By Jeff Walls, Seattle Movie Critic
It should not be underestimated just how ambitious of a project The Avengers is. Bringing four major comic book superheroes—and two minor ones—together for one epic action movie is something that has never been attempted in the history of cinema. Only adding to the expectation level is the fact that Marvel has been building the anticipation for this movie ever since it was hinted at in both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2007. That’s a lot of pressure for a director who—although he has a lot of writing and television credits under his belt—has directed only one feature film to date and certainly nothing of this size and scope. Never fear,though, as Joss Whedon pulls it off with flying colors brighter than those worn by his avenger heroes.
If you haven’t seen the five movies leading up to this extravaganza—Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger—then it is well worth checking them out for a bit of back story, but it is not necessary. If you could only watch one,then Thor would probably be the best choice, as it introduces Thor’s brother Loki, who is the lead villain of The Avengers.
After being exiled out into space, Loki has found himself in the company of a race of alien beings with an unexplained desire to wipe out the human race. He comes to Earth and breaks into the S.H.I.E.L.D. laboratory to steal the mysterious cube containing unthinkable power that was last seen in Captain America. Knowing that the power of this cube could potentially wipe the human race off the planet, director Nick Fury decides it is time to activate the Avenger Initiative.
Naturally, bringing together the most powerful people in the world and with them, their powerful egos, causes some friction in the ranks and our heroes must fight each other before they can fight the opposition. Fortunately, as we’ve learned countless times in movie history, nothing brings people together much like the threat of annihilation. They are able to put their differences aside and work together as a team; the most powerful team ever assembled.
One of the biggest challenges facing Whedon and his screenwriters is to stay true to the universe and characters that have been set up so well in the previous five movies. This is one giant franchise with The Avengers essentially being The Avengers 6. To ignore all of the various storylines set up in the previous films would have been a major mistake, but fortunately, Whedon doesn't make that error. Even if the underlying storylines—such as Thor’s love interest JaneFoster—are only hinted at or mentioned in passing, at least they are no forgotten. The only characters story that does not quite match up is that Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk), but since he’seven played by a different actor (and played much differently, I might add) the differences aren’t as blaring.
Speaking of the big green guy, the representation of the character in Hulk form is arguably one better in this movie than in any of the previous attempts. It’s likely a reflection of the fact that this is the first Hulk movie in which the actor portraying Bruce Banner also portrays Hulk through motion capture. This helps to bring a little bit of humanity to him, even as he goes on another anger-fueled rampage. Hulk also gets credit for a couple of the movie’s many laugh-out-loud moments. The Marvel movies have certainly succeeded in finding a balance between seriousness and cheesy, comic book fun, and The Avengers is no exception. Of course, Tony Stark is always good for snarky one-liner and Thor even finds he has a sense of humor. Now, if we could only get Captain America to crack a joke.
No matter how funny it turns out to be, however, The Avengers would be nothing but a disappointment if it didn’t supply some mind-blowing action scenes and it certainly comes through. From the exciting opening chase scene to the battle aboard a giant airship and finally culminating in the epic Manhattan-based battle against the invading alien army, The Avengers delivers the goods. Whedon also does an excellent job of spreading the action around, allowing each of his popular characters equal opportunities to shine. This is all done with exceptional special effects that could stand up against any other effects-laden film out there.
The only real downside to the climactic battle is that the alien invaders are essentially just faceless enemies with absolutely no personality. Their weapons and vehicles also seem to be Transformers rejects and don’t feel original or creative at all. It may be a small complaint, but it may be something the filmmakers want to address in the inevitable sequel that will likely be the tenth, eleventh, or maybe twelfth film in this franchise that seems destined to continue. And hooray for that.
The Avengers is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference.” I must have missed the drug reference, but nevertheless, I couldn’t imagine this movie being anything other than PG-13.