The Avengers provokes differing reactions

Omer’s Take

The Avengers was incredible. Let’s just get that out of the way. It was everything a kid like me, who grew up going to comic book stores and running around pretending to be Iron Man, could have ever wished for. What happened for me Saturday evening was a kind of childhood wish fulfillment that I’ve never experienced before. For the whole film, my jaw was either on the floor or I was just grinning stupidly. Joss Whedon has crafted something truly unique here; many were worried that a project so ambitious would cave in on itself under the weight of its larger than life characters expected to interact with one another. Whedon allays all these fears though, and has made a movie that never forgets its characters even amongst the spectacular insanity that is the second half of the film. This is simply a movie that cannot be missed.

The film’s setup is fairly simple: Thor’s brother Loki is back with an alien army and wants to rule the world. This may sound very cookie-cutter, but the setup exists solely to allow the heroes to come together. It’s their interactions that propel the story forward. These interactions are also what absolutely make the movie. Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark continues to steal scenes even amongst big players like Captain America and Thor. Indeed, Downey’s humor seems to mesh well with Whedon’s own, and you’d be hard-pressed to believe the two aren’t a match made in heaven by the end of the movie. Still, it’s Stark’s interactions with Mark Ruffalo’s Dr. Bruce Banner that were my absolute favorite. These two are on another level, intellectually, compared to the other players and their jargon-laced physics banter is enough to make any nerdy fanboy giddy.

Ruffalo is a revelation here as Banner, trouncing both Eric Bana’s and Edward Norton’s big screen portrayals of the character. Ruffalo’s Banner is much more playful but still extremely careful when it comes to his “condition.” When the Hulk does come out to play, though, you will be left slack-jawed at how they’ve finally managed to give him his due in a film. Make no mistake, in the film’s harrowing finale, the Hulk absolutely steals the show. Downey might be the big man on screen outside of the Iron Man armor, but it is the Hulk that everyone wants to watch by the film’s end. Finally the Hulk is portrayed as the hero he is, and puny gods like Loki probably won’t make the mistake of crossing him again.

Chris Evans does a great job of continuing his performance from Captain America: The First Avenger. His Cap continues to be just as straight-laced as his comic book counterpart. Throughout the film, he is constantly at odds with Stark, as there is a distinct clash of personality between the two. Whereas Cap is all about following orders and playing by the rules, Stark scoffs at the notion of following anyone’s agenda but his own. This leads to some fantastic moments between the two that rival the Banner-Stark moments I mentioned earlier. Despite Cap being arguably one of the least super-powered of the team, when he takes command you can’t help but just grin. Evans does a great job cementing his role as the leader of the Avengers in the films finale, and I can’t wait to see more of him keeping everyone in check in future films.

With Loki as the film’s villain, Thor couldn’t have been much farther behind. Chris Hemsworth continues to do a fine job with Thor. The thing I like most about his performance in this film is how well he conveys the struggle he is having with the fact that it is his brother who is putting his beloved Earth in jeopardy. When he confronts his brother, it is a true moment of pathos in the film, and Hemsworth does a great job pleading with his brother to simply come home. Obviously Thor isn’t in this movie just to feel sorry for his brother, and he is absolutely awesome in the finale. Unlike the Thor movie, Thor’s powers are on full display against his brother’s alien army, and by the end you’ll know why he’s the God of Thunder.

Mentioning Thor before Loki is a given considering Thor is one of the titular Avengers, but I can’t say enough about Tom Hiddleston as Loki. In the Thor movie, I’d have to say I preferred Hiddleston’s Loki over Thor as a character that was simply more well rounded and interesting. Hiddleston does a great job here, continuing to convey to his brother the hurt he feels regarding the events of the Thor movie while upping the ante when it comes to making Loki a suitably menacing villain. I was riveted during Loki’s conversation with Black Widow and when Thor tries to confront his brother and bring him home earlier in the movie. I hope Hiddleston continues to appear in these Marvel films, as he’s my favorite villain out of all these films thus far.

Scarlett Johansson proves just how absolutely badass Black Widow is in this movie. Sure, we got a taste of it at the end of Iron Man 2, but in this movie she gets a lot more screen time and plays a significant role in the film’s endgame. Whedon even manages to give us a look into the inner workings of this ultra-secretive master spy, as Widow explains throughout the film how she repays her debts. Her system is as black and white as you’d expect someone with her job description to have, but it’s still interesting and cool that even she gets her moments in this film.

