Posted April 26, 2012 by Mikael Angelo Francisco in MORE

Movie Review: THE AVENGERS (No Major Spoilers)

Release date: April 25, 2012

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

Running Time: 143 minutes

There’s always something magical, something epic, about seeing superstars working together with a common goal. It’s always a treat to watch our idols sing together, dance together, or whack each other with their inflated egos. Whether it’s a mega-concert to raise funds for dying cancer patients or TV guest appearances to raise ratings for a dying slapstick sitcom, putting A-listers together is always the easiest way to captivate us, and we’re not ashamed to admit it.

Comic book characters are no different. I grew up watching the 90s Spider-Man animated series, and while there’s no doubt that I love Spider-Man like politicians love state university budget cuts, there’s always something special about seeing Spidey team up with Daredevil (to beat up the Kingpin), Wolverine (to beat up Magneto) or the Punisher (to stop the Punisher from killing people). In fact, some superheroes have careers that revolve entirely around being part of a team. Case in point: the Avengers, a collection of the Earth’s greatest heroes, fighting would-be world conquerors, stopping global terrorists, saving the universe, and maybe playing poker with the Thing once a year.

Marvel has done a good job of building its movie universe over the years. Two Iron Man movies, a Hulk movie (Ang Lee’s Hulk doesn’t count), a Thor movie, and a Captain America movie all serve as the cornerstones of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All of the characters in the titular roles have been members of the fabled Avengers in the comics, and it has been established ever since the post-credits scene of the first Iron Man movie that someone was working behind the scenes and pulling strings to put all these super-powered rock stars together in one team.

Now, the long-awaited film that ties them all together, The Avengers, has finally hit the big screen. And boy, what a film it is.

Directed by Joss Whedon, The Avengers (Avengers Assemble is some countries) shows the fruition of the junked Avengers Initiative. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) enlists Tony Stark, the invincible Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the Lord of Asgard, the mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Steve Rogers, the star-spangled soldier Captain America (Chris Evans), and gamma expert Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to fight Thor’s half-brother, the prince of lies Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his army, the Chitauri. Joining them in battle are two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Clint Barton, the sharpshooting archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanov, the deadly infiltrator Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson). Also in the spotlight are fan-favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Fury’s second-in-command, Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).  Gwyneth Paltrow reprises her role as Stark’s secretary Pepper Potts, while Paul Bettany once again voices Stark’s automated guidance system, Jarvis.

The film draws inspiration from the Avengers comics in the main Marvel (616) continuity, as well as the Ultimates comics from, well, the more realistic Ultimate continuity. I’ll go straight to the point – the CGI and sound are solid, the action scenes are dynamic and do not disappoint, and the plot is cohesive and actually makes sense for the most part. This is one of the rare movies that deserve every bit of hype they get. You will hear no complaints from me in terms of the technical aspects of the movie, and the plot holes are forgivable and don’t even require as much suspension of disbelief as other comic-based movies do. The Avengers is a high-octane emotional rollercoaster, and without going into spoiler territory, let me just say that it is engaging enough for you to hold your pee in for more than two hours just so you won’t miss anything.

Also, this movie is funny as hell. Seriously. The good, smart kind of funny.

Even more amazing is how Whedon has succeeded in putting together RDJ, Evans, Hemsworth, Johannson, Renner and Ruffalo without any one of them being completely eclipsed by the others. Every member of the Avengers is given an opportunity to shine, and it’s equally amusing to note that perhaps the most endearing character in the entire roster is the one character who is completely done in CGI – the Hulk.

Take note, however, that I did not say equal opportunity. There is no denying it – Iron Man is the only Avenger in the film to get an entire character arc. In fact, The Avengers can easily be remarketed as Iron Man and His Avenging Friends – surprisingly though, it works better than you’d expect it to. The film does a great job of exploring the relationships between these characters and illustrating their key differences. It is clear that while they do not necessarily like each other, they are FORCED to efficiently work together, making their coordinated efforts even more thrilling to watch.

