Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: The Avengers.

There are so many smug one-liners in the first half of Joss Whedon's The Avengers that you could seamlessly add a continual sitcom laugh-track, complete with "Wooooos!" and cheers every time somebody enters a room. Sure, Tony Stark is jokey, but now everyone is jokey and quirky. Thor drops one-liners. Coulson is crazy quirky. The random guy working on the computer in the background on the hellicarrier is quirky and jokey (I'm not exaggerating here - you'll see for yourself what he's doing). At times it's like watching an episode of Friends set at a cosplay convention. I guarantee that at some point in the future someone WILL cut it together with a laugh track and we'll all laugh again but for a different reason.

Is that a criticism? Well, yes and no. Because it also makes the movie a lot of fun. It jets along at a solid pace, always thrusting new characters and conflicts into our face (literally if you're watching it in 3D - more weapons break out of the screen than any modern 3D movie I've seen prior to this) and the script is generally quite funny. The jokes don't always work, but there's enough of them flying around for many of them to stick. 

And that's a perfect example of the mixed feelings that I have about The Avengers, a film that I was desperately excited to see, and am still kind of buzzed about in its wake. It's story is messy bordering on non-existent, the tone is uneven, many things happen purely because the advancement of the plot demands it or - even worse - because it services a punchline. And yet this movie is incredibly entertaining. There's no question that it's a must-see on a scale that dwarfs its predecessors, and with an action-packed second half that will be sure to appease anybody with a pulse. The midnight crowd I saw it with were certainly appreciative and I would guess that most adored it. 

If you can relax, switch off and have fun then it's a perfect popcorn adventure. But we're going to try to go a little deeper than that. Because remember Michael Bay? He makes movies with paper thin, jumbled stories; quirky, jokey characters, and huge action scenes, but we don't give him a free pass, right? We pull it all apart and talk about what does and doesn't work. Whedon is certainly no Bay but this movie perhaps skirts that arena a little more than you might think. Nobody pulls down their pants or humps anybody's leg though. We can still love Whedon for his wit.

Both spoiler-free and spoiler-filled reactions after the jump.

Firstly I would say temper your expectations in terms of all the supposed "secret" stuff. No specific spoilers here, but even though we find out who the aliens are it's not really important. They could be anyone or anything. You've seen them fighting on the city streets in the trailer? Well that's all you're really going to see of them. You'll see A LOT of fighting, and yes, it is thrilling and awesome, but if you expect more backstory or a change of environment then don't. The same goes for their mysterious leader. The secret villain is revealed but incredibly briefly. (If you're wondering if our previous article was right about that identity then I will talk about it in the spoiler section below). 

So what I'm basically saying is that if you've seen the trailer then you know the basic layout of the movie. There are no huge surprises. But it's the details that you haven't seen. There are plenty of great unseen action shots within the set-pieces you're familiar with that will blow you away. The second half is really great. I think if I'd known this going in then I might have enjoyed it a little bit more, and I think repeat viewings will be more enjoyable with this in mind. 

The story itself is a little thin and I'm never really sure what Loki is ultimately trying to accomplish. The cosmic cube is really nothing more than a macguffin and the movie seems less interested in driving forward a coherent plot, and more interested in character banter and superhero clashes. There's a lot of in-fighting which is fun from a fan perspective but does little from a narrative perspective as the fights all fizzle out without consequence and foes quickly become friends. I'd also argue that the set up of forming the team takes a little bit too long, especially given the groundwork from previous films.

This certainly isn't a Christopher Nolan movie with themes, twists and an escalating, tightening plot. It's more a ramshackle adventure filled with light-hearted spectacle and fan service. (And as I said, the fans seemed to be on board. Any comic reference was met with a HUGE response. "HAAHAHA HE SAID 'HULK SMASH'!!! HAA HAAHA HE SAID 'LIFE MODEL DECOY'!!! I READ THESE THINGS IN A BOOK!!!!!") (Relax, I'm teasing you). (But it's true).

Which leads me to say that this is easily the most comic-booky of all the comic book movies. If you have read classic Marvel comics then you'll know exactly what I'm talking about, i.e. a whole lot of bizarre, over-the-top shit happens which mixes together a lot of wild ideas and genres and there's no real attempt to ground it in reality. And I do applaud that. Very early on in the film Loki appears in full costume and Sam Jackson is all, "Hey is Loki from Asgard! Thor's brother! Get him!" and you go, "Oh Okay... it's that sort of movie." It's kind of camp in a way, and some of the early scenes particularly are very silly. You realise that Whedon was probably right to try and keep it light because in the few scenes where things start to get serious it looks silly to see grown men in crazy costumes trying to play it straight. Kenneth Branagh handled such things a lot better, although Whedon produces the more enjoyable film. 

