In the beginning was the Man of Iron, then Rage Personified, the Embodiment of Patriotism and the God of Thunder. Then The Avengers came and yea, made true believers of us all…
1. Throw this review on the pile of other movie reviews singing praises for Joss Whedon’s magnificent take on The Avengers. This movie - a culmination of years of world-building starting with 2008’s Iron Man – is going to give palpitations to a lot of Marvel Zombies out there. No, it doesn’t have Wasp and Ant-Man but they more than make up for it with over 2 hours of comic book cool that delivers some of the purest thrills I’ve seen in an action movie.
The basic set-up of the movie is pretty simple: Loki (played with malevolent delight by Tom Hiddleston) steals the Cosmic Cube from SHIELD, forcing Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to assemble the Avengers before Loki unleashes the full power of the cube. Cue the “assembly” part of this movie as Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Tony Stark), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) come together, come to blows and realize that they must set aside their differences to save the world.
2. Marvel and Whedon get plus points for giving each member of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes something to do. Chris Hemsworth plays Thor with a warrior prince’s glee while worrying about his crazy brother. He also gets to play bodyguard to Captain America in the climactic battle. Robert Downey’s Stark gets the funniest lines and some sweet love from Pepper Potts. He also has an even better “suiting up scene” than the one in Iron Man 2 when his armor came from a briefcase. Chris Evans’ Captain America continues the “man out of time” theme in his movie while suppressing a Lucas Lee eyebrow. ScarJo kicks serious butt in this movie and actually gets a backstory; my only quibble being that she has the same expression on her face when she’s bargaining with Loki or when she’s sky-surfing in New York. Jeremy Renner plays Hawkeye like a scowling, grouchy Legolas while Samuel L. Jackson has the hardest acting challenge of all: playing tough while wearing an eyepatch.
3. The worst-kept secret about The Avengers is that Mark Ruffalo/Hulk completely owns this movie. It’s the unofficial “Hulk 3” movie with bits of “Captain America 2.1” or maybe “Iron Man 2.5.” Ruffalo riffs off on Bill Bixby by playing Banner with the sadness of a recovering drug addict. He’s become more accepting of his “condition” and knows he may never be rid of it. He also never feels the need to threaten because his reputation as a walking time-bomb precedes him.
Banner agrees to help the Avengers only because he’s asked nicely. He knows he can say no anytime; he’s even looking at exits the minute he arrives on the SHIELD Helicarrier. What you’ll pick up on though is that everyone treats him like fine china; one argument scene ratchets up the tension when Banner becomes agitated enough to raise the hackles of every Avenger in the room. And when he finally hulks out, he fulfills Stan Lee’s original vision of the green giant as the biggest badass in the Marvel Universe.
Here’s the thing: Hulk has only one purpose in this movie and that is to rip stuff up. When Captain America utters the line “Hulk smash”, it’s like Maximus giving the signal to unleash hell – only this time he’s got an army of one. Hulk plows through Loki and his Chitauri henchmen, including some giant armored fish, like a Mack truck ripping through roadkill. After two movies killing mutant poodles and curb-stomping the Abomination, Hulk finally gets the planet-level threat his power deserves and delivers a smackdown on Loki that got the loudest cheers in the movie.
So here’s my suggestion to Marvel: don’t overexpose Ruffalo-Hulk even if you did sign him up for a 6-movie deal. Give him a deserving music theme: one that evokes fear and wonder every time Banner starts to turn into the Hulk. Yes, you’re going cosmic in the Avengers 2 movie but can we please get the Wrecking Crew or even the Masters of Evil turn up at Avengers Tower? So when Banner finally does show up in the last 30 minutes, we will have the immense satisfaction of seeing the Wrecker turn to Baron Zemo and go: “You didn’t tell me Banner was coming here. I didn’t sign up for this. I’m going home.” Now that would be epic.
So what’s the verdict on The Avengers? The Avengers is Marvel’s Pieta, its Mona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel of superhero team-up movies. Watching it will give you the urge to turn green and rip apart phone books with your bare hands, play Galaga and eat a shawarma. More importantly, it brings genuine excitement to a tale steeped in childlike wonder and comic book myth.