Before I get into the spoilerific spoilers of this review (of which there will be plenty, of spoilers that is), let me tell you some things right up front: yes, The Avengers is the greatest superhero movie ever made. Yes, I have seen The Dark Knight and yes, The Avengers is better. I’ll get to why a little later in the review. So if you’re reading this to get an idea of whether or not you should see this movie, then I’ll save you the spoiler risks—go see it right this goddamn instant.
This is the part of the review where I warn you, those who have not yet seen the movie, that what follows will spoil it for you. So if you do not want to read any spoilers, please stop reading right now before you are spoiled. I’ve now bolded some variation of spoiler several times, so if you are not yet aware that spoilers will follow, you hereby revoke any rights to bitch and moan for having accidentally read spoilers. You have been warned. Many times.
We’ve got that out of the way, so let’s move onto the review. The Tesseract (or the Cosmic Cube as those of us familiar with the comics know it) is an artifact from Asgard that may hold the key to unlimited energy for mankind. It was lost on Earth some time ago and found during World War II by the Red Skull and Hydra. After Hydra’s fall, the Tesseract was discovered by Howard Stark (as depicted in Captain America: The First Avenger). The Avengers picks up from the post-credits scene of Thor with Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of SHIELD hiring Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) to run tests and try and figure out how to unlock its power.
But other people want the Tesseract. Specifically Asgardian exile and one-time king Loki (Tom Hiddleston). After the events of Thor, Loki finds himself in space, speaking to a being known as the Other (Alexis Denisof). The Other gives Loki command over a mysterious being’s army, the Chitauri, if Loki can get his hands on the Tesseract.
After breaking into the SHIELD facility, Loki uses a staff given to him by the Other to turn both Selvig and SHIELD marksman Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) into his slaves. Together, they steal the Tesseract while being pursued by Fury and his right-hand agents, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).
But Fury needs a response team to get the Tesseract back and against the wishes of the mysterious Council, he restarts the Avengers Initiative. One of the proposed candidates is Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), freshly revived after spending almost seventy years frozen in the arctic. SHIELD agent Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is pulled out of a mission in Russia to go after Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who, thanks to exposure to gamma radiation in an attempt to recreate the Super Soldier formula, transforms into a monster called the Hulk. And Coulson recruits Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who only signs up because he has his suspicions about why Fury and SHIELD really want the Tesseract.
Captain America and Iron Man go after Loki in Germany and it seems like he goes down easy—in fact, almost too easy. While en route back to the SHIELD Helicarrier, they get caught in a lightning storm and Loki looks pretty nervous.
“What’s the matter, scared of a little lightning?” asks Captain America.
“I’m not overly fond of what follows,” replies Loki.
And sure enough, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lands on the plane, knocks Iron Man down, grabs Loki and jumps out. After the requisite superhero battle between Iron Man, Thor and Cap, we’re back on the Helicarrier with Loki in custody…but that’s part of his plan. Like I said, he went down too easy.
Now that we’ve got all these characters together in one place, the sparks begin flying as the personalities clash. Stark is his typical, arrogant self and Cap finds it really irritating. Banner is just trying to focus on his work, but he shares Tony’s suspicions of Fury. Thor believes both Loki and the Tesseract should be returned to Asgard. And it turns out Fury’s whole plan, or at least the Council’s plan, is to use the Tesseract to build weapons of mass destruction, something Cap is all too familiar with after his encounter with Hydra and the Red Skull. Except Fury’s got pretty good reason to pursue this given that a year before, Loki sent the Destroyer to Earth and his battle with Thor nearly leveled a small town.
Watching the characters argue back and forth is an absolute joy. There are lines from this sequence that are going to be quoted for quite a long time. But throughout it all, everyone in the cast manages to hold their own. I did have a concern that when these other actors were put in a scene with Downey, he would just dominate them completely. But it doesn’t happen like that at all. Evans in particular does a marvelous job (pun intended) of not taking any shit. Watching Cap and Stark banter back and forth is a pure delight, and then you’ve got Ruffalo’s Banner who managed to be reserved, but with good reason. He steps up to the plate when it’s his turn and gives it to them by telling them how he tried to kill himself to stop the Hulk: “I put a bullet in my head. And the other guy spit it out.” And then there’s Thor—man, Thor. I was never a big fan of the character, but I absolutely love Hemsworth’s portrayal. He’s likeable and arrogant, but not in the same way as Stark. He’s also got that regal feel to him. His line of, “You people are so petty. And tiny.” is just perfect. He’s got the boastful arrogance with that line, but still has a touch of humor. Yet Stark won’t stand down even for a god. When he first meets him after Thor snatched Loki from the jet, Tony just comments, “What is this, Shakespeare in the park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”
And while this is all going on, the Widow gets her own moment to shine. She goes to Loki in his cell, apparently to strike a deal with him—if he promises to release Hawkeye, the Widow will help him escape. And in this scene, we get some insight into Natasha’s past as an assassin and all the blood she has on her hands. Loki is prepared to break her, berating her that she can never wash the blood from her hands and that he’ll release Hawkeye only after Loki has him take care of her. Natasha nearly breaks, turning away to hide her face and calling Loki a monster.
