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I liked The Avengers a lot.
That said, I worry that writing a review while still riding my Avengers high will shortchange readers. I've been waiting my entire life to see a live-action Avengers movie, and I've been in a state of pleasant confusion ever since I saw the first set pics. I still can't believe an Avengers movie has been made--much less that I could ever be given the opportunity to see it.
Don't worry. I'm not looking for a roundabout way to say it's a mediocre movie, or that I may only be temporarily dazzled by it, or that I'm hoping to give myself some kind of out if there's an eventual critical or popular backlash. It's a solid piece of moviemaking with a good mix of humor, drama, and action.
More importantly, it's an Avengers movie. By this I mean not only that it isn't Iron Man 3, but also that it's a comic book movie that actually feels like a comic book--in attitude as well as in scope. Whedon deserves all the credit he'll wind up getting for this juggling act. The characters are true enough to the characters in the movies preceding this one, and are likewise true to their comic forebears.
Whedon's not the kind of juggler who sets out to wow an audience with his technical mastery. He's the kind who, whether he wows that audience or not, has a skilled enough hand not to draw attention to the technique. He's also the kind who can launch into a comedy routine while doing this.
That's the juggler he is now, at any rate. He has some obvious baggage as a writer and director, but he appears to have checked it at the gate. These aren't his characters. They're Marvel's, and he clearly respects that. He knows ensembles, and he knows and respects comics. I don't know if I would have chosen him for an Avengers movie, but I'm glad he's the one who got the job.
Nothing feels like fan lip service, and at no point does anything feel phoned in. Sam Jackson sounds like he's enjoying the dialog he's been given for a change. Every hero gets a handful of hero moments, no one feels superfluous to the plot, and Whedon teaches us a thing or two we might not have already known about some of the characters. We learn that Agent Coulson is as big a fanboy as the rest of us. We learn that Black Widow, despite being the picture of collectedness in almost every situation imaginable, is openly and unapologetically scared shitless of at least one thing. We learn that you probably should brace yourself before striking vibranium with an Asgardian hammer. We learn that real power sometimes wants for a magazine.
It's not a super-dense narrative, but it's not designed to be. The bad guy shows up and gets hold of a MacGuffin, the heroes fail to wrest it from him due to in-squabbling and ill-coordination, the heroes band together when the stakes are finally made clear to them, and [EXTREMELY SLIGHT SPOILER]the heroes prevail[/EXTREMELY SLIGHT SPOILER].
The density is in the characterizations. The heroes are all given individual and group motivations. There's some intrigue along the way to make the heroes distrustful of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Loki is enough of a trickster to make the heroes distrustful of each other.
My problem with Thor's Loki is that he telegraphed his evil too obviously for someone who was supposed to be keeping it hidden away. That cat is out of the bag in The Avengers, and Loki takes such delight in being sinister that you're almost as happy for him as he is for himself. Basically, he's exactly the Loki he's supposed to be. Thor's Loki wasn't, and Thor's Loki wouldn't have been a match for the Avengers. Even so, Loki's portrayal in The Avengers is in no way a betrayal of his portrayal in Thor. Again, you may credit Whedon for this. Feel free to credit Hiddleston, too, since the movie wouldn't work if he weren't equal to the task of holding up the villain end of the bargain.
In terms of characters being done right, Bruce Banner and the Hulk are the movie's happiest surprises. The marketing department was right to put both their faces on so many of the posters. I've been rooting to like a cinematic Hulk since 2003, but this is the first time I can say with unreserved honesty that I've done it. If the crowd response is any indication--the two biggest cheers were both for Hulk moments--people are going to welcome a Ruffalo-style Hulk movie with open arms.
The Avengers manages to be an origin movie without feeling like an origin movie, thanks in large part to the lead-in movies having already familiarized us with the characters. It's as long as a Pirates of the Caribbean movie but as briskly paced as an Indiana Jones movie. (It also has Powers Boothe in it. Why did no one tell me this?) The movie's scope is impressive, and only seems bigger by the time the credits roll. (Speaking of the credits: you know the drill. Watch 'em. If Infinity Gauntlet fans stick around for the stinger, they'll hear a line that'll make them smile.) I saw it in 2D in a theater that seats sixty people, and it still felt big to me.
I realize the review is a little vaguer than some might like, and that it's absent my usual nitpicking. I tend not to be loose with my compliments, so I'm as surprised as anyone to see myself giving The Avengers unchecked praise. Then again, I'm surprised to see a movie I wanted to deliver actually manage to do it on all the fronts that mattered to me. I'd love to get into some of the specifics, but I don't want to take from you the joy of discovery. You were already going to see it, so it's not like you need me to sell it to you. With any luck, this comic will spring to life for you the second you open it. It did for me.
Review Score: 92 / 100