The Avengers (2012)
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS (BUT THEN, IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN TO SEE THE 3rd HIGHEST GROSSING FILM OF ALL TIME YET THEN YOU PROBABLY WON’T BE, WILL YOU?)
Dir: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow
The cinema was cold. The lights were barely off. It’s a testament to the film, then, that The Avengers manages to stay stunning whilst watched inside a brightly lit fridge (thanks, Vue Cinema). A film we’ve been waiting for since Iron Man (2008) cemented Marvel’s box office power, Whedon has done the very, very difficult and made The Avengers better than it needed to be. Yes, the action sequences and plot are superb and exciting, but Whedon delivers the added bonus of character arcs, back story, and emotional depth. Other Marvel films have done well to include these with one protagonist, let alone six, not to mention various minor characters and a shades-of-grey villain. Sure, chances are slim that the audience won’t have seen a previous Marvel film, but for viewers who are less or unfamiliar the film somehow – somehow – builds enough backstory not only for the central team but for everyone else.
Because The Avengers is about just that – the Avengers. By its nature Marvel’s is a movieverse about characters – it’s the man in the iron suit we come to see, or the cast out god, or the American hero – but the challenge that this film faces and triumphs over is balancing every character we’ve come to care about inside one space. No one is unnecessary, and the Avengers feel like a team. These are very different characters – gods, superhumans, genius millionaire playboy philanthropists, and those who are simply highly skilled individuals – brought together and made to fit. Notable for the first time are Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, easily the best outing the Hulk has ever had, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, who popped up briefly in Thor and here shines in every frame.
But for all this character building it can’t be said that The Avengers doesn’t deliver action, because it really does. Within minutes we’re plunged into a big-guns, brain-washing, rocks-falling opener, and it only gets better. The effects are spectacular, allowing the film moments of sheer wriggle-in-your-seat excitement over just how cool it is (Hawkeye’s leap from a skyscraper, or Iron Man and the most epic suiting up of all time). The two big action sequences are deftly woven, that by-now familiar mix of character and explosions, high-octane but never overwhelming. One instant in particular, flowing through battle-torn New York from one character to the next, epitomises Joss Whedon’s contribution to the Marvel movieverse – balanced, fluid, engaging, with a moment (or two, or three) for everyone to shine. Michael Bay, take note – this is how it’s done.
And something that’s a big deal? The fact that Black Widow and Maria Hill being women is not a big deal. It’ the norm to find that women are women and men are characters, but for the first time in a superhero film it truly feels like the women are just that – superheroes, not superheroines. There’s no questioning of Maria Hill’s competence or Black Widow’s place on the team, no moment when they aren’t just as integral as their male counterparts. No one, not even slight-medieval-throwback Thor, questions them. The only moment it comes close is an exchange with Loki, but you quickly see that Black Widow has him exactly where she’s decided he’ll be. Not once does someone doubt them, and it’s incredible. Remarkable too is the friendship between Black Widow and Hawkeye. In the (currently) fourth highest grossing film of all time, it’s truly exceptional to see a male/female friendship that really is just that – friendship. No doe eyes or pining, no will-they-won’t-they. There was more flirting between Iron Man and Bruce Banner. The two members of the team with only skill to earn them their place, Hawkeye and Black Widow are a double act to rival any movie bromance.
There are things you can pick at – for the uninitiated plot might be harder to grasp than character, and the first chunk of the film is slow compared to a racing second half. But making complaints about The Avengers isn’t just looking a gift horse in the mouth – it’s kicking it, fiercely and repeatedly. From the start, the film has it all. Whedon’s fingerprints are all over it, and more than offbeat camera angles or vibrant imagery it’s simply down to that fact that it’s funny and smart, from the characters themselves to the tiniest details. Joss Whedon has blended breath-taking action with deft character development to produce the kind of film that dreams are made of.