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Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

| May 6, 2012 | 0 Comments

As I settled in for Marvel’s The Avengers (to cite its full title) my mind began to drift back a few years, all the way back to another Marvel action team, The X-Men.  I complained then that the problem of having multiple superheroes on the screen at the same time is a problem of crowd control.  How do you give equal screen time to a handful of characters with special abilities and have them be more than just cardboard characters with colorful powers?  The X-Men series never straightened out this problem, but I am happy to report that with Marvel’s The Avengers, this is not an issue.

It was a smart plan for Marvel Studios to build the characters one at a time, giving each superhero their own movie in an effort to introduce them in preparation for their assembly here.  As a lead-in we got Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), and last summer’s Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger – next up is Nick Fury.  With that, by the time we get to Marvel’s The Avengers most of the heavy lifting in the introduction department is already done for us.  That frees up the plot to get past the introductions and get on with the action, although the movie does open with the required scenes in which the team members have to be brought into the fold one by one.

The Avengers are more interesting to me than The X-Men because they come from different places.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is Norse God from another galaxy; Captain America (Chris Evans) is a genetically-altered Army strongman from the 1940’s; Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is a green muscle mass hiding out in India under the passive alter ego of Bruce Banner; and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), is the billionaire metallurgist whose headquarters overlook the Chrysler Building in New York.  Plus there’s an archer called Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and a token female, Russian-born woman named Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who, I think, is good with martial arts. For whatever reason, these last two didn’t get a movie of their own, but stay tuned.

The Avengers, like The X-Men, are also led by a secretive bald-headed authority figure with a handicap.  He is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who runs a shadow organization called S.H.I.E.L.D., whose function is to stop super villains from  . . . well, doing super-villainy I suppose.  The task here is to get back an object called the Tesseract, an object that – if I understood it correctly – acts as a power source to open a portal to another galaxy.  That’s bad news for our planet because it means that the Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s adopted half-brother, can make his way into our realm and rule the world with his powerful super-army.  It also means that he can use it to take control of the minds of certain S.H.I.E.L.D personnel.  Loki’s first stop to announce his intentions to rule the world: Germany.  Maybe he hasn’t heard, but that’s probably not a wise place to start.

The Avenger’s personalities are known to us, but what is refreshing is that they are not known to one another.  In this movie, many are meeting each other for the first time and, for a long time, no one knows who can be trusted.  That’s especially true with a tense relationship between Iron Man and Thor.  Since he has fallen out of the heavens just like the evil Loki, can he be trusted?  Another issue of tension comes with the addition of Bruce Banner.  Everyone knows that he has a serious anger management problem and the movie deals nicely with everyone’s apprehension that Hulk’s destructive nature could be a potential problem.

The most engaging character in the film, for me, is Bruce Banner, played this time by Mark Ruffalo, who manages to pull off – with all due respect to Eric Bana and Edward Norton – the best performance out of the past three actors who have occupied the role.  Ruffalo plays Banner as a mild-mannered soul who is very aware that he has to keep his mood in check.  He does something interesting; he quiets his voice to a calm, mellow, deliberate tone that lets you know that he is aware of the destructive power of what he calls “The Other Guy.”  I liked his rendition of Bruce Banner although I think the screenwriter missed a perfect opportunity to show Bruce living a feng shui lifestyle with meditations and aroma therapy candles in an effort to keep his mood in check (maybe with the mantra “Keep calm and carry on.”).  That might have been perfect.

I liked the character touches in Marvel’s The Avengers.  I liked the dialogue, which is written at a smart, snappy level by writer-director Joss Whedon.  He has a way with dialogue that makes even the most mundane of action scenes come alive.  He is the man behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Firefly”, Toy Story and a brilliant horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods which is one of the best films of 2012.

I just wish that he could have avoided the trash and bash of the third act.  He’s a smart writer but he allows the movie to go into the same exact scenario of tearing up the streets and trashing buildings that we’ve seen a million times.  It would have been nice if he could have taken the same inventive brilliance as the last act of The Cabin in the Woods and created something that would really take the movie into the realm of something special.  His Avengers is best in smaller perfect moments and little flashes of smart dialogue.  When you stand back and look at the plot as a whole, you see that it really doesn’t add up to much more than just a bunch of superheroes trying to keep a meany from taking over the world.  His movie, as it stands, exists somewhere between the ho-hum of The X-Men and the brilliant extravaganza of The Dark Knight.  It isn’t a perfect film, but I enjoyed it probably more than I expected.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.