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Published: 2012-05-02 - 13:31:40
Movies : Reviews

The Avengers Review

By Joe Lozito

Team of the Crop

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It's what the world needs most. When the chips are down - when times are tough. When there's no one we can turn to and all hope seems lost. No, I'm not talking about an elite team of superheroes brought together by an ultra-secret intelligence agency to fight a common enemy. I'm talking about comfort food. We all need it sometimes. And if there were a film version of comfort food, "The Avengers" - Joss Whedon's glossy, super-budgeted realization of the Marvel heroes - would certainly be it.

When asked about "comfort food movies", I tend to say "it's as good as you could hope for". And that's what "The Avengers" is. It's not a "Superman", a "Dark Knight", a "Spider-man 2". Ironically, it's not even as revelatory as "Captain America: The First Avenger". It's not something that's going to change your view of superhero movies. Or even something that might stick with you past the closing credits. In fact, perhaps most ironically, for a movie about superheroes, this "Avengers" is not about taking risks. It's about delivering. And Joss Whedon knows how to deliver - possibly better than anyone else could have. The world's luckiest fanboy knows his audience because he is one of them. And he's packed enough nerd-tastic moments into the film to keep a smile on any fan's face.

"The Tesseract has awoken", the film begins. Those of you paying attention during last year's "Thor" will remember the Tesseract as a magical blue cube that tends to open portals between worlds (usually Earth and Thor's Asgard). In "Avengers", Thor's evil brother Loki (did you really think he died at the end of "Thor"?) intends to use the Tesseract to unleash an alien army to destroy Earth - which he then intends to rule...I think. The full extent of his plan is not quite clear. But Tom Hiddleston gives just enough of a crazy-behind-the-eyes performance as Loki to keep things interesting.

Less interesting is the amount of exposition it takes for Mr. Whedon (who co-wrote the script with Zak Penn) to get the plot going. In order to defeat Loki, Mr. Whedon must "get the band together". And he has just the man to do it: yes, after being relegated to post-credits teasers in each previous film, Samuel L. Jackson finally gets to unleash his Fury. His Nick Fury, that is. As the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. - the super-secret agency, led by a cloaked-in-shadows Council, that started The Avengers Initiative - Fury rounds up some familiar faces (Iron Man, Captain America), some not so familiar faces (Black Widow, Hawkeye) and one face that's slightly updated (Mark Ruffalo, taking the reins of Bruce Banner/The Hulk).

As is typical, the Hulk is a big, fake-ish CGI spectacle, but Mr. Ruffalo succeeds where Eric Bana and Edward Norton floundered. His Banner is a tortured soul with the weight of his secret firmly entrenched behind his every line. You believe that he has lived with the Hulk inside him, and that he could be an asset to the team. I wouldn't want to see another "Hulk" movie, but I would give Mr. Ruffalo the job of updating the old Bill Bixby TV show. And that's high praise.

As ninja assassin Black Widow (and Mr. Whedon's "Buffy" surrogate), Scarlett Johansson is given little to do except fill out a catsuit and perform martial arts. Likewise, Jeremy Renner is underutilized as super-marksman Hawkeye. The film has the most fun with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans). Naturally, Mr. Downey hogs all the good lines, and wastes none of them, while Mr. Evans' Captain proves to be the grounding force in the film. He projects just the right amount of noblilty without lapsing into camp or caricature.

As Mr. Whedon has proven, he excels with ensembles ("Buffy", "Firefly"), and he manages to give each character some small arc to go through. But "The Avengers" is less about character development than it is about the face-offs: Iron Man vs. Thor; Captain America vs. Iron Man; The Hulk vs. pretty much everyone. It's all here. And it all ends in an extended climactic battle over the streets of Manhattan that, like the film, is as good as you could hope for, even if that's a bit ho-hum. In a post-9/11 world, a building can be hit, but it can't fall. And New Yorkers can be in peril, but they can't be seen running from plumes of smoke. This is an "Avengers" movie, after all. It's not meant to provoke. It can be loud, snarky, even serious, but above all, it must be comfortable.

What did you think?

Movie title The Avengers
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary Joss Whedon's glossy, super-budgeted Marvel ensemble flick is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food.
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