The Avengers, the superhero film to end all superhero films, produced by Marvel Studios, and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, hits Australian cinemas on April 25. Written and Directed by Joss Whedon (Buffy, Serenity), and featuring a stellar creative team, The Avengers is the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The stories of the eponymous superheroes in Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America have all led toward their involvement in Nick Fury’s Avengers Initiative and The Avengers. Hyped as one of the biggest movie events of 2012, I am very pleased to say that it is one of the best blockbusters – in terms of story, character, visual spectacle and entertainment value – to grace our screens in some time.
In the opening sequence of The Avengers, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), having been banished from Asgard at the conclusion of Thor, makes a deal with an alien race of warriors beset on ruling Earth. Via a constructed portal, he steals the heavily guarded Tesseract, a Cosmic Cube capable of supplying its owner with unlimited power, from American Peacekeeping unit, S.H.I.E.L.D. Transforming Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, reprising his role from Thor), chief Tesseract researcher, and one of S.H.I.E.L.D’s operatives, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) into his minions, Loki attempts to harness the power of the cube to open a portal between worlds, allowing his army to enter.
Recognising the threat of the Tesseract in the hands of Loki, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of S.H.I.E.L.D, with the help of Agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) recruits Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) from around the globe, to come together in a united fight against their powerful new foe.
Where The Avengers surprised me was the way that these rich characters, which have all been introduced and developed in their own films, are taken even further here. They are all given interesting arcs and individual time to shine. They are all flawed in their own way, as both humans and superheroes, and assuming they will all be able to work together is a big risk, taken by both Nick Fury within the film, and on a cinematic level by Marvel Studios and Joss Whedon. The film, full of epic action and visual spectacle, actually feels character-driven. Loki’s motivations are made clear, while the Avengers are all forced to overcome personal conflicts and their own limitations – none more so than Banner, who at one point presents more of a threat to the safety of the team than Loki himself. A lot of the film’s tension actually comes from within the team.
The performances are all better than they needed to be too. We know that Downey Jr., Evans and Hemsworth were all perfectly cast in their roles and gave great performances in their individual films, but they continue that strong work here. Downey Jr. is wonderfully over the top, while Hemsworth’s delivery is even more comic. Ruffalo, who keeps Banner’s social awkwardness consistent throughout the film, is always solid, but the one I was most impressed by was Scarlett Johansson. This is one of her best performances. The excellent Tom Hiddleston is also the right blend of clever, smarmy and merciless – a genuinely fearsome and unpredictable villain.
The scale of the film is enormous, and this is something that Joss Whedon has proven in the past with his fantastic television show, Firefly. After an exciting opening car chase sequence, and a scene of destruction that has to be seen to believe, there is a huge action set piece aboard a flying vessel. The film climaxes in a tremendous struggle staged beneath Stark Tower in downtown Manhattan. I didn’t think it could get any better. These set pieces are truly spectacular and display impressive use of the very-entitled mammoth budget. There isn’t a cent wasted here, and this is a testament to the studio.
Seamus McCarvey (Atonement) is the cinematographer, so not only are the action sequences well staged, but expertly captured. The visual effects (from a team made up of Oscar winners, some of whom worked on the two Iron Man films) are awe-inspiring and outdo almost everything that has preceded it.
While a couple of early sequences don’t quite hit the mark – purely because they are exposition and set up for those unfamiliar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe – I found there to be nothing to criticize about The Avengers. The blend of jaw-dropping action and visual effects, a compelling story, an excellent villain and richly layered, likeable characters makes The Avengers, unexpectedly, not just high quality popcorn entertainment, but extraordinarily satisfying cinema.
The Avengers balances genuine tension and stakes, with a cartoonish atmosphere and clever and funny self-aware humour. In short: The Avengers is a geek fest sure to please die-hard fans, but it transcends the genre and is sure to be enjoyed by just about anybody. It is the finest superhero film I have seen to date (sorry Dark Knight fans), and once it hits cinemas, I will be eager to check it out again.
The Avengers is now showing at Cronulla Cinemas. I rate the film 4 ½ Stars.
You can read more of Andrew’s reviews at his weekly updated blog: Andy Buckle’s Film Emporium