“No, you brought the monster onboard,” is Loki’s cold response.
And then, we see a total shift in the Widow. She looks up, not a teardrop in sight, and just remarks, “So that’s your plan.” It was all a ploy to get Loki to give up the goods and reveal that his plan is to unleash the Hulk. It’s a great scene where they work off each other. Hiddleston’s Loki is for the most part very snarky, but when he gets into his nasty state, the way he almost hisses as he speaks is chilling. And Johansson plays up the ruse aspect with precision. But even better is the look on Hiddleston’s face once Loki realizes he’s been played.
Here’s where we get another awesome action sequence, when Hawkeye and the other brainwashed SHIELD agents attack the Helicarrier to free Loki just as Banner transforms into the Hulk and we get a spectacular throw-down between him and Thor as well as one between Hawkeye and the Black Widow.
Not to be outdone, however, Cap and Iron Man show themselves to be consummate professionals. Once the shit hits the fan, they’re all business. A minute ago, Cap was telling Stark, “put on the suit and let’s go a few rounds.” And then that shifts to “put on the suit now,” but for a completely different reason.
And then we get the worst scene in the movie. Not because it’s bad, it’s actually done superbly well. I just hate it because of what happens. Coulson corners Loki with a weapon but before he has a chance to use it, Loki impales him. But Coulson doesn’t go down without a fight and still blasts Loki right out of the Helicarrier, quipping afterwards, “so that’s what it does.”
The death of Coulson is heart-wrenching. I’ve seen this movie three times so far, and each time, I’ve gotten choked up at this scene. What makes it even harder to watch is the build-up. Coulson’s hero-worship of Cap is great. Coulson has been portrayed as this confident, professional agent in three movies so far, not even taking crap from Stark (remember his classic line in Iron Man 2: “If you try to leave or cause any trouble, I will taser you and watch Supernanny as you drool into the carpet.”). But around Cap, he becomes a tongue-tied kid, and that’s something we can all relate to. Coulson even goes so far as to ask Cap if he’d sign his vintage set of Captain America trading cards.
And that’s when the scene gets even harder. When Fury’s telling Cap and Stark about Coulson, he throws the trading cards on the table, stained with Coulson’s blood and says, “these were in his jacket, guess he never got a chance to get you to sign them.
A scene like this could easily be overly melodramatic and hammy. But everyone involved plays it perfectly, with Jackson giving just the slightest hint of anger in his voice as he throws the cards on the table. And that’s what elevates it from forced melodrama to moving. Plus it gives us slightly more insight into Fury’s character when Hill confronts him and says, “those cards were in Coulson’s locker, not his jacket.” Fury just says, “they needed the push.”
And yes, before anyone jumps into the comments, I know this is kind of Whedon’s trademark. He did it twice in Serenity when he killed Book and later Wash and he did it numerous times throughout the runs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Yes, I know the death was purposeful. But that doesn’t make it any easier to watch. There’s been a lot of fan speculation that maybe Coulson could be resurrected as the Vision in a future film and all I can say to that is god, I hope so.
Now the time comes to suit up for the final battle, but first we get another scene where Stark has a chat with Loki at Stark Tower (which Loki is using to open a portal for the Chitauri). Stark, in his typical style and flash, disarmors and says he’s going to threaten Loki and Loki just laughs about it, finding the whole situation ludicrously amusing.
Stark fixes himself a drink and precedes to tell Loki why he’s pissed them all off. Loki finally has enough and throws Stark out the window, except Tony managed to slip on some bracelets that call a remote-powered armor. Right before he hits the ground, the armor wraps around him and he hovers back up to the Loki and remarks, “there’s one more person you pissed off—his name was Phil.”
Unfortunately, it’s too late as the portal is open and the Chitauri are here. And although we never get the classic “Avengers Assemble!” line, we do get them assembling. Just as the army descends, we see Iron Man defer leadership to the man who deserves it when he says, “call it, Captain.”
