It’s all been building up to this. Ever since Marvel Studio’s Iron Man, the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has been hinting, teasing and hyping The Avengers. While all of the Marvel Studio films thus far, from Iron Man to Thor to Captain America, have all held up very well as standalone superhero films, they all found their own ways to subtly (and sometimes not-so subtly) hype the movie that would bring Marvel’s heroes together. With four years and five movies building up to it, The Avengers’ hype became an entity in itself. But, does this multi-franchise sequel live up to all its hype and produce a memorable movie of its own? Or is it not-so super after all?
I’m just going to get this out of the way…The Avengers lives up to the hype, and then some. It’s an impressive feat in itself really, for a movie these days to meet (let alone exceed) it’s hype. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that The Avengers is a super hero ensemble, serving as a collective sequel to four established Marvel movie franchises. The Avengers easily could have ended up an incoherent mesh of super hero fan service. Instead, it’s a genuine treat for fans of caped crusaders, and an exquisite piece of entertainment even for those with little knowledge of the Marvel mythos.
The story begins when Loki (Tom Hiddleson), the villainous brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), having been sucked into the void of space after his battle with his brother in Thor, has found his way to a strange cosmic realm, where a mysterious being grants him possession of an alien army known as the Chitauri. But in return for this army Loki must find and deliver the Tesserect (the “Cosmic Cube” that served as a major plot device in Captain America: The First Avenger) to his mysterious benefactor.
Shortly thereafter, at S.H.I.E.L.D’s headquarters, the Tesserect (which has been in their custody since the ending of Thor) begins emitting a powerful energy, which allows Loki to teleport himself to S.H.I.E.L.D’s headquarters and steal the Tesserect (brainwashing a few S.H.I.E.L.D members and destroying the building in the process).
This causes S.H.I.E.L.D’s top agent, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to activate the Avengers Initiative. So Fury, along with agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and “The Black Widow” Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) recruit Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), “Captain America” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who are eventually joined by Thor and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), in an attempt to retrieve the Tesserect and stop Loki’s hostile takeover of Earth.
Okay, so maybe the whole “saving the world” thing may not sound all that new to super hero fair, but it’s the way the story follows each of its heroes, never feeling watered-down balancing them all. Robert Downy Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth were all perfectly cast for their roles individually, but it’s surprising how well they work together as a group. Mark Ruffalo is also a step up from the previous cinematic portrayals of Bruce Banner, so much so that you wish he would have had the role in the 2008 Incredible Hulk film.
Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson, having had smaller roles in Thor and Iron Man 2, respectively, are brought more into the spotlight. And although they lack iron suits, magic hammers and super strength, both Hawkeye and Black Widow are made so memorable by their performances that you hope they’ll see their own films down the road.
I also feel it was a wise decision recycling a previous villain in Loki. Both because Tom Hiddleson’s take on the character is even more menacing this second time around, and because it means we can jump right into the plot without having to be introduced to a new villain and his motives. Loki merely wants to take his anger and resentment of Thor out on the people of Earth, due to the events of their film. We can actually appreciate the heroes, and the villain, better without having to take the time to give a new antagonist credibility.
But aside from being the first super hero ensemble, and succeeding at it with flying colors, The Avengers also succeeds at being a superb action film. Much like Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, The Avengers has a sense of intelligent, structured action. None of those annoying shaky cameras and nauseating close-ups here.
There’s a terrific sense of pacing, both in the story and action in The Avengers. It isn’t a mindless chain of explosions a la Transformers, and instead follows the “Indiana Jones” tradition of story and action melding together into a single entity, telling a story as the super-powered heroes fly through spectacular visual set-pieces, battling evil aliens.
Some might complain at the movie’s lengthy running time (it’s nearly three hours), but I feel this is a case in which the running time is justified. Four different franchises are coming together here, and with that kind of build-up it had to be big. It’s hard to imagine The Avengers working on a smaller scale.
I will admit that I do recommend watching some of the previous Marvel Studios films before diving into The Avengers. Particularly Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, as The Avengers’ works as a sequel to a number of their plot elements. I think anyone can appreciate The Avengers on its own for great characters and action sequences, and one could appreciate its plot on its own accord. But it will make all the more sense if you are viewing The Avengers as the collective sequel as it is.
All in all, The Avengers is that rare movie that receives a hefty amount of hype long before its release, and somehow more than lives up to it. It’s the best Marvel movie since Spider-Man 2, and ranks as one of the very best super hero films. If you’re looking for top quality blockbuster fair, you’d be hard-pressed to find one even half as satisfying as The Avengers.
“Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”