Movies We Like
If my 12-year old self thought it was even remotely possible that several of my favorite Marvel superheroes would not only have their own solo movies fronted by big Hollywood celebrities, but one day all appear in the same movie as one big multi-movie universe event, I would’ve lost my mind. And, hell, even now in my 30s the fact that The Avengers movie exists makes me lose my mind! Back when Marvel kicked off the first batch of their self-produced films with Iron Man, the slim glimmering hope that it would lead to The Avengers was there, but I don’t think any of us comic book fans actually thought it would happen. The fact that it did, and that writer/director Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, managed to pull it off and make it into one of the biggest and thoroughly entertaining action blockbusters of the summer is a miracle.
What’s great is all the other Marvel movies have been leading to this. If you’ve been watching along with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, then this movie is all pay off from everything you’ve seen before. Yet it simultaneously works as a stand alone film that any viewer can watch and enjoy because of how well Whedon balances each character's introductions and screen time. It’s similar to watching any ensemble flick and wondering where all these characters came from before the movie. In this case, those movies exist and you can go back to them! But alas, let’s focus on the one at hand.
The movie opens at the underground lair of SHIELD, a covert secret government organization led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) that monitors extraordinary threats against the United States and the world overall. They’ve been experimenting with the cosmic cube, a self-sustaining alien energy source that somehow summons the banished villain Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Earth where, upon his arrival, he plans on opening a portal and leading the alien race known as the Chitauri to overthrow and rule the planet. Years earlier, Fury had attempted to recruit several extraordinary people around the world for the Avengers Initiative; an idea to gather a group of the world’s “superheroes” should a threat too large ever present itself. It never came to fruition primarily because of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) who could not “play well with others.” Despite the program’s initial failure, with Loki out there and the threat of global war, he has no choice but to start to assemble the team.
There’s the reluctant Tony Stark aka Iron Man. SHIELD already has the Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) whom we first met in Iron Man 2. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has unfortunately been compromised and hypnotized to serve along-side Loki. Captain America, the first Avenger has just awoken from World World 2 and is still adjusting to suddenly being thrust into our modern day world. And the brilliant Doctor Bruce Banner, whose alter ego is the incredible Hulk. Cap and Iron Man manage to capture Loki in Germany, but that’s when his brother Thor also arrives on the scene. Loki’s capture however was intentional and all part of his plan to break up the team by unleashing the Hulk on board the helicarrier.
While that plan works for a short period of time, the entire gang (including a now cured Hawkeye) joins forces in the heart of New York where Loki opens the portal just over the newly constructed Stark Towers. What’s fantastic about the movie is how well every aspect of these characters is explored and delivered leading up to that epic 30-minute finale. We literally get to see all these great battles within the group before they even tackle the Chitauri army! For example, Iron Man fights Thor, Thor fights the Hulk, Black Widow fights Hawkeye, Cap teams up with Iron Man and so on and so forth. It’s all the type of things comic fans would always debate about from the pages. Who would win in a fight? The Hulk or Thor? It makes it all the more satisfying when they all team up at the end. Even the way that entire sequence is shot is incredible. It doesn’t matter if you’re a bigger fan of Captain America or the Hulk. Every single character gets their equal screen time and that makes it thoroughly entertaining. There’s even one great scene where, in one long shot, we pan through what each character is doing in the battle and we literally get to see them each work as a team.
While everyone in this all-star cast shines, special mention has to be made of Mark Ruffalo who portrays Bruce Banner/the Hulk here. It’s his first movie in the Marvel Universe as this version of the character was originated by Ed Norton in The Incredible Hulk, but finally, Marvel got the cinematic version of one of their most beloved characters right! Ruffalo is one of the only actors who somehow manages to capture that vulnerability and likability that Bill Bixby portrayed in the original Hulk TV series, which quite frankly is what most general audiences remember. When he does “Hulk” out for the end battle, I’d say he gets to deliver several of the most audience pleasing moments of the entire film.
The Avengers is also great on repeat viewings. It’s fun to catch several nods to things from the previous Marvel movies, or just catch the references within the movie. It’s got a lot of heart, a lot of laughs and Whedon’s love and enthusiasm for each and every one of these characters shines through and through. Robert Downey Jr. really set the tone for all these films when he debuted as Tony Stark in the first Iron Man, and I feel we have him to thank for inevitably paving the path which led straight to The Avengers. For all the die-hard fans, make sure you stay past the credits for two bonus scenes. The one at the very, very end is a great punchline to a joke set up during the finale battle.