I’ve seen several people on various message boards complain about this, saying that it would have been better if Stark defied an order from Cap and it caused trouble for the team. To that I say: are you stoned? We saw the Stark/Cap feud earlier, why does it need to be beaten over our heads with it? And it would contradict Stark’s own growth in Iron Man 2 when he learned that he can’t do it all on his own and sometimes he needs to ask for help. Plus, Stark may be an arrogant ass but he’s also not a moron. They’re in the middle of a warzone, Cap knows war, he’s commanded men in war before, and Tony knows this since he grew up listening to his father talk about Cap.
Cap calls out the plays, and no one shows any hesitation about following him, not even the God of Thunder himself. There looks to be a moment of conflict when Cap addresses Hulk, who growls as he turns to Cap. But then there’s the order: “smash.” The Hulk just smiles and does exactly that.
My favorite part of this big, long, flat-out epic battle is when we have a continuous take of the Avengers all fighting against the Chitauri, panning over to each one of them. It’s absolute awesome work from Whedon. And when Hulk and Thor take out one of the big Chitauri ships, they just stand there for a moment, catching their breath. And then just to remind us that the Hulk is unpredictable and remembers his tussle with Thor from the Helicarrier, the Hulk balls up his fist and punches Thor off-screen.
Hawkeye gets a few moments to shine here as well, calling out plays from the roofs while taking out Chitauri flyers in rapid succession. He shows us how good his aim is by even shooting at one of them without even looking. And when he spots Loki, he fires an arrow that Loki catches. Just as we think Loki has got the drop, turns out Hawkeye fired an explosive arrow that blows up in his face.
Then there’s another great moment when Hulk confronts Loki and Loki tells him that he’s a god, but Hulk doesn’t care. He grabs Loki, slams him around as if he were nothing, and remarks, “puny god.”
The Council, however, has fired off a nuke and Iron Man is able to direct it through the portal at the Chitauri. After he hits the ground and finds out they won, we get classic Downey dialogue here by insisting they go out for schawarma and take tomorrow off. When Thor says there’s one more thing they have to do, Downey just remarks, “and then schawarma after?”
There’s a cut to Loki, trying to move after being tossed around by the Hulk. He finds the Avengers standing in front of him, with Hawkeye pointing an arrow right at his head.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll have that drink now.”
Halfway into the credits, we go back to the Chitauri and the Other. He’s addressing his master, saying that to attack the humans is to court death. And then, we get to see who the big cheese is as he turns to the screen and smiles at the mention of courting death.
Thanos. The Mad Titan
I’m going to take a moment here and bitch a little bit myself. Before I had any chance to watch this movie, some asshole piece of shit who deserves to be tarred and feathered decided it would be a good idea to be a fucking dickhead on a message board and spoiled the Thanos reveal. No spoiler warning, nothing. Just “after the credits, you find out Thanos is behind the Chitauri.” Who does that? Oh, I was pissed and I was hoping that it would prove to be disinformation.
But still, even though I wasn’t surprised by the reveal, seeing Thanos turn and smile like that, man it was awesomely chilling. Now, I don’t know if this means Thanos will be in the next movie or not, because Whedon said he wanted to go smaller with the next film and you don’t go small with Thanos. You go all-out fucking epic or you go home! Maybe a two-part with Avengers 2 showing the quest for the Infinity Gems with Thanos working through some human agents (maybe Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil…?) and then full-on hardcore with the Infinity Gauntlet in Avengers 3.
I want to take a minute here and acknowledge how totally groundbreaking this is. And I mean beyond the fact that they’ve built up to Avengers with five different films with only minor hiccups along the way. With the exception of Banner, Marvel even managed to keep the whole cast onboard. And what’s even more amazing is this all came about because of a simple throwaway scene that was intended as nothing more than an Easter egg.
No one, myself included, thought it would ever be possible for Marvel to pull this off. So when they said after Iron Man hit big that they were going to continue this by having films lead up to The Avengers, I said to myself, “yeah right, in what fantasy world is this possible?”
I have never been so happy to be proven wrong.
But beyond the fact that they pulled this off, they pulled off a series of comic movies where every film is damn awesome. Think about it—when has that ever happened? The usual formula is have a good first movie, an awesome second movie, and completely screw it all up with the third movie. In some cases, like with Batman and Superman franchises, they decided to take it a step further by putting out “goddamn, how much coke are these movie executives snorting?” fourth movies. Or in the case of X-Men, it’s “let’s just keep throwing stuff at the wall so we don’t lose the rights.” Especially now with the success of Avengers, there is no way in hell Fox wants Marvel to get back the X-Men rights and outdo them.
