The Avengers (2012) 8/10
When Loki steals the “Tesseract” cube from SHIELD, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles a group of heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, as well as Dr. Bruce Banner, to try to find the cube and defeat Loki before he can destroy the Earth. Directed by Joss Whedon.
The Avengers does a lot right, very little wrong, and then throws in some more right stuff for extra. It does about as well as can be hoped for a big tentpole movie with the awesome power of major studios behind it (as well as their restraints). It is in some ways generic, and has too few surprises, but the presence of Joss Whedon’s unique and personal voice means those factors are mitigated.
One of the big surprises is that the movie, with Loki as a villain, doesn’t focus on Thor as the main hero, nor on Iron Man, despite Robert Downey Jr.’s star power and the success of not one, but two Iron Man movies. Instead, the stand-out characters are Captain America and Bruce Banner/The Hulk, with Mark Ruffalo as Banner stealing the show.
Captain America functions as the perfect embodiment of what a superhero is. He carries in his very person the American mythos, and, being displaced in time (frozen during World War II and awakened to a world he doesn’t understand), he brings the timeless, enduring, eternal quality of mythology with him. Chris Evans is far too weak an actor (I said as much after the Captain America movie) but the role is solidly written and takes advantage of the assets of the character without leaning too heavily on Evans as an actor.
Ruffalo, on the other hand, is simply a surprise. Stepping into the role after Ed Norton stepped out, he brings unexpected warmth, nuance, and mystery to his role. Because we don’t know how or if Bruce Banner can control the big green “Other Guy,” we don’t know what his part will be in the battle to come.
There’s enormous pleasure here for fans of the comic books, lots of nods, cameos, references, and recognition. Much of it is kind of expected, but how else could that go? For this reason, the mystery of Bruce Banner is one of the movie’s richest treasures as a movie (as opposed to a feast for the comic geek).
There’s some intriguing character work from Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, showing depth and interest that simply wasn’t there in Iron Man II. Jeremy Renner, as the underwritten Hawkeye, has all the richness you’d expect if you’ve seen Renner in other things. He really brings it even without a whole lot to do.
The Avenger is very good at myth-making, at getting to some of the guts of what makes us want superheros in the first place. It doesn’t always do so with a light touch, unfortunately. It’s also very, very good at figuring out how to make The Avengers work as a team, giving everyone something to do. A lot of pre-release muttering had to do with how Black Widow and Hawkeye—two physically ordinary humans—could fit in with a god, a Super Soldier, and an Iron Man. But the script really makes it work. Hawkeye’s role as a teammate is particularly clever.
The movie is a must-see for comic book fans, not because it’s geeky, but because it’s good. For others, it offers significant summer blockbuster fun. The writing has the sparkle and wit you expect from Joss Whedon, and the package is appealing.