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The Avengers Review

avengers-movie-thor-captain-america
RATING:
(3 STARS)

With five separate films, years of hype, and billions of dollars all leading up to this, how in the world can director Joss Whedon satisfy expectations surrounding his new film, The Avengers? Easy: Up the stakes as high as they’ll go and pack in as many glory moments as humanly (or, in Thor’s case, godly) possible into two and a half hours. Digging deep into what The Avengers has to offer isn’t recommended, but the film as a whole is recommended unreservedly. It’s full of pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo and some characters are rather disappointingly tossed aside, but it’s impossible to at all dismiss a film as fun and full of energy as this.

After the events of Thor, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was exiled from his home on Asgard, and an all-powerful source of sustainable energy known as the Tesseract was in the possession of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. Minutes into The Avengers, Loki breaks into S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters to steal the cube of energy, and in the process, he brainwashes and escapes with Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

The destruction left by Loki—and the threat of worse things to come—leads Fury and company to give the “Avengers Initiative” another shot. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) tracks down Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) at the newly renovated Stark Towers, while the Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) heads to India to find Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), meanwhile, lives under guard of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the events of Captain America. And Thor descends from Asgard not long after learning about the trouble his brother has caused. Loki is soon captured, but the Avengers’ challenges are only just beginning. Their egos are constantly getting in the way of their mission, which remains a little mysterious, and it’s unclear whether Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Cap will stop fighting with one another in time to start fighting their common enemies.

It’s funny how much set-up is needed for a film that already required hours and hours of set-up, and the deeper The Avengers goes into the Tesseract and gamma radiation and thermo-hydro-nuclear-micro fusionism particles and all other sorts of nonsense, the more likely you are to jump off the wagon. My philosophy: If you can’t explain a concept with a five-word-or-less analogy, it doesn’t belong in a film. The Avengers breaks this principle a lot. I feared Whedon had lost me several times, but each and every time the film felt in dire need of a jolt, it breathlessly delivered. The sets are massive, and the enemy is surprisingly strong. What’s most exciting, however, is the fact that no one character seems more powerful than the others. When Thor and Captain America and Iron Man all fight, you don’t know who’ll come out on top.

Nothing, however, comes close to the incredible final act, which throws everything at you plus the kitchen sink (and a few giant armored space caterpillars for good measure). All the film’s flaws go out the window as we learn exactly why these superheroes are so super. There’s something special and exciting about seeing characters like these become vulnerable, but perhaps just as exciting is heroism in its truest form, which is what we have here. The six individuals featured in The Avengers are flawed, but that’s not what this movie is about. It’s about them rising to the ultimate challenge and performing at the peak of their powers, and about five minutes into this magnificent final sequence, it’s clear heroes in movies have never quite been this super.

There was a ton of concern leading up to The Avengers (at least from me) that characters wouldn’t get their due, particularly that the film would essentially turn into an unofficial Iron Man 3. It happens to a certain degree. Tony Stark is the star of the show (and Downey is probably the best he’s ever been in the role), but plenty of others get their due. My own personal favorite character was Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk. Throughout the film, his powers are only talked about (in a very fearful way). But Ruffalo imbues Bruce Banner with his trademark style of low-key humor, and when he finally goes green, he smashes like Eric Bana and Edward Norton never did.

Almost as good, and just as pleasantly surprising, is Scarlet Johannson, whose Black Widow isn’t nearly as superfluous here as she was in Iron Man 2. The actress isn’t quite revelatory, but it’s definitely one of her better performances over the last few years, and she’s a welcome addition to this gang, rather than an unnecessary distraction.

So three great performances and characters so far is good. Unfortunately, the remaining trio of heroes doesn’t quite measure up. Thor and Captain America are merely adequate. The former shows up late in the game, while the latter is hurt by some of his physical limitations (he’s strong, but not as capable of amazing feats as his fellow Avengers). Neither is nearly as bad as Hawkeye, who’s completely wasted. Jeremy Renner is merely OK, but I blame Whedon more for what happens to him. It’s a shame.

The film obviously cost a ton to make, but it’s all there on screen. The score is terrific, and the camerawork is sensational. Overall, it’s an extremely well-made motion picture that works in spite of its many flaws because it’s just so damn entertaining. So here’s your bar, summer of 2012. Let’s see if you can clear it.

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