Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Film length: 2hrs 23min
Theatrical Release: May 4th, 2012
Blu-ray release: Sept, 2012
Well here it is. The payoff after five films in five years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is The Avengers. I’ll admit, I was a skeptic prior to its release. The film is written and directed by Joss Whedon, whose brand of “Whedon-y” sarcastic dialogue is mostly never my cup of tea; and I wasn’t a fan of changing Bruce Banner’s portrayal from Ed Norton (who I knew) to this unknown-to-me Mark Ruffalo character.
My biggest problem, however, was how this film was going to cram a lot of characters into two hours. This seemed to be the move that would signify the end for any comic book movie series. For instance, in the past we had 1989’s Batman which was a good film that focused on the Joker. Its sequel, Batman Returns, introduced both The Penguin and Catwoman with results that were OK at best. By the third movie, Batman Forever, we hit unwatchable territory. It added… get this… Robin, Dr. Chase Meridian, The Riddler, AND Two-Face. Sam Raimi made a similar mistake when he tried to please himself and Sony pictures by wedging both Venom and The Sand-man into the unsuccessful Spider-man 3. Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises was a mess of a film when he added both Bane and Catwoman. Let’s not even talk about X-Men: The Last Stand… yet.
Despite my doubts, I remember enjoying The Avengers after first watching it with Ruffalo’s take on the Hulk being a highlight. And that is all my Swiss cheese memory held onto. The how, the why, and what exactly happened are currently lost on me. Do I really like a Joss Whedon movie with that Whedon-y dialogue? Well, it is time for a refresh…
The film (4/5)
“Make your move reindeer games.”
After the events in Thor, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) makes a deal with an alien race known as Chitauri. They want him to deliver the Tesseract, an alien device of unlimited power which is currently located on Earth. In exchange, they will provide him an army that will make him powerful enough to get revenge on Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and take command of Earth. There are some plot holes with this idea. The Chitauri, for one, already have an Army. So why do they need Loki when they can take the Tesseract themselves? I suppose the idea is Loki will open a wormhole for them but don’t the Chitauri have a scientist that can do science things too? They mastered the art of intergalactic space travel…. Hey, this is a summer film. Leave the brain at the door. Big bad boy needs to be taken down before time runs out.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are working on unlocking the Tesseract’s power when Loki steals the device. During the encounter with Fury, Loki takes over the minds of some key S.H.I.E.L.D. agents including Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye.
As a response, Fury calls together a team of super beings under the “Avengers Initiative”. This includes Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) aka Iron Man, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) aka Captain America, and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) aka The Black Widow; and a special invitation is given to Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) aka The Hulk. The Avengers are fully assembled once Thor joins to return Loki, his adoptive brother, to their home planet of Asgard to punish him for his crimes.
Hammer meets shield, personalities clash, tempers are strained to remain calm, and everyone’s loyalty is questioned. And these are the good guys? Will egos be set aside for the benefit of teamwork? Director Fury will need to find a way to make it happen or the fate of the Earth will be in Loki’s hands.
There are a two big reasons why The Avengers is a successful film. First, introducing the main cast in previous movies does help. We know who these characters are, what they are capable of, and what their motivation is. It was nice not get too bogged down in that minutia. Second, I got to give the credit to Whedon who, like in his previous film, Serenity, (a spin-off of his TV series FireFly), successfully brought together a big group of characters and made each one of them relevant to the story. It would have been so easy to cast the heroes with the weaker abilities aside (like Hawkeye and The Black Widow), but instead they are given a significant place in the story.
When these heroes do come together the two at the top (Iron Man and Captain America), are naturally at odds with each other. They go through some growing pains the way type-A personalities would when first trying to work together. The two are given the time to learn how “teamwork is better” at their own pace. Iron Man can save S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hovering air craft carrier from falling from the sky, but he needs Cap to throw a switch at the right time to do it. Effort was given to let every character have moments like these. Thor and Loki, Black Widow and Hawkeye, Thor and Hulk, Black Widow and Loki. Not a single character in the main cast is left behind, and it pays off toward the end of the film because you feel it when they come together.
If there is one thing I do not like about The Avengers it is some of the Whedon-y dialogue. His humour works well with the characters from the Favreau films. Stark, Pepper Potts (Gweneth Paltrow), Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), and Natasha all sound like a proper continuation of who they were before. I’ll even give Ruffalo’s Hulk a pass since the character is going through a soft re-boot. Loki, Thor, and Cap, however, didn’t have much of a sense of humour in their previous films. So, it was odd to see them deliver the Whedon-y one-liners.
Memorable Moments / What Stood Out to Me
Looks like Acura got the licencing for this film. The S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents drive Acura MDX models SUVs and Acura TL cars. Even Tony’s signature Audi R8 is replaced with an 2012 Acura RSX Roadster. I have room in my garage if you’re done with the R8’s Tony…
Give Black Widow a solo movie!
