The Avengers (2012)

21 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Hey, guys! Wanna see Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Incredible Hulk banding together, in a summer blockbuster, to fight evil?

I do too! And this movie has been built up for about four years, since the original “Iron Man” was released to success in May 2008. It began simply with a credit cookie featuring the one-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) telling billionaire/genius/hero Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) that he plans to start the Avengers. And a month later, “The Incredible Hulk” was released, with a scene at the end that featured Tony Stark mentioning the Avengers. 2010’s “Iron Man 2” had a little more input to the idea (for those who don’t know the Avengers’ history in comic books), as 2011’s “Thor” and “Captain America” introduced two new candidates, as well as setting up certain plot elements for…2012’s “The Avengers!” And the verdict is that this inevitable summer-blockbuster lives up to its hype.

I’m not a comic book reader, per se, but I was still intrigued when hearing the basic storyline for “The Avengers”—Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America band together. Having seen and liked all of these characters’ earlier movies (particularly the first “Iron Man”), I was hyped. There’s no way I wouldn’t be interested in seeing this movie.

Well, first, we get a introduction featuring the story’s McGuffin (a story’s catalyst)—a device that opens a tesseract (a portal through other dimensions)—and the arrival of our main villain, which turns out to be Thor’s adopted brother Loki (reprised from the earlier movie by Tom Hiddleston), who plans to use the tesseract to unleash an army of monstrous beings from his own world in order to conquer the Earth. This leads to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, of course) planning to assemble a team of superheroes in a race to stop him from carrying out his plan. Now, while I have to admit this introduction is somewhat tedious in the way it plays out (with certain “techno-babble,” exposition, and…well, the very idea of another villain planning to take over the world—of course), it is necessary to set up the rest of the movie.

We’re met again with those intriguing Marvel characters introduced in earlier film adaptations of their comic books. We have the rich, bright, and constantly wisecracking billionaire/hero Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) a.k.a. Iron Man, complete with flying iron suit. We have weakling-turned-superman Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) a.k.a. Captain America, who has a costume that is essentially a bulls-eye, but a shield that deflects bullets—now that’s cool. We have Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) with his mighty hammer. And of course, we have Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), a feisty femme fatale introduced in “Iron Man 2” and also known as Black Widow, as she is told by S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, reprising his character from earlier movies) to enlist the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, taking over for Edward Norton)—for those who don’t know, let’s just say Bruce Banner has a condition that comes with some serious anger issues.

As these heroes are teamed up together and planning out their next move, they also have to face each other. There’s a struggle between Iron Man and Thor when they first meet, Stark and Rogers banter a lot, and mostly, they don’t seem to want to rely on each other as much. But they realize that they’re all in this together and they’ll stand and fight Loki’s invading army on the battlegrounds of Manhattan, turning it into a disaster of epic proportions.

I’m just going to come out and say it—I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Loki as a villain in this movie. In “Thor,” I didn’t find him charismatic nor did I find him particularly interesting, and here, that feeling’s kind of the same. But there were a few scenes where I found myself laughing at his expense, rather than being menaced by his continuing plan. There’s a scene in which he gathers people in the city and orders them to “kneel” before him and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing so hard because all I was thinking was, “He’s turned into General Zod!” Yeah, remember how “menacing” that villain was in “Superman II?” That’s Loki for “The Avengers” for you. And there’s another scene that got the biggest applause in the screening I attended—it involves a showdown between delusional-with-superiority Loki and damn-angry Hulk, and gives new meaning to the phrase “punch line.”

And speaking of which, “The Avengers” does indeed have a sense of humor. In fact, this movie maybe has the funniest moments I’ve heard in a movie so far this year. It’s self-aware, but that doesn’t mean it condescends to its iconic characters or its target audience. I wouldn’t dream of giving away the film’s best moments, so I won’t. Sure, there is a lot of humor in “The Avengers,” and that keeps “The Avengers” from getting too serious—that’s not a criticism, mind you, because it’s a masterstroke when it doesn’t descend itself into campiness.

There’s great action in this movie—it’s involving, features top-notch special effects, and showcases some pretty nifty fight sequences. Two sequences in particular stand out—one is an attack from Loki’s minions on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying, camouflaged ship, and the other is the battle in the streets (and rooftops and skies) of Manhattan, which takes the final half-hour of the movie. That final sequence is jaw-droppingly intense, and we’re involved because we like these characters and we admire the stages of action and special effects. But what’s also important is that each character has moments to shine in the midst of the action.

All the actors are game and their characters are still strong. Tony Stark, again played perfectly by Robert Downey, Jr., keeps his unique personality—constantly cracking one-liners even in the face of danger. (In a talk-down between Stark and Loki, it’s obviously who the cooler person is, even if you could take Loki seriously.) He’s great in this movie. Rogers, or Captain America, is a likable guy and is reasonably strong, though that costume still looks somewhat ridiculous. Thor is as awesome as ever, with his barbarian manner that contrasts heart of gold. Natasha, or Black Widow, is still sexy and shows some feisty moves. We’re also introduced to a new recruit midway through the movie, a sharp-shooter nicknamed Hawkeye (played well by Jeremy Renner), whose bow has laser scope for his arrows to never miss—awesome. As for Bruce Banner, with Mark Ruffalo’s vulnerable performance and upgraded CGI “Hulk” form, this is the best representation of the Incredible Hulk I’ve seen.

And like I said, it’s absolutely great that these heroes are all here, like the toughest kids on the block who learn to work well with others. It’s also great that Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury has something better to do than spew ominous foresights (as he did in the earlier movies, to annoying effect).  

“The Avengers” has been built up for four years—it was worth the wait. It’s exciting, entertaining, and a lot of fun.

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