More than that, we’ve got a very well-balanced team movie. One of the biggest problems with the X-Men films was that they focused too much on one or two characters at the expense of the rest. That doesn’t happen with The Avengers—just about everyone gets their moment to shine. Even Hawkeye, who at first glance doesn’t seem like he has much to do, is still given more to do than Cyclops or Storm were given in the first two X-Men films. And his role calls for a bit more of a reserved performance, but he has some great moments. Plus, given that Whedon said he’s got about thirty minutes of footage he didn’t get to use, there’s a good chance we could get more from Hawkeye in that footage if Marvel decides to release a director’s cut.
And the casting? Granted, this is due to incredible casting work in the films that preceded Avengers, but this cast is perfect. I cannot think of anyone I would rather see playing Marvel’s holy trinity than Evans, Hemsworth and Downey. I love both Johansson and Renner as the Widow and Hawkeye. And there is so much right about Ruffalo’s Banner, I don’t even know where to start. When they were making The Incredible Hulk, I thought it would be tough to top Bana. Then Norton succeeded. And I thought Norton couldn’t be topped, but Ruffalo’s done it. I hope gives the Hulk another shot at a solo film, but with Ruffalo in the starring role. I want to see him interacting with Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross (although let’s recast Betty).
Cobie Smulders didn’t have much to do in this film, but I’d like to see her back in a sequel. I absolutely love her in How I Met Your Mother, and I think if given the chance, we could get some nice verbal sparring between her and Stark.
There is one more thing I have to say about this, and it’s in regards to the inevitable comparison between The Avengers and The Dark Knight. I’ve seen this pop up a lot in the past week, with some people saying that The Dark Knight has deeper meaning than The Avengers. First off, I think this attitude comes more from people who think if a movie is depressing, it has deeper meaning than a movie that’s not (which is a stupid idea).
Secondly, I don’t think the comparison between The Avengers and The Dark Knight is a fair one to make. Even though these are both superhero movies, they’re different kinds of superhero movies that are trying to do very different things. It’s like comparing Alien to Aliens—yes, they’re both awesome, but they’re awesome in very different ways, so it’s tough to choose the better of the two.
But there is one reason I like The Avengers more than The Dark Knight, and it’s because these Marvel movies have bucked the trend of “woe is me, I’m a superhero” that’s been going on in comic book movies for far too long. You get the sense from these characters that even though they can feel the burden of the lives they lead, even though they are flawed characters, they still like what they do. These films take the attitude of, “you’re a superhero and even though that comes with some difficult things to do, it’s still pretty damn awesome.” These movies are fun!
There’s no fun to be had in Batman Begins or The Dark Knight. That’s not a bad thing, because there is room for that kind of hero, and that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy those films. They’re set in dark worlds where things get a whole hell of a lot worse before they even remotely start to get better.
But damn it all if I’m not getting just a little bit sick of superheroes bitching and moaning about the fact that they’re superheroes. I don’t want to be Batman, because he’s a brooding mess of psychological trauma. I don’t want to be Spider-Man because he’s got a massive inferiority complex and a lot of bad luck. But man, there are few things I wouldn’t give to be Iron Man.
The big question, at least on my mind, is what comes next? 2013 will see both Iron Man 3 (directed by Shane Black) and Thor 2 (directed by Alan Taylor). Captain America 2 is looking at 2014 and Marvel said they’ll have a second movie in 2014 but haven’t said what yet. Given that Edgar Wright is still attached to direct Ant-Man, my money is on that. But Marvel has also mentioned Doctor Strange and The Guardians of the Galaxy as possibilities. Currently, there aren’t any plans for another Hulk movie, but Ruffalo does have a six-picture deal and seems like everyone’s talking about his performance. And there’s a Hulk TV series in the works, so that could lead to future interest in another cinematic outing.
Speaking of TV properties, a particularly nasty rumor is swirling around that Marvel will cancel Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and replace it with a series that exists in the same continuity as another series, Ultimate Spider-Man. Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is one of the best shows ever based on Marvel’s characters and Ultimate Spider-Man is one of the worst.
So why would Marvel do this? Apparently, because this show is outsourced, it’s not handled by Marvel’s newly-acquired animation department, MAS (who handles Ultimate Spider-Man). And the guy behind this is a guy named Jeph Loeb. For those who don’t know, Loeb was a once-great writer who lost his sanity at some point in the past ten years. Since then, he’s apparently lost his sanity, because everything he writes reads like the ranting of a crazy person.
Hopefully this rumor is false as Marvel has yet to confirm it. The rumor says that they don’t want to confirm it before the fall because they don’t want the bad press to have any impact on the success of the Avengers film. Adding fuel to the fire is that Chris Yost, who oversees Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, has said he has not heard anything about a third season.
If this is true, it means Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will join the ranks of Spectacular Spider-Man and Wolverine and the X-Men of extremely short-lived shows that were canceled far before they should have been. I’m really disappointed in this news.