I think the silliness is inevitable in all comic book movies. Fans can be overzealous and really try to take these things seriously because I think they don't want to be looked at as enjoying foolish things. But foolish things are fun and I'm willing to embrace that to a degree. As much as I love The Dark Knight Returns, Bale growling in a bat costume is still incredibly silly. It's no different here. Especially for Captain America.

Can we talk about the Captain? I feel sorry for Chris Evans in this film because he really gets the shitty end of the stick. He's the most earnest of the Avengers and therefore the least fun. There's those occasional moments where they try to shoehorn in something very heroic/patriotic or street level for him to solve. If he wasn't already enough of a wet blanket he even makes a pompous statement about there only being "one god and he doesn't dress like them!" But above all he looks so damn ridiculous! There is zero reason for him to wear that silly suit and the movie makes an early attempt to try to play it off as something inspiring but for the most part he looks like he's off to jazz ballet. He lacks the bulk of the old costume so he looks crazy running around with his huge upper body and little lycra legs. 

In this crowd, it's easy to forget that Cap is a super soldier. He really just appears to be an athletic guy with a fancy shield. You don't really get any super human feats from him. There was early criticism that Hawkeye and Black Widow would be dead-weights in a super-powered team but both performers actually acquit themselves quite well. Joss has always worked well with women and he gives Scarlett a lot to do and gets a lot more out of her in return. Renner takes everything he's doing incredibly seriously and shines through as a solid actor even though he's in a supporting role. At times he plays it so straight that I almost feel like he's in a different movie from everybody else.

And I'd be remiss to not mention the Hulk. Ruffalo is great as Banner, but Hulk is the real star of the entire film. It took Hulk's first appearance for me to really become invested in Avengers. It was the first scene with real consequence and Hulk manages to steal every scene he appears in after that. In my opinion he's the film's biggest triumph and everything sparks to life whenever he's on.

Okay I am dying to talk specifics so only the foolhardy should continue to...


Did you know that Loki calls Black Widow a "mewling quim". That means "crying vagina". It made me laugh because it's like when you hear Americans throw around the word "wanker" with zero idea of how it is used or what it means. It made me wonder if Hiddleston, as an Englishman, threw "quim" in to mess with the Americans on the set. Calling someone a crying vagina doesn't even make sense!

I got a little distracted there.

Bigger spoilers: From a story perspective I'm really frustrated at how many things happen purely to serve the story. So many things are motivated by the characters or their situations at all. Other things just happen to service a joke but have no further consequence or pay off. 

How does Thor return to earth after being trapped on Asgard at the end of Thor? We don't really know but we need him here to serve the story. It was probably magic Loki muses. Magic might explain a lot of things here.

Why does Hulk quickly turn from an uncontrollable beast to a helpful ally? The story needs him to.

Why does Black Widow decide to tell Loki her entire background? The story needs her to. 

And what are Loki's powers? What are his limitations? It's whatever the story requires at the time.

But the silliest scene for me is when Loki is in Germany. He strolls out into a crowd of civilians looking like a Cirque du Soleil escapee or a street performer and commands everybody to bow before him. AND THEY DO! That would be like being in Paris and suddenly submitting to a mime. Loki looks ridiculous and there's no reason for the crowd to do anything he says. Then to make matters worse they add the even sillier looking Captain America to the scene and have him attempt to say meaningful things about Hitler and persecution. It's silly, Saturday morning cartoon stuff and it felt like a misstep. 

Gwyneth Paltrow is in this film. Did you know that? She's only in the sitcom parts though. Natalie Portman's Thor character is reduced to a quick shot of her photo. We're assured she's tucked away somewhere safe. I'm actually surprised at how many loose ends this movie has to tie up, explain away, or sweep under the rug. This has been an ambitious experiment and it's not without its baggage.

Okay let's do the big one...

Last month I posted this article about who the leader of the aliens was. I subscribed to the growing belief that the secret villain was Thanos. And he is! But he doesn't really have a role in this film - he isn't seen until the post credits scene where he turns around and mugs at the camera for a couple of seconds. He's actually grinning and almost looks cute. But he's very close to his comic book design with purple face, huge craggy chin and gold helmet. So he's definitely the one leading the aliens but the aliens themselves are the Chitauri - the Marvel Ultimates version of the skrulls. That said they don't shapeshift or anything, they're just soldiers and could have been anybody. Thanos is their boss but they don't necessarily appear to be of the same race. 


