The capstone to Marvel’s movie pyramid is this, The Avengers, the long-awaited mother of all team-ups first hinted at by S.H.I.E.L.D spymaster Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) in the post-credits sequence for Iron Man. Here, Fury wrangles up Iron Man/Tony Stark (Downey Jr), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Their opponent: Thor’s vengeful half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who brings with him the alien Chitauri army to wreak havoc on earth. However, the in-fighting and ego clashes within the team itself threaten to break the heroes apart before the villains do.
“Big man in a suit of amour,” Thor challenges Tony. “Take that away and what are you?” The movie’s “suit of armour” would have to be its lavish production design, visual effects that are as high in quality as they are quantity and all the hype and marketing (Avengers cologne? Seriously?) However, take that away and the audience is left fleshed-out characters, a well-constructed mesh of a story, firecracker dialogue and solid performances across-the-board. This is something of a feat considering the immense scale, heavyweight ensemble and various other factors.
Writer-director Joss Whedon is a self-professed comics super-fanboy and a veteran of cult-favourite TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly, and knows a thing or two about character development. Here, he has managed to make a team-up movie that is more than the sum of its parts and that doesn’t collapse under its own weight. Everyone gets their time to shine, which could have well been a problem with all the comic book personalities jostling for the spotlight. His agile screenplay is also quick with the quips, including such gems as Iron Man’s ribbing of Thor (“doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”), S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Captain America fanboy Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) telling his hero “I watched you while you slept”, and Captain America instructing “Hulk? Smash.”
The film is fine as a stand-alone piece, although it does help to have watched the earlier Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. It’s actually a good thing that almost everyone has played their characters before, and return to the roles with much ease. Robert Downey Jr is all snarky machismo as usual, Chris Evans ably portrays the old-fashion hero flung into a chaotic modern world, Chris Hemsworth channels a slightly more matured demigod that is still prone to brashness and Scarlett Johansson kicks more butt, though she faces competition from Cobie Smulders as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, who frankly looks better in a catsuit. Mark Ruffalo is the newcomer, filling in for Edward Norton. Ruffalo possesses a scruffy, mild-mannered charm, and while his Banner is a close second to Norton’s (tied with Eric Bana’s), it works better for the team movie than his predecessor’s does. Oh, and there’s Jeremy Renner as the least interesting character – he does what he can, which is mostly looking cool with a bow and arrow.
Tom Hiddleston is back as Loki, who was also the main villain of Thor. He portrays Thor’s adopted brother as something of a maniacal old-fashioned supervillain, prone to cackling, commanding people to kneel before him and launching into the occasional “puny earthlings” speech. Problem is, Loki’s vendetta is more with Thor himself than with the whole gang, and the Chitauri amount to nothing more than backup singers. It makes one wonder who might have been a better candidate for the villain of the piece. A mid-credits bonus scene promises that things will get worse for the Avengers in the sequel, though.
Lest this review make the movie sound like an intimate character drama (it was codenamed “Group Hug” during production), rest assured that there is spectacle galore. There is a clever mix of big-scale action sequences and smaller hand-to-hand brawls, and the sets – which include the helicarrier, the airborne headquarters of the team, a crumbling Russian warehouse where Black Widow fights would-be interrogators, a Stuttgart opera house and the climactic battle against the alien invaders in New York, are all excellent playing fields for things to unfold. However, this sometimes borders on visual overkill, with so much happening so fast. The use of post-converted 3D is among the most effective ever though.
Marvel has been pretty consistent with the movies that make up their Cinematic Universe and produced by their own studio, and continue the trend with their biggest yet. All the components that make a successful comic book movie blockbuster have been welded together, spray-painted with nice glossy colours and packaged in a pretty box. To follow through with the analogy, it would fly off the shelves just like the actual Avengers action figures probably will.
SUMMARY: The crown jewel of the Marvel movie crown is a big, sparkly rock that was worth every penny it took to get it made.
RATING: 4 out of 5 STARS