There hasn’t been a movie that has been built up the same way The Avengers has. It all started in 2008, when Samuel L. Jackson – as Nick Fury – showed up in Iron Man after the credits had rolled to tell Robert Downey Jr. that he was not the only superhero in the world and S.H.I.E.L.D. had a little something called “The Avengers Initiative” in the works. Speculation ran wild on the internet with people wondering which members of the team would be involved and who the villain might be. As the years went on the details started to mete themselves out. Films like The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and Iron Man 2 gave us our heroes, villain, and a lead in to what the plot was going to be based around. Finally on May 4, 2012, four years and two days after Iron Man opened in theaters, The Avengers was released to an audience that had been dying to see it.
This is important to mention because it was almost impossible for a fan of superhero movies to not get excited and to not have high expectations. Interestingly, this makes the movie liable to be judged in an extreme way. If the movie was very good, people’s excitement would propel it to be viewed as great. If the movie was a disappointment, people would rightfully be angry about it after placing more money and hours into it than most other franchises. As it happens, Marvel succeeded and The Avengers does in fact tiptoe the line between very good and great. Currently it appears most people think it’s great (already sitting in the global Top 20), but I found it to be closer to the latter. A solid action blockbuster that exceeded the majority of the movies that came before it in the series. As more time goes by and the honeymoon period starts to fade, I think more people will tend to agree with me.
It’s completely understandable that people think it’s great. Not just because their excitement and relief that the movie was well made is clouding their opening weekend judgement, but the fact that there are some truly great moments. After two failed attempts, The Avengers finally gave us the Bruce Banner/Hulk combination we’ve been waiting for. Mark Ruffalo does a great job as Banner, perfectly playing the role of a man who is nervous, scared, and self-defeating about all the power he has that he can barely control. Then we have the actual Hulk steal the show in the third act, which is basically one huge battle. He’ll make you laugh, yell “Hell yeah!”, and give you goosebumps when he saves a certain character despite the emotion of the moment being watered down by being shown in trailers.
Tom Hiddleston also deserves a lot of credit for his portrayal of Loki. It can’t be easy to play the foil to a group of popular, well liked actors but he charismatically plays the role with the same dark wit that helped make Thor a pleasant surprise – a movie where he was one of the most finely crafted villains in a superhero origin story. Being given such a solid back story and a pre-defined reason for being against Earth in an earlier film is extra important because The Avengers is an origin story in its own way. Despite the fact that we’ve already been introduced to the most important members of the group and know how they came to be, there had to be a settling-in period where the very conflicting personalities learned to work cohesively together. If we had a villain that wasn’t already introduced to us, either he or The Avengers coming together wouldn’t have been given the amount of screen time it deserved.
The growing pains of the team were fun but often felt a little shallow. They fought each other both verbally and physically. The physical fights were often unique and imaginative but were lacking any real tension. None of them could seemingly get hurt during their fights, so they all end up being little more than ways of showing they are all nearly as powerful as the other. Despite The Hulk and Thor being the obvious two most powerful heroes on the team, they had to let Iron Man and Captain America get their shots in since they are the two that are vying for leadership. Tony Stark didn’t really need that since he’s a smooth talker and one of only two incredibly smart people of the team. Captain America was a different story.
By only giving him the character development of a soldier/American hero who overly trusts authority, the Captain feels like the shallowest hero in the whole movie. They let him feud with Tony Stark, but his argument of Stark only doing things for himself doesn’t hold much water after we’ve seen him be a legitimate hero in two movies already. During the final battle he throws his shield a few times and fights some guys on the ground, but all the best moments happen while he is off-screen. This ultimately makes him seem like the weakest team member.
Being surrounded by other people with powers takes away the specialness we were supposed to feel when he was fighting in World War II in Captain America: The First Avenger. Further attempting to show his importance they had one of the more important non-superhero characters, Agent Phil Coulson played by Clark Gregg, idolize him and a citizen tells a newscaster how great he individually is. What’s interesting is there were moments where they let Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow do important things that he just as easily could have done that would have made his value go up. Having him be a relatively bland personality with very little to set him apart from the rest of the group in terms of skill, really hurt him as a character. Where every other member of the team seemed three dimensional, he barely seemed to have one.
The faults of Captain America aren’t solely to blame for why I didn’t think the film was great. It certainly adds to it, but one weak character isn’t enough to justify me knocking the movie down a notch. The real reason I think it misses out on greatness is because the first act isn’t very good. They used a lot of camera work that seemed to be for people watching in IMAX 3D, but was very jarring in a normal non-3D theater. They either stopped using the tricks as frequently later or my eyes adjusted to it. They also introduce Loki as the villain – which was good – and his alien army – which was thinly explained. Despite their reasoning for joining the battle they’re only really there to stack the odds further against The Avengers.
As Nick Fury and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. rounded up the heroes, we unfortunately had to hear their back stories again. Isn’t this the reason why I watched all the movies that came before it? Truthfully, they did a decent job with Iron Man and The Hulk’s, as they actually gave us information through natural dialogue we hadn’t seen in another movie. Thor and Captain America however were complete failures. For them we get direct flashbacks of their previous film or have throwaway dialogue characters or actions that occurred in them. It’s also mentioned approximately five times that Loki and Thor are half brothers. These needless scenes are extra damnable since the movie is two and a half hours long and we hear that 30 extra, potentially good, minutes were cut from the film and will probably be on the DVD/Blu-Ray. Why couldn’t we have that instead of Thor being told Natalie Portman is safe? Who cares about that character who was horribly written in his film? I’d rather have a scene where Stark works with Banner to more easily control the Hulk.
The disappointment of the first act might very well have been accentuated by my personal excitement for the movie. As much as I try to distance myself from expectations when I actually see a movie, it can be hard when I’ve been bombarded with trailers and marketing for months. I certainly need – and want – to watch it again in theaters, and maybe I won’t be as annoyed without my lofty expectations. In fact, I might just enjoy it more.
The Avengers isn’t a masterpiece, nor is it the undisputed champion of comic book adaptations. It is a very fun movie that truly needs to be seen in theaters, and for a look at what could be a new trend in comic book franchises. Is it implausible to think that DC might try a similar tactic with The Justice League? They may have to wait a few years to start a new Batman timeline, but with a new Superman coming in 2013 and a Green Lantern 2 sequel having already been announced, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see them start to add a few subtle elements linking the heroes together.
Who’s to say, with a hubris from their seemingly unending financial successes, Marvel doesn’t try to make a Thunderbolts movie? Who wouldn’t want to see villains masquerading as reformed superheroes, until the majority of them realized they actually enjoyed being heroes and decided to rebel against their leader? Whether those things happen or not, we can be buoyed by the fact that an Avengers sequel is almost guaranteed. A sequel that has plenty of opportunity to be even better.
The Avengers is currently #219 out of 1846 movies on my Flickchart.