REVIEW: 'The Avengers'


It’s probably no surprise that The Avengers is a lot of things at once. It’s a big, brash superhero movie. It’s the first blockbuster of the summer. It’s also the product of five years of hype, ever since superspy Nick Fury popped up a bonus scene after the credits of 2007’s Iron Man.

Each Marvel film that followed included special scenes and Easter-egg references to the long-awaited team-up movie, and here we are at last. If you like movies based on comic books, The Avengers is obviously a must-see. But unlike earlier Marvel movies, the team dynamic in The Avengers means way more action and noticeably less story. The new balance could prove to be too much for genre newcomers and too little for discerning viewers.

The opening scene of the movie briefs us on the Tesseract, a mystical energy source coveted by the film’s villains, a bunch growly space orcs called the Chitauri. The Chitauri army is led by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the smarmy adopted brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Because the Tesseract is being guarded on Earth by the multi-national spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D., the bad guys decide to invade the planet.

This doesn’t go over so well with Earth’s protectors: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Thor. To defend the planet, the heroes have to put aside their various personal quarrels and figure out how to fight as a team.

All of this is pulled off in a stylish way by writer/director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly). For a director who has been a largely cult icon for a long time, it’s interesting to see him pull off his first blockbuster. It’s good to see that moving up to A-list material hasn’t totally dampened Whedon’s counter-cultural nature: his trademark wit and deep understanding of comic books is all over The Avengers.

The cast all slip into the roles they’ve defined in previous Marvel outings (except for Mark Ruffalo, who’s new to the role of Bruce Banner/The Hulk). You might think that a team-up movie like this one would give the Avengers equal screen time; instead, the characters we spend the most time with are Iron Man and Hulk, who already have two movies under their belts.

As a result, characters like Captain America and Thor are more like secondary superheroes, making way for Tony Stark’s charisma and Hulk’s powerful fight scenes. Whedon and his creative team know what we want to see: flawed characters we can relate to. As iconic as Captain America may be, it’s kind of hard to appreciate an uber-patriot who can do no wrong.

For any moviegoer who’s only a casual comics fan, The Avengers might feel different from the solo Marvel movies. Here, the action is turned up to 11, and there’s little time for character development. If you don’t already know who these heroes are and what they’ve gone through, you’re out of luck.

As fun as it is to see your favourite heroes join up to defeat a common foe, I found myself wishing for more infighting. The movie’s trailer promised tension and drama between the Avengers, but their conflicts were too brief for me. Sure, they shout at each other a bit, but they seem to band together pretty quickly to save the planet. If their alliance was more uncertain, the big battle in the third act might have been more thrilling – instead, there were lots of lasers and explosions, and not enough emotion.

The Avengers is sure to please comics fans. But if the movies are your only adventures in the Marvel universe, this team-up movie doesn’t have the character work or the story complexity you might remember from solo films like Iron Man. The Avengers gets three stars out of four.

What did you think of The Avengers? Did it live up to the hype created by all those teasers? Or was it a bit overstuffed with action and special effects? Sound off in the comments section! If you liked this review, check out my other reviews of recent releases, or browse through my “Reviews of Classic Movies” series:

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