So do I recommend it? Of course I recommend it! Absolutely! It's Avengers! Go and see it as soon as you can and we can talk about it. It's easily the most entertaining of the Marvel movies to date (although the first Iron Man is still the tightest) and I think it will make it hard for them to continue to live up to this scale. Aren't Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 going to feel a little empty and small after this? The Avengers does manage to give itself a loophole as to why the characters will be working solo again. 

Anyway, all said and done it's a lot of fun. Let me know what you think. 


  1. Agree with all of this, but I probably had a better time straight off the bat than luke did. Midnight screenngs are not my forte and I was exhausted, sore and cranky and very ready to not enjoy myself and I TOTALLY enjoyed myself. And goddammit Downey Jnr you are unfairly hot and funny.

    "Quim" is a silly word.

  2. Yeah, I know what you mean. The ease with which Hulk became controllable, and how Thor returned to Earth was never really explained, but it certainly is a crowd pleaser, and the mucho goodness eclipsed the occasional slip up.

  3. I didn't give much mention of Downey but probably because I take him for granted. He's still one of the best things in the film and Iron Man is also the least silly character when suited up. He looks badass throughout and they have some wonderful new innovations with the suit. Loved the application of the new version.

    Also should say that despite Loki's suit looking silly in some environments, Hiddleston blessed us with a great emotive performance. He always brings his A game and its no different here. It's a huge task to be the single villain against all these massive personalities and he manages it effortlessly.

    1. Hiddleston needs more love. I thought he was great in Thor, and it's nice to see how he's unravelled since then. And yes, it takes gigantic steel balls to wear that insane helmet and soliloquise. He did gooood. Also - hot.

  4. I loved it A LOT, but I'm a disciple of Joss so I was pretty sure I was going to love it regardless as long as he kept it very 'him'. And he did. The bit where Tony called Clint 'Legolas' had me cackling like a loon. The only bit that I really questioned was Hulk's sudden personality turnaround. Everything else I was willing to gloss over. I was a touch confused re: Hawkeye & Black Widow though, I thought they were married?

  5. I understand how some people have been left confused about the Hulk's personality change, but this is how I saw it. On the Helicarrier, the Hulk was actually under the influence of Loki's "mind altering Infinity Gem". Infact I had the impression all the Avengers were being affected by it's presence, during their argument in Banner's lab. The argument ended with Banner holding Loki's staff, and I believe it was this close contact to the staff that enabled Loki to then control the Hulk. We were shown later in the film that both Hawkeye and Eric Selvig fell out of Loki's spell with heavy bumps to the head. I imagine the same thing happened to the Hulk, after he jumped out of the Helicarrier to smash the fighter jet, and had a very high fall back down to the ground.

  6. I was abit confused at first about Thor's return from Asgard too, but then I remembered something Loki said in THOR. During a conversation with Heimdall, Loki mentioned that there were other ways to travel between realms besides the Bifrost. I guess Odin's "Black Magic" is one of them.

  7. I think you're right - it is in there. But I still find "magic" in both cases to be a kind of frustrating solve-all explanation. Especially because Thor's return manages to completely undo and shove aside the ending of the Thor movie - it basically erases the last part of his character arc. And I also think that the tamed Hulk undoes Bruce Banner's inner struggle as well. What inner turmoil do either of these guys have left at the end of this?

    1. I agree, it was a frustrating explanation and does undo the ending to THOR. As much as I loved the film, it's really the only thing that left me slightly puzzled. I doubt they will, but hopefully they go on to explain it further in THOR 2. I imagine Thor will return to Earth again to see Jane, be it by magic, the Tesseract or a rebuilt Bifrost maybe?

      As for Banner's inner struggle, doesn't the fact he's now "always angry", tell us he now has full control of his Hulk transformations and infact has no inner struggle anymore? I see the ending to The Incredible Hulk as a teaser to this, with Ed Norton meditating and giving the impression he is "hulking out" by free will.

  8. I loved it - from the very get go. Unsurprisingly, I disagree with a lot of your gripes:

    *How does Thor return to earth after being trapped on Asgard at the end of Thor? We don't really know but we need him here to serve the story. It was probably magic Loki muses. Magic might explain a lot of things here.

    As said above, Loki said it was Odin. Reading Thor comics you know that Odin hates the idea of Thor wasting his time on Earth, but Loki getting his hands on the tesseract/cosmic cube would absolutely prompt Odin to send Thor to Earth. Did you really want them to spend time with him on Asgard pleading with Odin to send him back?

    *Why does Hulk quickly turn from an uncontrollable beast to a helpful ally? The story needs him to.

    Hulk has already been shown to have partial control in the Hulk movie (ie, responding to Betty's pleas and saving people from the Abomination). The key is he reacts to what he's mad at/what threatens him. He was mad at Black Widow (through Loki's manipulation) for bringing him in. This all seems pretty consistent with the comics.

