“What can the humans do but burn?”
It’s hard to review ‘The Avengers’ without being overwhelmed by it. A film built up by five individual films, ‘The Avengers’ had to live up to masses and masses of hype. Few of the films were great, but the majority were enjoyable fare. They each contained overt and subtle hints about the over-arching story of ‘The Avengers.’ It culminated in the dream team-up of B+ superheroes. When I watched it (on opening day!), it simply rocked my world. Even after several re-watches, the film holds up as one of the best Avengers films. There are flaws and nit-picks aplenty, but The Avengers does so much right that they are easy to ignore.
The plot revolves around the Tesseract, an object that we are told is incredibly powerful. We saw it in ‘Captain America,’ where its powers were vague, and the same is applicable here. What, exactly, can it do? It is in the hands of SHIELD at the beginning of the film, who are experimenting on it. It creates portals, and one brings Loki in, who promptly steals it (and, at the same time, uses his sceptre to control Hawkeye). In Captain America, it was capable of creating a lot of energy. Red Skull used it to create super-powered weapons. What kind of energy does the Tesseract contain, exactly? However, it is simply a MacGuffin to unite our (second) favourite superheroes.
Another irritant for me is Loki’s mid-film plot to be captured by the Avengers…so he can tear the Avengers apart from the inside. Why is the plot of the villain allowing himself to be captured as part of his bigger plan so popular? The Joker does it in The Dark Knight. Raoul Silva does it in Skyfall. It even happens in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (well, in one of the modern Call of Duty games). The problem with this type of plot is that it hinges on so many coincidences to work successfully. And Loki’s particular plan in fact unites the Avengers and angers them. His plan was to disunite the Avengers. In Tony Stark’s words, ‘not a good plan.’ The army he brings in at the end of the film, the ‘Chitauri,’ are generic, faceless enemies.
“You crave subjugation”
However, they are personal niggles of mine. I thought I’d start off with them to get the negatives out of the way. Everything else is pretty much spot on. Firstly, it has a great villain to hate (and love!). Tom Hiddleston as Loki was superb in Thor, and he is even better here. It’s unusual for films in the Marvel Universe to depict villains who pose a reasonable threat. Here, Loki rivals Tony Stark as the star of the show. After coming out of the portal in the beginning, Loki says that ‘freedom is life’s great lie.’ His speech to the Germans in Stuttgart is brilliant as he tells them that kneeling and serving is their natural state. The man who stands up among the crowd of kneelers and says that he’s seen this before really tops it off. Loki here is a man broken by the events of Thor, accepting the Chitauri’s help to become the ruler of Earth. He craves power and will do anything to get it. He’s the perfect rallying point for The Avengers; he wants to take freedom away from humans, so The Avengers must stop him.
Of course, the film also hinges on the superheroes as well. Too many characters can make a film feel overstuffed and ill-focused. There was also a fear that ‘The Avengers’ would be Iron Man 3 in all but name. However, Captain America is more likable here than he was in his own film. He comes out with quips to rival Stark’s (“There’s only one God, man, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that”-in reference to Thor). Thor’s battle with The Incredible Hulk is perhaps the best fight scene in the movie (and I can never get over it when The Hulk tries to lift Mjolnir. What a shot!). Bruce Banner has his best on-screen depiction in recent memory (Mark Ruffalo needs his own movie…). The only characters that are a little short changed are Black Widow and Hawkeye, but they are still given plenty to do and say. Black Widow shines in her interrogation of/by Loki. Agent Coulson has his moment in the sun when he confronts Loki. Nick Fury does his duty in uniting the Avengers. Not only that, but we gather more depth from our superheroes from their interactions (friendly, and not so friendly) with each other.
Everyone is helped by a script that never lets a scene go by without at least ten humorous quips. “He’s adopted!”, “Shakespeare in the Park?”, “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” are quotes that everyone who’s watched The Avengers will be able to place in context and smile at. The pace that never lets up. Compared to its successor, Avengers: Age of Ultron (read my review here), The Avengers never feels bloated or stutters as it tells the story. The final battle is exemplary (as are most of the action scenes). Of course, everybody remembers the all our superheroes together in one shot as the camera pans around them. The triumphant music makes you want to punch the air. There’s also the tracking sequence that follows each Avenger in turn as they battle the Chitauri.
However, as I said at the beginning, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by The Avengers. It is a lot of fun, but like many Marvel Universe films, there’s not a lot of seriousness involved. Take one example. Coulson orders SHIELD to trace phone calls, text messages, the internet, CCTV, etc to look for the Tesseract. This shocking repeal of privacy is not lingered on for a minute. In ‘The Dark Knight,’ however, Lucius Fox has many doubts after Batman reveals a similar method for finding The Joker. It’s this lightness that hinders The Avengers at times. Even Loki’s speech at Stuttgart isn’t progressed any further. If it only stopped for a few minutes to consider the themes brought up and then shut down straight away. But, of course, how can I argue with a film that lives up to the hype (for once)?
VERDICT: 8/10. A film that blew away all expectations surrounding it. It holds up several years later. Even its successor failed to better it. Team work did make the dream work…