, Gregg is once again a delight as the efficient Coulson. In a very funny bit of business, he’s almost sidetracked by his ” man-crush ” on Rogers ( he’s got a mint set of Captain America trading cards! ). Renner’s Hawkeye is more of an enigma. He’s SHIELD’s expert sniper and exhibits that loner mentality as he observes the cube experiments from a distance, hidden in the shadows. Until he joins the Avengers, the only other agent he connects with is the Black Widow. Johansson was first introduced in the role in IRON MAN 2 and this is her best screen work in quite a while. Thanks to the film’s talented screenwriter/ director we get some insight as to how she got her deadly code name. She’s no damsel in distress, but an expert interrogator along with her considerable fighting skills. Skills needed in bringing down Loki. Hiddleston expands on the deceitful, cunning villain from THOR. He relishes the idea of being worshipped by conquered earth people and will not hesitate snuffing out dessenters. Loki’s unabashedly, gleefully evil. As far as comic book movie bad guys he doesn’t reach the stellar heights of Heath Ledger’s amazing Joker, but he’s a more than worthy adversary for this movie ” dream team “.
When talking earlier about the Black Widow I alluded to the film’s talented co-screenwriter/ director. The greatest triumph of the film may be the emergence of a new, film power player: Joss Whedon. Of course we fans of the Whedonverse ( referring to his TV shows ” Buffy the Vampire Slayer “, its spinoff ” Angel “, ” Dollhouse”, ” Firefly” and the feature film sequel SERENITY, the internet sensation ” Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog “, many comic books and a co-writing credit on the recent CABIN IN THE WOODS ) have been singing his praises for years, since he was a major ” script doctor ” on films like TWISTER and an Oscar nominee for co-writer on the original TOY STORY. He’s done an amazing job juggling all these characters and never letting the big action set pieces overwhelm the actors. So, of course, Buffy’s Dad would help us really get inside the Widow’s head. As for those set pieces…they’re pretty fantastic. Unlike many big action-fests, you can always understand what’s going on. The editing flows. This really helps when Cap’s taking on the alien army on ground level. Whedon also upholds a a great tradition from the comic source material that really spotlights the contrast between Marvel and DC comics. When two DC heroes meet it’s, ” What brings you to Central City, Green Lantern? ” ” Why, I’m trying to track down Sinestro, Flash! ” followed by a hearty handshake. Over at Marvel, it’s immediately throw-down time! With Whedon involved, it goes without saying that there’s lots of laughs packed in with the mayhem.
The movie is being presented in 3D, but I don’t think it’s essential to view it in that format. It’s a good upconvert ( like the Cap solo movie ), but aside from some big gun barrels, Loki’s power staff ( get yer’ minds outta’ the gutter! ), and hovering spacecraft the extra D doesn’t add much to the big battles. The movie slows a bit when the principals bicker in a meeting room ( what is this? Super-reality TV ? ), but it soon picks up speed and never lets up till the end credits roll ( that’s a fast 140 minutes! ). Speaking of end credits, the Marvel movies have a tradition of taking on a final bonus scene after the final credit. This time they’ve placed it at the midway point ( as did last Summer’s THE GREEN LANTERN ). Your enjoyment of it may depend on how big a Marvel comics fan you are. But you should stay and see all the folks that worked on it! They did a spectacular job ( Kudos again on the Hulk. It’s the green giant we fans have been wanting to see in the movies )! The meeting of the Marvel movie universe and the Whedonverse has produced a superior screen entertainment that is a high water mark for future comics based films. Hey Nolan-Batman and rebooted Spidey! You’ve got a very tough act to follow! Avengers ( and movie-lovers ) assemble!!
UPDATE : I’ve gotten reports that there is a bonus scene after the final end credit ( in additon to the mid-credit scene I mentioned above ) !
Overall Rating : Five Star-spangled Shields, Five Uru Hammers, Five.. aww, Face Front, True Believers! 5 Out of 5 Stars