Unfortunately, that can’t always be said about Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. It was bound to happen that someone in this movie got shortchanged, and it turns out it’s Hawkeye. I love Renner, but his character is indisposed for a majority of the film. It is only right before the finale that we get a moment between him and fellow spy/assassin Black Widow that gives his character some depth. So Hawkeye may not be the most rounded character in the movie, but he gets to do a ton of really cool stuff in the finale that will drop your jaw anyway.

Meanwhile, “Kids, in the year 2012 your Aunt Robin joined S.H.I.E.L.D.” Cobie Smulders appears as S.H.I.E.L.D. second-in-command to the surprise of anyone only paying attention to the big name headliners of the film. Well known for her portrayal of Robin Scherbatzky on the show How I Met Your Mother, Smulders gets to change it up here as Maria Hill. Leaving behind the comedy she’s known for on television, her Hill is a decidedly serious character who even gets a nice action set piece at the beginning of the film that is very fun to watch. With her, it’s just really cool to see how she’s breaking into movies, particularly by being in one so near and dear to fanboys. She does an excellent job keeping order throughout the film alongside Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.

Speaking of Jackson, he does a solid job in this film. He does a great job at conveying Fury’s desperation regarding Loki’s plans, while still managing to hold his own in a room full of superheroes with larger than life personalities.

Finally, I’d be loath to forget Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson. Coulson is a character that has been around in small roles since the original Iron Man film, and in this movie his role is expanded in some pretty significant ways. For one, they give him a few really cool things to do unlike anything he did in Iron Man and Thor. Secondly, he winds up playing a pivotal role in the formation of the Avengers team. The best aspect of his role in this movie, though, is his Captain America fanboyism. The first time he meets Cap, Coulson is over the moon and asks Rogers throughout the film to sign his vintage Captain America trading cards. Indeed, Gregg brings both levity and brevity to his role as Coulson in this film.

Now that I’ve got all the excellent performances out of the way, I can talk about the excellent technical aspects of the film, starting with the script. The writing here is fantastic. As I said in my The Cabin in the Woods review, Whedon is simply a very gifted writer. He and Zak Penn have performed a small miracle with this movie’s script, allowing all these characters that have had their own movies to breathe while successfully giving each of them their dues throughout. The dialogue is great, the humor is clever, and the quieter moments are sincere. This is simply a remarkable script, a feat in and of itself really. Knowing the Academy, this film probably isn’t going to get recognized at the Oscars, but I want to just say that this screenplay is worthy of a nomination if only for how ambitious it is.

After I saw the movie Serenity, I knew Whedon had some solid directorial chops. He did a great job staging cool sci-fi action despite that movie’s very limiting budget, and was able to get very good performances out of his cast. Indeed, Whedon is great with ensembles, and that’s one of the reasons fanboys everywhere applauded when Marvel announced he was going to direct The Avengers. Not only that, this is a man who is as much a fanboy as people like me are. Throughout the film, you get a sense that he made it with the mindset that he was going to be in the audience as well. Whedon just gets it. He keeps it all together, even in the finale where he proves he’s a better Michael Bay than even Michael Bay. Moving forward, two things need to happen. One, Marvel needs to lock in Whedon for these movies and give him complete creative freedom, much like what Warner Bros. has done with Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight trilogy. Two, Hollywood needs to recognize Whedon amongst the A-list of directors right away. After pulling off a movie like this, I honestly can’t see how they won’t.

In regards to the film’s cinematography, it was very clean. Action was conveyed in a way that was very easy to follow, and there was no shaky cam to get in the way of it like in The Hunger Games. You can tell the film was also very carefully edited; there simply was not a dull or truly lackluster moment throughout. If you are going to watch this movie, you simply have to see it in IMAX 3D. No, it wasn’t shot in IMAX or 3D but there are just so many scenes that look gorgeous on a screen that large. The post-conversion 3D was also done very well in that it wasn’t distracting at all and the dimming effect of the glasses was alleviated by a film that was suitably bright throughout. In fact, I’d go so far as to say some of the shots in 3D looked really good. Unlike with Thor—where I felt the 3D was very flat and I honestly couldn’t tell a lot of it was 3D—there are some truly immersive 3D scenes in this movie.

