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The Avengers (2012)

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Avengers delivers exhilerating better than expected Super-hero mash up. NO SPOILERS

May 29, 2012 (Updated May 29, 2012)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Bang For The Buck

Pros:briskly paced, huge production values, good action sequences, clever moments

Cons:too few to mention

The Bottom Line: Entertaining, well-acted, fast-paced comic book fantasy action movie with some memorable and funny moments.  NO SPOILER REVIEW

The Avengers (2012) is a build your own Sundae sort of confection that delivers what fans expected with some extra treats.  I don’t mean huge surprises or twists, but rather plenty of cleverly conceived moments and some very witty and funny lines.   Most of the best one-liners—but not ALL are of course delivered by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man but all of the cast are given moments to shine.  What’s unexpected is that despite the potential for a chaotic, lumbering 143 minute mess of a film—this one works like a well-oiled machine and only feels a bit over-produced and bloated during the big action scene ending.  The finale might have been shortened by 5 minutes but within it there are still inventive clever moments that you rarely see in summer action blockbusters.  Even at it's loudest there are some brief quiet moments.

Nick Fury: This doesn't have to get messy.
Loki: Yes, it does. I've come too far for anything else.

There are NO SPOILERS  here. Read on.

You might have heard how the plot has something to do with Thor’s step-brother Loki, waging war on Earth, creating the need for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to pull together a team of super-heroes to defeat him—but there are many complications both in building the team  and in trying to defeat the villain that you haven’t heard about (and I’m not telling you much at all).

Nick Fury: We have no quarrel with your people.
Loki: An ant has no quarrel with a boot.

If you have seen some of the previous movies;  Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk,  Iron Man 2,  Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, you will notice how  various little details and moments in those films pay-off here.   If you’ve seen only a couple of those films you won’t have any trouble keeping track of what is going on and why, though you’ll have to pay attention because things are very quickly explained through a combination of both action and often witty dialogue exchanges. (It’s also pretty faithful to several of the original Avengers comic books).   If you have little knowledge of the original comic books or the newer movies, you may feel pretty over-whelmed trying to keep track of the various strengths and powers the various heroes have and their personalities and relationships—but it’s a blast to try and do it in one sitting (you’ll probably need to see the film twice if you want to pass the comic book nerd test though).

This is in many ways a precisely constructed formula movie complete with lots of familiar clichés you’ve seen over the years in genre films.  It works however on several levels.  If you are overly-familiar with the formula (evil villain threatens the earth—put together a team of skilled professionals to fight the villain) you’ll enjoy how basically straight-forward it is and appreciate the complications, the interaction of disparate personalities and the wit and humor infused throughout.   If you aren’t overly familiar with how this works, you’ll enjoy watching a rather complicated choreographed dance come together.

There are corny moments, clichés and even a few missed opportunities of course, but there’s some spectacular juggling of impressive elements that in the end few will care about and most will be utterly delighted with in this very fast moving, never a dull moment, colorful spectacle.

Every actor cast brings something unique and memorable to the buffet.   I found myself really enjoying THOR this time out (even though I found most of the THOR movie a challenge to sit through and endure).  I liked what new cast member  Mark Ruffalo brings to the table as Dr. David Banner (the third and best utilized actor to play the part in the last decade following Eric Banna and Edward Norton).

I also appreciated how Joss Whedon and company embraced the Marvel universe and their willingness to be respectful to the tone and several story elements of the original comic books.  Yes, it’s been updated and several things have been changed—but there’s a celebration of comic book fantasy going on here—without a need to either condescend or to add overly somber and dark psychological elements or explanations.   You bet there are disturbing sub-texts and issues going on, but they don’t dominate or slow things down for a moment.

Like the best of the Marvel comic movies  Spiderman and Iron Man, the actors inhabit their characters as if they could actually exist in the real modern world.  There are no unnecessary attempts to make things believable.   These things are happening, these characters exist, and if you think it’s all nonsense and ridiculous because of course it is all nonsense and ridiculous—who cares—this isn’t supposed to be real—this is an adaptation of a 1963 comic book that was created for 11 to 12 year old boys (mostly).    It’s treated with respect  and it’s faithful to the rules of this alternate childish universe—but it’s depicting adult super-heroes who have flaws and weaknesses and egos.  

The previous films introduced several of the characters we see in The Avengers and now part of the fun is seeing how they react and interact with each other.  Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) clashes with the earnest World War 2 throwback, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) who winds up being an important and unlikely peacemaker to Iron Man and Thor (Chris Hemsworth).  They have to stop being complete alpha males and work together toward the same objective (recover the energy cube before the Evil Loki ( Tom Hiddleston) is able to completely harness its power to summon an intergalactic alien army).

There’s some genuine suspense created with the introduction of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) whose scientific genius is needed even though that means the uncontrollable rage monster Hulk that is inside of him puts everyone and the mission at risk.   We also have Nick Fury’s (Jackson) effective valuable female spy operative, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who proves to be a more valuable team member than you’d expect, partly because of her past relationship with Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)  who made a very brief appearance in the THOR movie.

Each of the characters carries the weight of a very specific personal psychodrama with them.  We learned about most of these in the previous movies, but we are reminded of them in The Avengers and there’s a further complication of how they will fit together to become a team.  Fury (Jackson) winds up having to be a super-hero manager, juggler, manipulator to assemble, motivate and utilize the team.

