The Avengers is here, and it’s the film Marvel has been planting the seeds for since Iron Man hits screens in 2008. In that time we’ve had films featuring Hulk, Thor, and Captain America to help get audiences in the mood and in the know about these characters. And knowing the characters is important for Joss Whedon’s film, because character development and – for the most part – motivation is kept to a minimum. You’ve got an all–star cast facing evil, and it all builds to a blockbuster conclusion. But too bad it’s such a rocky ride to get there.

The Players:

The Plot:

Loki (Hiddleston) is sent back to earth to find the Tesseract (which will open a portal for invasion), and has the power to turn humans into slaves. He invades SHIELD headquarters, and that sends Nick Fury (Jackson) Agent Coulson (Gregg) and Black Widow (Johansson) to gather Captain America (Evans) Iron Man (Downey Jr.) and the Hulk (Ruffalo) to help stop Loki. Eventually – along with Hawkeye (Renner) – they become a team to fight the alien invasion (the Chitauri).

The Good:

  • That Third Act: New York is in the crosshairs, as The Avengers must stop an oncoming horde of aliens from taking over the planet. This is what you paid to see and it delivers some great moments of the Avengers fighting bad guys and doing cool stuff. The Hulk is a stand out here.
  • The Cast: It’s hard to be as excited about some of the returning actors who are doing their well-defined characters, but this is a muderer’s row of talent, and it’s the people who get something new to do who shine. Johansson gives as good as she gets, and has some of the best moments in the film, while Mark Ruffalo as Banner and as Hulk steals the movie.
  • Quips: It’s Joss Whedon, and they’re mostly funny.

The Bad:

  • Marvel: This is the big film they’ve been building to for years, and they decided with this one that they were going to shoot it flat (1.85:1) – instead of scope (2.35:1) as they have every film they’ve been behind previous. Not only does that break continuity, but it robs the film of an epic feel. It makes the movie that much smaller. On top of which it’s just a very small feeling film. Not intimate, but none of the early set pieces feel epic. Everything comes across as if it was done on a budget until New York – and even then that’s kept contained.
  • Nothing to Do: Loki shows up and then gets arrested in a sequence that lays out what little is going on under the surface of this movie (good versus evil, maybe a little anti-fascism) and spends the middle section of the movie waiting for things to happen. Captain America is here because he’s a soldier, and does nothing in the film all that memorable, while Tony Stark also seems to be here because they asked him (and because he’s a little curious about SHIELD himself), same with Bruce Banner. Black Widow and Hawkeye are company men, and Thor joins the group just because – and this was Nick Fury’s big plan? To have people like Thor just show up? No one is acting like they’re trying to stop the end of the world, and the moments where these iconic figures of comic book world finally meet for the first time and then decide to work together seems as powerful and iconic as a coffee date. There was a lot of wrangling that went in to getting this film made, but it seems the film doesn’t find its iconic footing until the last section, when it realizes you want to see the team together. When Banner shows up in New York to fight along side his compatriots, there’s a sense that he’s showing up more because the plot demands it than him feeling like it’s the right thing to do.
  • It’s a Godzilla Movie: This has been a complaint of mine for a long time with super hero movies, and – to be fair – this is more Destroy All Monsters than Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster, but it never really functions as a team movie because at no point during the course of anything that happens during the first two thirds of the film do they work together as a team. Seriously. And when they do, they rarely work as a group so much as co-ordinate their assaults. But it’s not about using skill sets so much as random butt-kicking. The set pieces don’t build in the early sections of the film, so much as get things into place for the final act. Which delivers, but still. When they do work together – like Hawkeye and Iron Man – it’s where the movie really soars.

Overall:

If you are just happy to see these characters together, you will love this film, and the idea of this film feels unimaginable. Unfortunately, the imagination that went in to bringing the characters together and what they do once they are together is severely limited by budget and creativity. Once again, it’s an origin story with familiar characters where it feels like it’s all building to an awesome conclusion. But since there’s no real main character or thematic heft or even interesting motivation to latch on to, it’s empty spectacle.

Rating: 6.5/10

The Avengers opens May 4.

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