The Avengers (2012) – The 6th Marvel Cinematic Universe Film – Directed by Joss Whedon – Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisof, Stan Lee, Powers Boothe, Lou Ferrigno, and Harry Dean Stanton.
I’m gonna go ahead and guess that there will be a few new people stopping by the site to read about THE AVENGERS, so let me offer a warm hello to all of you new folks. It’s great to have you stop by, and I hope you’ll enjoy your time and maybe even join in the conversation in the comments section. Let me take a moment here in our initial meeting to make something perfectly clear: SPOILERS LIE AHEAD. Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. This isn’t Facebook or Twitter or the grocery store or any kind of public forum where I have to keep my mouth shut. There are hundreds of newspaper critics that will talk about the movie without divulging any of the details and that’s cool of them, but this ain’t a newspaper. This is my establishment, and my establishment is for people who want to talk about everything that happens in a movie. If you don’t want to talk about everything because you want to see it all fresh, I totally understand you not wanting to read past these italics. If you take this option, I hope you come back and chat after you’ve seen the movie.
Now, I’m spending a bunch of time telling you this right off the bat so I don’t accidentally SPOIL something for you, because it’s not my intent to do that. Someone spoiled one of the big “WOW!” moments in AVENGERS for me, so I know how unpleasantly that sucks. Anyway, if you just want to know if AVENGERS is a movie you should go see, I have four sweet little words for you: BEST. SUPERHERO. MOVIE. EVER.
In case you were confused, that means, “Yes.”
If you really want to read about AVENGERS without having anything spoiled, check out my reviews of the earlier AVENGERS-related films: Hulk, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger.
Right, then. You keep reading, you’re gonna read SPOILERS. Understood? Good. Let’s do this.
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Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS is the culmination of five previous Avengers-related movies, but it is also a spectacular beast unto itself. It is, quite simply, the greatest superhero movie ever made, a massive, engaging, moving, funny, smart, blockbuster. It is fitting that AVENGERS hit theaters on May 4th, recognized in sci-fi fandom as Star Wars Day, because AVENGERS is potentially to 2012 what Star Wars was to 1977, the new standard in summer entertainment, and the new golden goose every other studio in town will try to replicate.
What AVENGERS, the franchise, represents is something monumental and seismic in cinematic terms but feels completely natural to the comic book world. What Marvel Studios has done is to give to the world what they’ve always given to comic book readers – a shared universe. When one takes a step back and thinks about what’s actually got everyone so excited about AVENGERS – all of these heroes coming together to appear in one movie – happens every single month in the comics. Yet so unusual is it for this to happen in the movies that AVENGERS comes off as some kind of Zeusian thunderbolt, sent down from the heavens to shake the ground beneath our feet and reveal the New God for the sheep to follow.
Make no mistake, it will be insanely fascinating to watch how other studios react to what Marvel Studios has built and brought to fruition with AVENGERS. During the fallout from the John Carter fiasco, it was revealed that Disney was really only interested in financing franchise movies. Whether that thinking was a result of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it inherited when it bought Marvel Comics or not I have no idea, but clearly Disney and Marvel Studios are now wholly committed to the Franchise Model of film making.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with this concept. I’m not one of these people that freaks out when the box office is dominated by sequels and remakes; if the people want it, the studios are going to make it, and if that many people want to see it, how is this a bad thing?
Well, the movies could suck, I suppose, which will make the AVENGERS ripple effect so interesting to watch (especially when it comes to the post-Nolan Batman), because THE AVENGERS definitely does not suck.
(And, seriously, if you catch a spoiler at this point, don’t come whining to me.)
Whedon keeps the story deliciously simply in AVENGERS, realizing that the power of seeing Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo/Lou Ferrigno), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) together on the big screen doesn’t need a complicated story. It just needs a big enough story to get them in the same room. From there, their personalities will take over.
I had been expecting the Avengers to be in the movie, of course, along with the SHIELD contingent of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), and new addition Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), but I hadn’t expected to see secondary characters appearing, too. As silly as it might sound that seeing Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) show up is a big deal, their inclusion helps drive home the larger narrative.
As I mentioned, the story here is exceeding simple. Selvig is working on the Tesseract inside a SHIELD facility, bringing together the worlds of the CAPTAIN AMERICA and THOR movies. The cube begins to act wonky, some really impressive blue energy starts to waft out, and after a big boom, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is standing there. He wants the Tesseract, of course, and takes over the brains of Hawkeye, Selvig, and enough other SHIELD agents to make his escape. Before the escape has been made, the SHIELD facility has collapsed, the Tesseract is gone, and Fury enacts the previously decommissioned Avengers Initiative.
I love how Whedon doesn’t waste time getting to the action as it signals that he’s not here to screw around. The opening sequence is important to set up a big enough threat to need to assemble the Avengers, and provides a decent amount of thrills as we wait for, you know, the Avengers to assemble. He also gives us the previous Big Bad as working for a powerful alien race called the Chitauri, which are apparently some kind of Skrulls from the Ultimate universe. (If any part of that sentence from Chitauri onward confused you, don’t worry about it. They’re space aliens in cool armor. That’s all you need to know and that’s all the movie tells you about them.) This opening sequence effortlessly brings everyone up to date with the narrative, establishes the bad guys, gives us a nice twist with Selvig and Hawkeye going to work for Loki, and gives us a reason to get the band together for the first time.
Most importantly, the opening sequence also sets the tone for the rest of the film as being an interplay between big action scenes and powerful personalities being put into conflict with one another.
The tone and narrative conflict thus firmly established, the call goes out to bring the Avengers in. There’s a shadowy Council that gives Fury orders; they don’t have a huge role to play in the film, but they do add another minor protagonist, and it gives the film an excuse to have Powers Boothe’s voice show up, and there are few voices in the world cooler than the one belonging to Powers Boothe.
The recruitment of the Avengers is handled by Fury, Coulson, and the Black Widow. Coulson has to call the Widow in from the assignment she’s on, and as we drop into her current goings on, she’s tied up in a Russian warehouse, being interrogated by a Russian general and his two goons. It’s one of the film’s signature moments, blending solid story, humor, and action. One of the goons’ phones goes off mid-interrogation and he answers it. On the other end is Coulson, who orders the goon to put Widow on the line. The general doesn’t want to give her the phone but Coulson calmly informs him that he’s got all sorts of fun weapons pointed at him. The general relents and Tasha gets to take the call. Coulson wants her to come in, but she doesn’t want to be pulled out of the field. “This idiot is telling me everything,” she insists, but when Coulson tells her that Barton has been compromised, she flips a switch and fights her way out.
“Get the big guy,” Coulson tells her.
“No. The Big Guy.”
Tasha is off to India, where Bruce Banner is helping the locals with medicine. A little girls comes crying to him for help with her dad and he follows her to the edge of the city, where he finds the Widow instead of a sick dad. She tells him Fury wants him to come in and Banner is reluctant, of course, thinking that Fury doesn’t want him, but “the Other Guy.” That’s how Banner refers to the Hulk throughout the film: the Other Guy. Even when Tasha assures him that they only want the scientist, Banner is reluctant and bursts out in anger at her, slamming his fists on the table and screaming at her. Tasha instantly goes for the gun she’s strapped under the table, and Banner relaxes, telling her he just wanted to see what she would do. What’s impressive is that as cool as Tasha was in the previous scene, the idea of Banner going Hulk terrifies her. Ultimately, Banner agrees to come in.
Fury drops in on Captain America, and it’s an elongated version of the scene at the end of Cap’s solo film where he’s boxing and Fury comes in with a mission, and it’s an okay scene, but the real winner here is Coulson dropping in on Tony Stark at the new Stark Tower in New York. Stark doesn’t want to talk to Coulson and orders Jarvis (Paul Bettany) to give him the run around. He’d rather be all flirty and romantic with Pepper, and Downey and Paltrow have a really nice, relaxed chemistry here. I didn’t know Paltrow was going to be in this movie, but her smiling ability to gently take the p*ss out of Stark is a nicer version of the personality conflicts to follow.
Early on in the production of the film, there were reports (which maybe were true and maybe were not) that Downey wanted AVENGERS to be centered more on him rather than a more equatable time share. If Downey was ever worried about his screen time, he really didn’t need to be, because he’s the only full-fledged A-list movie star in the world who also steals every single scene he’s in. Think about it. Damon, Clooney, Cruise, Pitt, Depp are all wonderful movie stars and fine actors, but they don’t steal scenes. Movie stars don’t have to steal scenes because they’re the center of the film. They’re the ones who get scenes stolen from, not the other way around. Yet Downey has that rarest ability to be both the center of the film and have the ability to make it seem like he’s stealing the attention from other actors.
When Coulson shows up in Stark’s private elevator, the way Downey plays the scene makes it feel like he’s stealing attention away from Paltrow and Gregg. It’s really brilliant acting and writing. First, even though Stark is clearly committed to Pepper at this point, they still have a fun, playfully bickering relationship. Then when Coulson shows up, Stark is clearly disinterested in what he has to say, but what comes across more is how insecure he is at Pepper spreading her affection around. When Coulson arrives, Stark deadpans, “Security breach,” but Pepper greets the SHIELD agent with a big smile and a “Hello, Phil.”
“Phil?” Stark asks, dumbfounded. “His first name is Agent.”
With part of the team assembled, Cap, Iron Man, and Widow go after Loki in Stuttgart and there’s some decent fighting, but again, the real thrill here is the personality conflicts that emerge. Stark and Cap are on each other’s case constantly, and it’s not really all that friendly, which again, speaks to just how good Downey is here. He has a combative verbal relationship with nearly everyone in the film, but he can be playful with Pepper, annoyed with Coulson, and antagonistic with Cap in quick succession.
Loki forces everyone to their knees and prattles on about how humans are sheep and freedom is a lie, and that humans want to be told want to do. He forces everyone in the crowd to their knees and then one old German guy stands up. Loki has some really good monologues here (delivered splendidly by Hiddleston), and this is one of them. “You were made to be ruled,” he says to them. “In the end, you will always kneel.” That’s when the one old dude rises to his feet.
“Not to men like you,” he declares.
“There are no men like me,” Loki sneers.
“There are always men like you,” the old guy says defiantly.
It’s a really great moment in the film, and serves as the AVENGERS equivalent of those scenes in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films where New Yorkers unite to help out the Wallcrawler. To Whedon’s credit, he doesn’t milk this moment. He just lets it be what it is and in the context of everything else going on in the film, this won’t be the scene that people leave the theater talking about, but trust me, you’ll eventually talk about it. For all of Whedon’s verbal pyrotechnics in the film, he knows how to underplay scenes when that’s what they need. This is just an old guy speaking up to a bully, but that small act of rising to his feet and letting Loki know that for all of his power he wasn’t special carries a great weight with it.
Loki goes to incinerate the guy but Cap shows up at the last second to save him. People appearing unseen from screen left (or right) is a trick Whedon goes to multiple times in AVENGERS. After smacking Cap around a bit, he instantly surrenders when Iron Man starts throwing his weight around. They take him prisoner, but on the transport back to SHIELD Thor finally arrives, breaking into the jet to steal Loki away. Iron Man and Cap go after him, which leads to a pretty good superhero throwdown. Heroes fighting before teaming up is a huge staple of comics and it’s great to see it play out on the big screen. It’s also a really good fight. The best part of the action scenes in AVENGERS is that they make you feel the violence. When people get hit, it looks like it hurts a whole hell of a lot. Iron Man and Thor smack each other around the forest without pulling any punches and then when Cap shows up to order them to stop, Thor drops Mjolnir on him, which causes a massive burst of energy that knocks the trees down and brings an end to the fight.
Finally, everyone (minus Hawkeye) is on board the SHIELD Helicarrier and we get to see the personalities begin to clash. It’s a lot of fun watching them get on each other’s nerves, and it’s to the script’s credit (which was written by Whedon and Zak Penn) that everyone’s view point is given equal weight. It doesn’t feel like the film prefers Cap’s point of view to Stark’s, or vice versa. The characters stay in character during all of these verbal spats.
These internal conflicts are important because the film gives so little time to the villains. Loki has plenty of screen time but he carries the entire villainous weight of the film until the big action piece at the end of the film. It’s this middle section of the film that takes place in the Helicarrier where AVENGERS works best. Yes, the action at the end is amazing, but the real joy of the film seeing our heroes interact. Loki sits in a prison designed for the Hulk (it’s a big, round, glass cage), and a few people stop by to yap with him. Fury gets the first verbal crack, but it’s the scene between Loki and Widow that works best. She shows up wanting to know about the mind-controlled Hawkeye, and Loki begins dissecting her Hannibal Lecter-style. Widow is brought to the verge of tears as Loki is at his monologue best, telling her that “you lie and kill in the service of liars and killers,” and that she’ll never overcome the evils she’s committed during her life as a spy. Widow walks away and Loki commits the standard villain’s error of monologuing a bit too much. When he lets out more info than he should, Tasha turns around, her eyes clear of any tears, and we realize that she’s been playing him this entire time. Even Loki is impressed that she’s discovered his real plan at allowing himself to be captured is to let loose the Hulk.
The mind-controlled Hawkeye leads an assault on the Helicarrier, which gives us the big, central action sequence where several huge events happen.
The first is that Banner – moments after a big team argument which ends with him telling everyone that they’re not a team but a time-bomb – finally lets the Hulk out. We get a Hulk vs. Widow battle, and then a Hulk vs. Thor battle. Yup. Thor vs. Hulk. And it’s a darn good fight, too, as they bash each other around the Helicarrier. We get the Hulk trying and failing to pick up Mjolnir, and we get a brutal, crushing blow from Thor as he slams his hammer across the Hulk’s face. As with the Big Three battle in the forest, no one is pulling any punches here.
The fight ends up splintering the team. Thor gets tricked into switching places with Loki inside the cage, which leads to the second huge event: the death of Agent Coulson.
Yeah. It totally sucks and was totally what the movie needed to keep everything grounded. Clark Gregg’s performances as Coulson have become some of the best parts of every movie he’s been in. Coulson looks like middle management but talks with the conviction of the smartest, coolest guy in the room. Not cool in a Joe Cool sense, but cool in an eternally unflappable sense. Challenging Loki as Thor remains trapped in the Hulk’s cage is pure Coulson. He’s staring down a Norse god with a gun he barely knows how to use, and he’s telling Loki that the god will lose because he lacks conviction.
I love Coulson staring Loki down, and I love how Fury steps in to use Coulson’s death as a way to unite the team. Fury goes so far as to plant Coulson’s prized Captain America trading cards on the dead body to give the Avengers the push they need to come together. What I love about Fury’s action is that the team was already uniting in their distrust of the head of SHIELD, and here he doesn’t do anything to disprove that mistrust. He is, as Stark rightly pointed out, a spy who never tells anyone the whole truth.
The Widow beats up Hawkeye, which brings him back to their side of the ledger, and Cap and Iron Man work together to repair an engine.
Now united, the Avengers head to New York for the big final battle. Selvig has opened a portal to space to allow the Chitauri to come to Earth, and there’s all kinds of wonderful fighting scenes here.
Again, though, as good as the action is, the real joy here is the personal battles. Stark heads home to Stark Tower to find Loki waiting there, and they have an almost personable chat about what’s going on. Stark offers Loki a drink, which the god refuses. “Please tell me you’re going to appeal to my humanity,” Loki scoffs.
“Actually, I’m going to threaten you,” Stark casually remarks.
Loki goes on to tell him that, “I have an army,” to which Stark instantly replies, “We have a Hulk.”
Ah, yes, the Hulk. First, Mark Ruffalo is absolutely fantastic as Bruce Banner. Where both Eric Bana and Edward Norton played Banner as something of a victim struggling with his condition, Ruffalo’s Banner has accepted it and moved on. How did he do this?
Because he tried to kill himself and failed.
“I got low,” he admits to the team. “I put a bullet in my mouth and the Other Guy spit it out.”
Banner’s admission is one of the truly great moments in the film. Chilling and effective, Banner lets them know that you can’t get rid of the Hulk by killing Banner because the Hulk won’t allow it. (The line also signifies how every character in the film has some psychological issue he or she needs to overcome.) Later, during the big battle at the end, he lets the team in on his secret to staying Hulk-free. While the traditional Banner line has been, “Don’t make me angry. You won’t like me when I’m angry,” and the traditional struggle for Banner has been to not get angry, the Ruffalo Banner has a different tack. “My secret, Cap,” he says to the team before transforming into the Hulk, “is that I’m always angry.”
During the final battle, the Hulk completely steals the show. First, he and Thor team up to take down a Chitauri dragon (or whatever the heck it’s supposed to be) and as they’re standing there shoulder-to-shoulder, breathing hard and taking a moment to gather their thoughts, Hulk snaps out his left arm and knocks Thor out of the way.
The Hulk’s best moment, however, comes inside Stark Tower. After tearing through the Chitauri forces, the Hulk finds himself face to face with the Asgardian. There’s a pause in the action and Loki adamantly insists, “I am a God! I am not going to be bullied by a…”
He never finishes the thought because the Hulk decides he’s had enough of Loki, and he picks the god up and begins slamming him around like a rag doll. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a theater explode in such a wild combination of laughter and applause as when the Hulk began slamming Loki into the floor BAM! BAM! BAM!, eventually leaving him lying there unconscious.
“Puny god,” Hulk growls when he’s finished, to the delight of the crowd around me.
The Avengers win the final battle, of course, and everyone gets their turn at the center of the action. Stark puts aside his Cap-centric put downs and lets the out-of-time soldier deliver the final battle plan. It’s awesome to watch the team work together and awesome to watch them fight with their powers unleashed.
With the film finished, it’s time for the post-credits scene that we always wait for, and AVENGERS has a trick up it’s sleeve. First, it gives us the post-credits scene mid-credits. We drop in on the defeated Chitauri forces and see the Loki’s Chitauri handler, the Other (Alexis Denisof) informing someone even more powerful than the Chitauri about the events on Earth. Who is this mysterious leader?
This is the big surprise that I had ruined for me, but still, when the Other talks about how going after the Avengers will be courting death, I got that thrill run up my spine knowing that “courting death” meant Thanos was about to appear on the big screen. Unbelievable. Would I have preferred to see the next villain revealed as Ultron or Kang instead? Yeah, sure, but the sheer shock at it being Thanos made it better.
The second post-credits scene truly comes post-credits and all it consists of is the assembled Avengers, immediately post-Chitauri battle, sitting in a small, neighborhood shawarma restaurant, eating food and looking completely exhausted. They don’t even talk to one another. Cap even looks like he’s sleeping, and the rest of the team is in that post-stuffing-themselves state where it looks like it’s a struggle to take another bite of their food. It’s the perfect ending, and not just because it ties in with Stark’s deadpan line about going out for food after the battle. It’s the perfect Avengers ending because it reminds us just how human these characters are at the end of the day. Even if DC gets its act together and uses the Snyder Superman, post-Nolan Batman, Reynolds Green Lantern, and whatever other superhero film projects it can get off the ground, the Justice League can never have this moment, because at the end of the day, Supes, Bats, Diana, and the rest aren’t humans. They’re gods.
Speaking of gods … there’s a lot more I want to say about AVENGERS, but I’m already 4,000 words deep in the review. There’s so many wonderful one liners (“He’s adopted,” “No hard feelings, Point Break,” “If I put an arrow through his eye, I’d sleep better,” “You have reached the Life Model Decoy of Tony Stark. Please leave a message,” “I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster,” “We have a Hulk,” “that guy’s brain is a bag full of cats,” “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll have that drink now,” “Hulk … smash,” “This guy’s playing Galaga,” “I think now is the perfect time to get angry,” etc.) and so many small character moments that I want to dig into, but now is not the time. (Because now the time is 5:17 AM and I’m bone tired.) Check back later in the week; I will likely write up a few character-specific reviews of AVENGERS that will allow me to get into the details a bit more deeply and purposefully.
For now, though, 4,200 words will suffice to say what I could have said with seven words: AVENGERS is the best superhero movie ever. Big and fun, loud and hilarious, action-packed and psychologically-driven, AVENGERS is the new gold standard in summer movies. I can’t wait to see it again.
Puny Other Movies.
THE AVENGERS REVIEW INDEX
THE AVENGERS: THE MOVIE REVIEW
THE AVENGERS: THE HAWKEYE REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE AGENT COULSON REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE BLACK WIDOW REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE NICK FURY REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE MARIA HILL REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE CAPTAIN AMERICA REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE CHITAURI/THANOS REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE HULK REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE THOR REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE LOKI REACTION
THE AVENGERS: THE IRON MAN REACTION
THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REVIEW INDEX