    *Why does Black Widow decide to tell Loki her entire background? The story needs her to.

    As was shown in the earlier scene, she will say things to manipulate people to get what she wants. She did that with a very specific reason (and, though I think it was true to her story, I also wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't).

    *And what are Loki's powers? What are his limitations? It's whatever the story requires at the time.

    Yeah, I'll agree that was a little vague. Was there a point you felt like he didn't use a power he should have or vice versa?

    *But the silliest scene for me is when Loki is in Germany. He strolls out into a crowd of civilians looking like a Cirque du Soleil escapee or a street performer and commands everybody to bow before him. AND THEY DO! That would be like being in Paris and suddenly submitting to a mime. Loki looks ridiculous and there's no reason for the crowd to do anything he says.

    He did kill a bunch of people, explode some things and teleport to where ever they were trying to run to to block them in. I don't think that's any sillier than a bank robber telling people to hit the ground and them doing it. Especially if other people start to do it... If that mime had just drilled some guys face off in front of you, blew up police cars and then teleported all around you, I am pretty sure you'd do what he said.

    *I'm never really sure what Loki is ultimately trying to accomplish.

    He was trying to piss off his brother by conquering his favourite planet. This is, again, very inkeeping with the comics and the character - He is the god of mischief after all.

  9. I hear you, you're not wrong on any of those points. However...

    Let's look at the Star Wars prequels. They get a ton of criticisms for plot points not quite matching up. "Why did Anakin turn to the dark side so quickly?" etc etc. Now, as a Star Wars fan I can point out the lines in each of the movies that explain and justify these decisions. I can also point to external sources that will better your understanding. So I can find an in universe explanation to all these things (sometimes even in the same movie) but what I can't do is make you enjoy them any better.

    This is because the explanations are not satisfying to me. They're not dramatically satisfying within the story that's being told. We're told - not shown - and you have to pause to do the calculations in your head. That left me cold at a midnight screening that ended near 3am, but I'm sure it won't bother me nearly as much on future viewings now I know what to expect.

  10. I can only assume it was down to your state of mind at 3am as you said, because with the exception of Thor's return to Earth I would say it was all very surface level easy to pick up on stuff - I didn't have to do any secondary reading or think on any of it for a second - it all made sense at the time. And have you heard any one else ask any of these questions? Maybe they are, this is the only review of the film I've read so far.

    And, though the Thor one is tossed off, it is there, I don't feel like you would have liked the explanation to have been drawn out in the film.

  11. But it's still not dramatically satisfying, Grug. All of the answers are, "It was magic!"

  12. All the answers to what did the magic guy do were 'it's magic,' yeah. I don't know how you could have wanted them to treat him any differently.

    Black Widow's ploy wasn't magic, the people's reaction to seeing magic wasn't magic, Hulk fighting the aliens wasn't magic and Loki's motivation wasn't magic.

    Thor's return was magic (though literally explained), and Loki's magic, is magic.

  13. I really dug the film. I did wish there was more choreography of the Avengers teaming up and fighting. The few scenes that there were were my biggest highlight.

    I guess when I go see these films I want to see comic pages come to life (more than lines from comic books) and I felt this film delivered. Not the best action I've ever seen (compared to the Raid) but 100000000 times better than the Bay/hungergames/cowboys and aliens shake the camera and blur it to show how intense and exciting the action is style of action sequences which I was afraid was becoming the default hollywood style.

    I think captain america was ok he just needs a better costume designer and action choreographer. They never use his shield as cool as it is in the comics and video games with the exception of the ironman cap teamup scene (which was very cool)

    As for the story. It was pretty simple and well paced. The only scene that needed to be clearer for me was the reason why they were all super aggressive at each other on the helicarrier. Did they actually say it was the gem that was making them all flip out? Was it the gems reaction being so close to Banner? That's what I was thinking

    Loki's powers has always been lies,trickery and manipulation. There's the scene at the end where they have gagged him but they never really sold this aspect of him. I do feel he should have come across as being smarter/cleverer like how Nolan had the Joker one step ahead of everyone but he was still a lot of fun. He was more just a jerk/ahole and that of course made the hulk scene with him a lot funnier

    I really liked the film. The hulk scenes made me cry with joy (actual tears that i had to lift up my 3d glasses to wipe) and if a film does this to me it's the best money I've spent

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  15. Never mind...I'm such a tool...

  16. Saw it and LOVED it yesterday! Really entertaining movie...so much better than the usual "blockbuster" (a la transformers,etc)! I saw it yesterday at an early show and seriously considered seeing it again in the same day! I'm glad you wrote the review cause all I good write would be "really, really good! GO see it! :D