"You and me, we stay on the ground, keep the fighting here, and Hulk... smash."
Joss Whedon's The Avengers has all the makings of a great movie, independent of its status as a comic book movie, but for my money, it fails to transcend both of these things, and is only a pretty good movie and not the masterpiece we were all hoping it would be. Please extinguish your torches and put down the pitchforks, I'm not about to commit heresy here, but if you would like to listen to a reasoned argument about why The Avengers is merely another in a long line of very good Marvel comic book movies, then I encourage you to read on.
In 2008, there was a scene at the end of Iron Man that pretty perfectly set up The Avengers, and over the course of four years and four more films, we've finally arrived at the end game. Iron Man 2, which I still love in spite of all its faults, spent more time setting up The Avengers than it did continuing Tony Stark's journey to becoming a hero, and most of the seeds for what we saw this past weekend were sown in that film. I also write this review assuming that you've seen the film, so pardon my lack of plot breakdown.
The Avengers is about as good as it could have been, and I guess I'm just disappointed that for all it gave us, it just wasn't a thoroughly satisfying film. It's a perfectly realized comic book on film, and for that, I have to give it due credit, but I realized about an hour or so in that perfectly realizing a comic book on film doesn't necessarily make a film good. It's packed with quippy dialogue, dense backstory, chaotic action, and all the things that comic book lovers such as myself have grown up loving about comics, but as a film, it's pretty hollow.
The villain (not Loki, but the guys he's working for) is a throwaway race of aliens that haven't factored into anything before now, and only pose a threat because we're told about fifty times that they pose a threat. It's a classic case of telling and not showing, and that sort of thing will sink a film instantly. We're given scenes that show the destruction the alien race can cause, but they rely on exposition to do the heavy lifting, so by the time the alien race shows up and starts destroying Manhattan, it's such a foregone conclusion that they will be defeated that the destruction they wreak is almost an unnecessary plot development instead of an actual threat. I never felt in suspense for a moment because it was just a series of mindless, faceless, nameless drones being destroyed by the heroes that we're rooting for by default.
In the midst of all this, however, there was a lot of good stuff. Whedon is the filmmaker that The Hulk has always needed and deserved on film, and thank goodness he used Hulk properly. Mark Ruffalo was an inspired casting choice, and it pays off like gangbusters. The action sequences with Hulk were the best thing about the film, and honestly, are the only reason I'd recommend the film to anyone that's not a diehard fan of The Avengers. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was treated like an afterthought, and that truly bothered me. He was the only one that could help them get inside the head of Loki, and it seemed like they only kept him around because he could sling his hammer around and cause some destruction. For as great as Whedon handled Hulk, he thoroughly and completely botched Thor.
Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) were used well, but held no surprises. They played right into the things we've come to expect from them, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, it was just slightly disappointing that they didn't do anything unexpected. I don't care how hot Scarlett Johannson is, she's absolutely terrible as Black Widow. The role was supposed to be played by Emily Blunt, and I wish that had happened. At least she would have been interesting instead of relying on her tits to do all the work for her. Jeremy Renner was fine as Hawkeye, but the story treated him as a plot device rather than a character. He only exists to give Black Widow something to fight for. Sam Jackson is perfectly acceptable as Nick Fury, but again, he does nothing unexpected and holds no ace up his sleeve now that his dream team is assembled.
My biggest gripe, by far, was killing off poor Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). His death as rallying point for the team was a cheap, shameless device that made me genuinely angry. The guy had been given short shrift throughout the entire Marvel series, and wasn't really even given the dignity of dying a hero's death. He dies to further the plot, and that's just a lousy reason to kill him off. Lastly, Tom Hiddleston as Loki is great. He's an actor that truly relishes playing a deceptive villain who can't rely on brute strength, so he's forced to rely on his brains, and that makes him truly dangerous. The fact that he was just a pawn of this stupid alien race made me upset that he wasn't more of a self-starter, considering what a great villain he actually is.
The set-up of the sequel midway through the credits gave me nerd-bumps, but it also made me roll my eyes a bit as the entire alien race seemed to be there only to set up the sequel. It's a comic book thing, to be sure, but it doesn't make it a good film decision, and I can only judge it as a film. All in all, The Avengers is just fine, it's about as good as Thor and Captain America and Iron Man 2, but no better in all honesty. If the fan boys dig deep and think about what they really liked about the film, it's nothing they haven't seen before, and just putting all the heroes together in the same frame does not a great film make. I liked The Avengers, but I really wanted to love it…