I know I’m not the first person to say this but it is worth repeating. Damn, she kicks ass in this film. The scene where S.H.I.E.L.D. is pulling her off of an assignment is my favourite. And the shot with Agent Coulson casually listening to her over the phone as she kicks the snot out of three members of the Russian mafia is priceless.
Maybe there is a chance she might get her own film now after Wonder Woman’s box office success.
Bonus: Stan Lee cameo review! (2/5)
How meta Stan-the-Man must have felt when he made this cameo for The Avengers. An idea to rejuvenate book sales for some of Marvel’s less popular characters almost 50 years later is now a major Hollywood production… with him in it! But damn, this was a disappointing one. Grouped in with a bunch of other news clips, Stan is given a “get off my lawn” type of line that has a ring of irony to it but it falls kind of flat. He deserves a full screen appearance, he deserves something like…. Harry Dean Stanton’s role.
Hey look, it’s Harry Dean Stanton!
Character actor Harry Dean Stanton whose body of work ranges from from Alien to voicing Brave Heart Lion in The Care Bears Movie (look it up) has earned him legendary status in the biz. I bow to his awesomeness… But did HE create The Incredible Hulk? No, Stan-the-Man did! This scene where Harry is playing a security guard who witnesses The Hulk falling from the sky before turning back into Bruce belongs to Stan. It is the first time Bruce encounters a “regular” person who is able to accept him for who he is. It is the moment when Bruce realizes that he can help the team AS The Hulk. All the respect to HDS, but it would have been so cool to see Stan as The Hulk’s accidental spirit guide.
Another Whedon-y thing that Joss Whedon does (…a little inside TV talk here…) is how he slightly crushes the black levels. He sets the dark portions of the image slightly lower than standard, which artistically gives you more contrast between light and dark, but also causes you to lose detail. Check out this unaltered image of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury here:
The video information where his neck should be, is gone. This would drive me bananas when I would air Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer show back in my master control days. It never looked right and I would question if I set the levels properly.
I also read that The Avengers is the first film in the MCU to switch from film to digital cameras. Maybe that didn’t help, but I know Whedon-y style when I see it. I understand my issue lies with how the film was shot and not the Blu-ray format itself, but I need to knock a point off since I wasn’t completely satisfied with how it looks.
I knew my ears were in for a treat from the moment the Tesseract started twitching in the early scenes of the film. Another solid 7.1 DTS-HD track was all aces when crammed into my 5.1 set up. The big moments like when Hulk smashes and Thor’s hammer slams into Cap’s shield were vibe-tastic. Even hearing Iron Man boot up his weapons sounded like an upgrade from the previous films.
Special Features (3/5)
We got a decent amount of content on this one.
- The commentary by Director Joss Whedon is well-balanced with the proper mix of entertainment and filmmaking information. His self-deprecating style can be funny with the meat of the commentary (the technical details and insight on making The Avengers) isn’t sacrificed.
- A Marvel One-Shot called Item 47. Clocking in at just over 8 minutes, this is the longest of the direct to video release shorts which Marvel has been including on these discs since Thor. This one is tied into the main feature where a couple, Claire and Bennie, stumble onto an alien weapon left over from the invasion. They use it to rob banks, they get caught, then are asked to join S.H.I.E.L.D. Meh. Maybe it would be more interesting if I watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.…
- Gag Reel! Four minutes of Gags!!! Gag reels are a favourite of Super Sexy Blogger Extraordinaire Sarca Sim and I think she would be pleased with these. RDJ makes a throwaway remark asking if there will be a gag reel like at the end of Smokey and the Bandit and “Eastbound and Down” begins playing over a collage of gags. It is good times.
- There is almost 15 minutes worth of eight deleted and extended scenes. The special effects are incomplete for most of them and they have the time code stamped onto the screen. The alternate opening sets up an alternate ending which does not payoff very well and I can see why it was cut. Not worth checking out.
- Featurettes Almost 15 minutes of these. Again, all done on set with everyone in full-on promo mode. I’d love to hear from someone who likes these. Please, let me know what I’m missing in the comments section. I don’t know why they are included on every one of these discs other than for filler.
- Soundgarden Music Video “Live to Rise” Soundgarden had a song tied into this movie? They still do movie tie-in songs for films that have nothing to do with music? Was this the last one ever?
TL;DR, Despite a decent amount of content, Joss’ commentary and the gag reel are the only extras worth checking out.
I’m glad when these Marvel movies prove my skepticism wrong. I enjoyed Joss Whedon’s take on The Avengers enough to finally give FireFly a shot, and I enjoyed that even more. The Avengers isn’t my favourite of out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, but it is up there. It was a major accomplishment to get all of these characters together for an entertaining, big budget Hollywood summer film.
Even though I did not find the humour fit some of the characters, the film is loaded with some legit funny moments and is not overdone. The Avengers has no love story. There is no girl to save. It has no heavy handed moment where they all come together to fight as a team. Instead the characters are allowed to play off of each other and they reach that moment naturally. You’ve done good Joss Whedon despite all of your Whedon-y Whedons.
How I would rank The MCU movies from best to worse so far: