The Avengers, written and directed by Joss Whedon. Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (2012). Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference. Running time: 143 minutes.
After six separate film adventures, the main players of the Marvel Comics universe have assembled in The Avengers, with the eponymous team of heroes battling the evil Norse god Loki.
Loki’s plan is twofold: snatch a device of unlimited power; and, then, with the help of interstellar bad guys, free mankind from the “burden” of freedom by forcing the world to kneel before him and accept him as king.
After Loki achieves the first half of the plan, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), in an effort to stop him from achieving the second, assembles the Avengers: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawk (Jeremy Renner). The final member of the team, Thor, shows up later on his own.
Under Joss Whedon’s capable guidance as both writer and director, The Avengers is a rip-roaring adventure story that lives up to the hype that comes with a $200-million-plus budget and enough star power to fuel a half dozen films.
During the first two-thirds of the film, the motivations of the fiercely independent Avengers are unclear or at odds with one another. This provides Loki the edge he needs to destroy them and conquer the planet.
Although there are too many fights between the heroes, this tension does serve to focus the story on the good guys, and it makes for some great humor.
Whedon’s script emphasizes action more than character development, and this affords the actors substantial leeway in defining their characters, which they do beautifully. Although the acting is uniformly excellent, Downey’s Iron Man, Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk, and Chris Evans’s Captain America stand out among the stellar cast. Evans deserves particular kudos because his character, the de facto leader of the team, is arguably the most difficult to portray—a serious, squeaky-clean hero in contrast to Downey’s thoroughly hip, impish, and charismatic man of action. But Evans pulls it off, mainly because he plays it straight as he did in his Captain America: The First Avenger. Downey, for his part, succeeds because he plays Iron Man as a larger-than-life man of action—reckless, daring, driven by his own agenda, and, under it all, ruthlessly serious about winning the war. Ruffalo underplays the tragic Bruce Banner, which is a nice contrast to his alter ego, The Hulk, a being of pure, unbound rage on the side of good.
The film builds to a grand, action-packed climax with Loki and his allies fighting against the Avengers on the streets of—and in the air above—New York City. The collateral damage caused by the conflict adds to the Earth-shattering stakes, giving the battle an epic scope. Whedon then ups the ante, with a potential catastrophe that would dwarf all the other death and destruction combined.
The film’s production design by James Chinlund is impressive, giving the film a cool, retro-futuristic but wholly realistic look that is in keeping with the Marvel Comics. From the various uniforms to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s heli-carrier headquarters, fans of the comics should rejoice that what is rendered is in keeping with and yet more than what is offered on the pages of the comic books.
If the film has weaknesses, they are in the plot, which is a bit thin even for an action movie—and in the action sequences, some of which are too long (particularly the finale).
But the simple plotline and minimal characterization might be for the best. For all of its special effects, the film is really dependent on the actors. And Whedon, to his credit, gives his actors the space to inhabit their characters without getting bogged down in sci-fi technobabble or needless exposition. Judging from the finished product, the actors relished this freedom and made the most of it.
Whether you’re a die-hard fan of comic books or just a moviegoer hankering for a fun story about good versus evil, don’t miss The Avengers.