Finally, Alan Silvestri provides a score that is suitably epic but which doesn’t really break the mold in a lot of ways. Still, I’ll probably put it on my acquisition list simply because of the fact that it’s for one of the biggest movies of the year. I’m almost certain it will grow on me, though.

I’m going to end this like I started it: The Avengers is incredible. Having the biggest opening weekend in history proves that a lot of people have seen it already, but if you haven’t seen it yet, then you absolutely have to. This movie is going to be the talk of the town for a while, and you don’t want to miss out on this pop culture phenomenon. Honestly, I watched the new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises after this and, even though it pains me to say it, I have to say that that movie looks like an emo, overly serious, and depressing comic book film when compared to this one. Yes, I understand they are two completely different classes of film, but even so, The Avengers has simply raised the bar. It has raised the bar for what I expect out of a Marvel film and comic book films in general. Much like The Dark Knight, this is a watershed kind of film in the genre. Unlike The Dark Knight, though, this isn’t a film that transcends its genre. This is a film that takes its genre to soaring new heights, to a place where it can live alongside Nolan’s trilogy without really being comparable to it. Simply put, you owe it to yourself to see this film.

Ben’s Take

I wanted to like The Avengers. I told all my friends it was going to be awesome. I went to the midnight showing on opening night, brimming with excitement.

I should have known better. Really, I should have. The movie was exactly what all signs pointed to it being: solid visuals and sound, but low on important things like dialogue, plot, and character development.

First, credit where credit is due. The movie looked good. There were a bunch of attractive people running around fighting crime in spectacular ways. The evil alien army looked a little bit like it was from a Michael Bay movie, but some people like that.

Actually, if you want the experience of watching the movie, just watch the trailer. You’ll see all the best action shots, hear the almost all of the witty dialogue, and probably figure out most of the plot.

For those following at home, the premise of the movie is this: the Norse god Loki tries to open a portal to Earth so an evil alien army can destroy it, while a rag-tag group of heroes struggles to become a team and stop him. It proceeds almost exactly as you’d imagine.

There was so much potential. The Iron Man films were slick and entertaining, and while neither Thor nor Captain America was anything spectacular, I was hoping director Joss Whedon (of Firefly fame) could make The Avengers awesome. Unfortunately, he neglected the most important element of a movie (to me): the story. Film is a storytelling medium, and no matter how visually pleasing a movie is, it needs to have some substance behind it.

Let’s start with characters, because nine times out of ten, superhero movies are character pieces. Avengers tried briefly to set up characters, but didn’t devote enough screen time to be effective. Thor mentioned two or three times that their enemy was his brother, but it never really affected his will to fight. Bruce Banner was supposedly reluctant to become the Hulk, but he willingly transformed at the first real opportunity to fight. Black Widow had a scene that was almost character development, except it was actually just a ploy to manipulate Loki.

That’s another thing. Loki was such a weak villain. He’s supposed to be the god of trickery and illusion, but he’s tricked pretty easily by Black Widow. Rarely does he use his illusions, and never in a creative way. He couldn’t even defeat Thor in the Thor movie; who expected him to stand up to the whole Avengers team? Yes, he had the backing of this mysterious evil alien army (for which there was little to no justification), but even that added relatively little tension to the movie.

Meanwhile, the only character with any good dialogue was Tony Stark, and his best lines ended up in preview clips anyway. Thor, Loki, and Captain America had nothing exciting to say, and Bruce Banner just kept talking about “the other guy.” One of the biggest staples of the superhero genre is the witty banter! (This was my big problem with the Spider-Man films, too; heck, DreamWorks’ Megamind had better heroic wordplay than anything Marvel’s put out.)

Essentially, The Avengers didn’t do anything wrong; they just didn’t do much right, either. It’s not horrible, but it wasn’t anything special, and definitely wasn’t worth going out to the midnight showing. If you want to see something actually awesome by Joss Whedon, just move over a theater and watch The Cabin in the Woods, which pretty much everyone agrees is a quality film. Or wait for The Amazing Spider-Man, for which I am (again) irrationally optimistic.