Today I watched Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers represents the final proof of concept for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the culmination of it’s first ‘phase’ of releases. It brings together all the principle characters, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Chris evans’ Captain America, Robert Downay Jr.’s Iron Man, and the first recast of the series, Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton as The Hulk. While all of these individuals are rather disparate in their attitudes and methods, they are brought together by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, to counter an alien threat spearheaded by Thor’s evil brother Loki. These ‘Avengers’ also include minor side characters Natasha Romanoff and Hawkeye, played by Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner respectively, because Loki has come to Earth through a portal created by the MacGuffin from the Captain America movie and takes control of the minds of a number of key S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel including Hawkeye. The rest enter into a race against time to free the minds of their comrades and prevent an alien invasion, little do they know, this is just the vanguard of greater cosmic threats.
This is an important film, it’s success has prompted a new age of large, character and setting driven franchises. The Avengers is a new kind of film built upon a shared universe that has previously included very different kinds of films. It does manage to be a good representation for the first wave of Marvel movies, but both for good and bad. On the plus side it has strong characters, each developed in their own films and portrayed by an all-star cast. They even make Tony Stark much more likable than he was previously because they finally get him to act heroically once in a while. Mark Ruffalo is also inspired as Bruce Banner, delivering the most nuanced and thought provoking interpretation of the character ever on screen. The film also has a lot of funny humour, Joss Whedon has always had good timing if anything.
This humour leads to the film and the series thus far’s biggest problem though, an over abundance of levity detracting from the drama and intensity. The Avengers makes this especially apparent, these are films of levity but the content in the plot really should be presented with a little more intensity. There are more complex themes that can be read into the story, dealing with the nature of heroism and the trustworthiness of governments among other pieces of compelling character drama, but it all has to come around to a punch line at some point. The villainous Loki is really cut down to a lower level of villainy despite making a strong entrance, the joke of his exit from this film really takes away any excitement I had for the character. In some ways this criticizm is my own bizarre interpretation of current cultural trends, we want light, escapist media, which is great, but we also want stories with serious content that we can take seriously, that’s OK too, but it is hard for those two things to co-exist in one picture and the Marvel films so far have failed to do so. I sort of wish they would either go into more serious and philosophical directions or more ridiculous, pure fun oriented mayhem, we will see what phase two delivers.
In closing, if you have been at all intrigued by the first phase of Marvel films, The Avengers does that but one step better. It succeeds at being of a more epic scope and generally having that feeling of bigness one would expect of a big crossover like this. The action is explosive and on a grand scale, the special effects are quite good and the designs evocative. It brings together an all-star cast who all do what they do, many establishing themselves as major names in our current generation of it actors. As one of the most important pieces of modern day pulp, it is a very entertaining film, it just could have been more and the sacrifices the story has to make for the purposes of purity of entertainment are quite apparent. 4/5