The Avengers has opened worldwide (opens in the United States May 04, 2012), and that means a number of our International Spoilerites have had a chance to head to the theaters and get the edge on the rest of us. Fortunately, Antonio Sanciolo got a chance to see the movie in Australia, and shares his thoughts.
There is an obvious advantage to having a film of this magnitude co-written and directed by the same person. Joss Whedon has delivered a product consistent with his previous works like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, where depth of character and the resultant social dynamic are of equal or higher importance than the actual story taking place. What this gives the viewer is an innate understanding of the motivations and intentions of the protagonists and accordingly less of a need to decipher plot elements or the more frenetic action sequences (of which there are many by the end of the film). This is not to imply that the plot is terribly difficult to follow; Thor’s malicious half-brother, Loki, has used an instrument of great power to open a portal between Earth and outer space, where an invading alien force is waiting to subjugate humanity in the name of a mysterious and all-powerful evil entity. Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk are recruited by spymaster, Nick Fury, head of the hi-tech intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. to protect humanity, or failing that, to avenge it.
The intricacies of the plot do betray the odd plot hole or incredulity, but the majority of them are lamp-shaded by Whedon’s trademarked sarcastic wit. This sometimes falls short and even cracks, if not breaks entirely, the fourth wall, especially in the second act. It is unclear whether this is Whedon’s attempt at a Greek chorus, specifically embodied by Nick Fury’s right-hand-man Agent Coulson, but it is only a minor concern as meta-commentary quickly gives way to some of the most rousing action scenes ever delivered by the superhero genre.
The special effects in this film are quite superb; the only times the eye is forced to suspend disbelief are during the scenes in outer space as the alien forces prepare to wage war. This seems due to the sheer unfamiliarity of the biology and geography of the setting, and not out of inferior graphic workmanship. A perfect case for the quality of computer generated imagery in this film is the Hulk. As a completely computer-generated figure, the Hulk defies convention by being just as compelling and deserving of empathy as the rest of the cast, if not moreso. Mark Ruffalo does a fine job portraying the Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner; trading in his predecessors’ (Eric Bana and Edward Norton’s) manic and obsessed portrayals of the scientist with a relatively affable Banner instilled with just enough unease and uncertainty that when we are finally treated to an appearance by his alter-ego, the Hulk steals the show as a positively captivating being of pure id.
Robert Downey Jr continues to shine as the ego-fuelled Tony Stark: self-confessed “billionaire, playboy philanthropist” and also armoured Avenger, Iron Man. Whedon masterfully handled Downey Jr’s charismatic dominance and saved the film from becoming “Iron Man 3”. Instead Downey Jr plays a crucial role as devil’s advocate and benevolent antagonist. He delivers some of the film’s best one liners and yet doesn’t run the risk of coming across as too cheesy. The most important function served by Iron Man however is his portrayal as the superhero of the future in “stark” contrast to the first Avenger, Captain America, played by Chris Evans. Captain America really is the super-ego of this outfit; his background as a hero of the second world war and subsequently being frozen in the polar ice-caps until the present day, rendering him the conscience and moral compass of the Avengers. Evans plays the stoic part well, though much like his character is out of sync with the rest of the cast: his delivery of corny and clichéd lines often belies the self-aware way in which he does so. More tenuous however is the sight of a man of normal athletic build such as his, keeping pace with a demigod, a monster and a flying armoured man; let alone commanding them in battle. Not enough is done to portray exactly why Captain America is more capable than any other of the Avengers to lead the team, and yet it’s his orders that are heeded at the end of the day.
Thor is unfortunately the least fleshed-out of the main characters in the film. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Coulson, Hawkeye and Black Widow (Clark Gregg, Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson respectively) are given far more back-story and emotional interest than this depiction of the Norse god of thunder. Chris Hemsworth plays the role with the same aplomb he employed in his solo feature, but seems very much to have been relegated to the tier of support actors; in so far as contributing to consequential events in the film. Occasionally forced editing around the character’s scenes implies there may have been more to Thor’s development that didn’t survive the cutting-room floor and Thor’s relationship to the film’s villain could have been better utilized than the matter-of-fact way in which it was treated. This is not the case for the aforementioned Gregg, Renner and Johansson, who perform their functions perfectly as supporting cast. They serve as the often undervalued role of being the viewer’s proxy in this made-up world. Their vulnerabilities are handled perfectly by the actors and the awe they share for Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk is imparted comprehensively to the viewer.
Going into this feature with prior knowledge of the rumours and pre-released content hardly affects one’s appreciation of what the film has to offer. To rate Disney on their marketing, they would get top marks for pushing a product with such zealousness, and across so many mediums, without actually giving away “the best bits”, as many studios are wont to do nowadays. As far as rating the film in and of itself, it is not perfect, but neither are the best comic books. The film’s very nature is its own biggest detractor, as the episodic form of comics and graphic novels is very much mirrored here. One’s enjoyment of Avengers is most definitely heightened by having seen the several films that tie into it. Similarly, comic book kitsch rears its head in the form of stilted bombastic dialogue, most notably from Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Evans’ Captain America. It is a tad jarring at first but as soon as one settles into the film it’s almost welcome.
Cheesy one-liners, heavy use of comic tropes and back-story notwithstanding, I had the absolute privilege of watching a comic book, with all its strengths and weaknesses, be brought to life before my very eyes. This is not a tongue-in-cheek tour de force like Vaughn’s “Kick Ass”, nor is it a comic book retelling camouflaged as a gritty, real-life, crime epic like Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”. “The Avengers” instead, is as close to the most enjoyable elements of the comic book reading experience that a film can be.
I give “The Avengers” 4 out of 5 stars.
Antonio Sancilo is from Australia.