As far as the actors themselves are concerned: RDJ has the best lines, hands down. He’s like an adult version of Peter Parker, and while I’m not sure if that should bother me, it sure as hell is entertaining to watch. Mark Ruffalo nails it perfectly as Banner; he is awkward, shy, and fidgety, yet at the same time exudes a suppressed confidence and smugness that no doubt stems from his green-skinned alter ego. Samuel L. Jackson gives a solid performance as the hardassed Fury, and Cobie Smulders portrays a Maria Hill who, while vastly different from the one in the comics, works effectively as a right-hand (wo)man. Clark Gregg is endearing as Agent Coulson, and serves as the heart of the team and a lighthearted poke at comics fans. Tom Hiddleston is convincingly sinister and manipulative as Loki, and does the character justice once again. On the other hand, Scarlett Johannson delivers a weak performance as Black Widow; martial arts moves notwithstanding, I could even say that Smulders has a more powerful presence than ScarJo. Chris Hemsworth, while adequate, lacks the sense of grand nobility that should emanate from the thunder god. Chris Evans is a mixed bag; while he is an appropriately uptight and heroic Captain America, he does not seem to evoke enough confidence and respect from his teammates, even during the sequences where he is barking orders at them. I don’t know if he was lacking in stature or in posture, but he was pretty much “just another Avenger” in many scenes, and when you’re Captain freakin’ America, that really shouldn’t be the case. Lastly, we have Jeremy Renner. I wasn’t happy when I first heard that he was cast as Hawkeye; for me, he didn’t really look the part. Clint Barton is supposed to be a handsome, rogueish fellow, not someone who looks like Bono from U2. Performance-wise, Renner succeeds in giving us a badass cool-guy sharpshooter, but fails to showcase the cockiness and arrogance that I’ve always loved about Hawkeye. Then again, this movie IS more closely rooted in the Ultimate universe, so one COULD say that Renner’s Hawkeye was an exceptional Ultimate Hawkeye. He’s still not MY Hawkeye, though, and since (despite his relative uselessness) Hawkeye has always been my second favorite classic Avenger (right after Captain America) I’m a BIT disappointed. Then again (again), fanboys will never be completely happy, no? Okay, time to move on before somebody shoots a supersonic arrow in my ass.

One thing that bothers me about the movie is the absence of two founding members in the main story: Ant-Man (or Giant-Man, depending on your preference) and the Wasp. Since this has been pretty much confirmed by Whedon himself for months already, I don’t think this counts as a spoiler anymore: the Pyms are nowhere to be found between the opening credits and the closing credits of the film. Now, as for what comes AFTER the credits roll, and whether the Pyms are there or not…that I won’t spoil for you. Watch the movie and find out; I’ll assure you, though, that if you’re an avid comics reader, the after-credits scene will certainly make you excited for a sequel.

Another minor nitpick is how the film resorts to lines of dialogue to explain some key plot points and get the story moving along; as a firm believer of “show, don’t tell”, I think that this should be a no-no, especially for a film that is highly dependent on action.

However, the biggest thing that bothers me about this movie is Loki’s army, or, more specifically, who they’re supposed to be. For months, Marvel did not disclose the true identity of the army, creating much speculation among the comics-reading crowd. When it was revealed last week that they were the Chitauri, I was expecting them to be more than simple laser-wielding grunts, by nature of their established abilities in the Ultimate Universe. Unfortunately, I was wrong – they ARE just simple laser-wielding grunts in this movie. Thus, the point of withholding their identity in the first place escapes me, aside from being an obvious buzz-generating gimmick. Hell, they could have been Skrulls, or Kree, or Badoons, or even Korbinites, for chrissakes, and it wouldn’t have made a difference at ALL.

None of these gripes are enough to bring down The Avengers, though – despite all my complaints about acting quality and geek credibility, I think this is a BEAUTIFUL movie, and perhaps one of the best superhero movies ever, right up there with X-Men: First Class and Spider-Man 2. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie. Death, destruction, drama, and superheroics: this movie has it all, and then some.

The Avengers has not only redeemed the comic film genre from years of prejudice…

It has avenged it.

Mikael Angelo Francisco