Remarkably the movie manages to balance the multiple back-stories of the characters with their current seemingly impossible mission and deliver clever moments of dialogue, build suspense and deliver impressive action sequences.  But there’s more. . .each actor is freshly re-engaged into the cast and gets a few moments not just to deliver a memorable wisecrack but also to express the self-doubt that exists within the heart of every worthwhile superhero characters.   Even  Agent Coulson ((Clark Gregg), a series fixture, and Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper) get a few moments to shine.     If you stand back from it all, it doesn’t seem like it could possibly work as well as it does—but it does—even though we know its basic formula stuff and we’re also aware of where it’s leading and what will happen.  Nothing ruins the movie—not the occasional sentimental moment, not the few ‘cute’ moments, and not the expected CGI infused action sequences.

The now expected post credit sequence also has a twist—there’s a familiar (to comic book readers) nemesis quickly introduced (ask someone what that’s about) and if you sit through all the credits, there’s a very silly throw-away moment.   Don’t leave until the lights come on and the patient theater workers start to clean up.

Natasha Romanoff: [discussing attacking Loki ] They're basically gods.
Steve Rogers: Ma'am, there's only one God, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that.

When I was a kid, Superman was great, but he was always very serious and always perfect.   I couldn’t really every imagine myself as Superman.  He was an alien and not far removed from a perfect omnipotent being.   I liked that he pretended to be humble and normal as Clark Kent, and I could identify with his awkwardness and his lack of perfection when trying to be someone he was not.

However the Marvel comics introduced new sorts of characters to me.  These characters were mostly reluctant super-heroes.  They were usually very human and very flawed.   They would say funny things, they would be difficult and stubborn and even make some really stupid mistakes.   They seemed more like me, than Superman, Batman, and most of the DC characters.   It didn’t take very long for Superman to be very predictable to me—but the Marvel guys?  All kinds of complications and surprises happened with them.  They were much more emotionally unstable and unpredictable.
Anyway, the spirit of these creations was captured in  The Spiderman and Iron Man movies and I enjoyed how the movies respected the tone and feel of the original comics.    I figured they couldn’t keep it up through very many movies—and that’s true.  Iron Man 2  wasn’t nearly as good as the first film and THOR was really difficult for me to sit through.

The Avengers movie however is a great reward for sitting through that THOR movie.  Some of the elements from that movie are part of The Avengers, and I actually enjoyed the interaction of THOR with the other characters.  No…there’s no reason for you to see  THOR the movie if you haven’t made that mistake already, but you’ll probably appreciate its basic concept when you see The Avengers.

There has been a plan over the past few years to create an interlocked family of films that could exist independently of each other and then converge into a super-hero smash-up.   It certainly worked in comic books, so why not for the movies?    So Marvel executive Kevin Feige has been the sort of puppet-master of all this, encouraging and insisting on elements being placed in each previous film that promised there would be a coming together at some point.    You might see Captain America’s shield in Tony Starks’ laboratory (what is that doing there?), or see an item or prop in the background  that is out of place (or was it?).  Then there were the appearances of Sam Jackson as Nick Fury or Agent Coulson, first as post-credit teasers and then quick scenes that seemed almost awkwardly placed in other movies.   We wondered for a few years now if they could possibly pay off.    Could the movies remain popular enough and would the actors stay with the concept and come together in one big movie?

It created anticipation and the desire in a large audience to see the promised movie. Brilliant marketing.   The movie itself didn’t have to be great---in fact a lot of people figured it was unlikely something like  The Avengers could possibly live up to the hype. 

Well, it does live up to the hype.   It’s better than I ever thought it could be.   I thoroughly enjoyed the film and I’m looking forward to seeing it again—which rarely happens to me after viewing a big summer action blockbuster.

Now part of me has some regrets too.   This is of course highly manipulative commercial juvenile material that will encourage the making of even bigger budgeted comic book movies.   The potential for movies of this type to remain fresh and inventive is unlikely.  It would be almost reckless for the producers to take too many chances in the future since there is so much money involved.   The justification for playing it safe and being cautious and simply do another round of these movies is imminent.   And after a few years of sequels, there’s already justification that a re-boot and re-launching could result in more commercial success.

Of course all of this is somewhat surreal anyway.  Comic books were once marketed to a very specific somewhat limited audience.  Back in the 60s most comic books enthralled young boys ages 8 to 15 (mostly).  You outgrew them after a few years.  If you had older brothers and sisters, you might enjoy their older collections of comics and have more material to devour, but most didn’t stay addicted to comic books beyond a few years.  They tried without much success to expand comics first as very cheaply made movie serial matinees and then with product tie-ins that included action figures, bed sheets and pajamas.   We saw animated Saturday morning cartoons TV series, and then a very campy TV series (Batman) which begat a few others (Green Hornet).  Then childish things were embraced and marketed and taken to new levels—video games, collectibles, graphic novels..  Now they’ve become billion dollar movie franchises with broader appeal than the original comic books ever had.


S.H.I.E.L.D. is the secret spy organization that Nick Fury, Agent Coulson and at least three executive string pullers (including Powers Boothe) work for.    In the original comic books and for a few decades, the acronym stood for ‘Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division.’  In 1991 it was changed to ‘Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate. ‘  Since the Iron Man Films it is now known as  Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.


Avengers #1 debuted as a comic in September 1963 using existing characters credited mostly to writer-editor Stan Lee and artist-co-plotter Jack Kirby.  They were Ant Man, Wasp Man, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk and the plot saw Thor’s brother waging war on earth.  Many issues later  Captain America was found frozen in ice and resuscitated  to join the team.  It was much, much later in the series that Black Widow  and Hawkeye (originally villains) joined the team.   There were 5 bi-monthly issues through July 1964, than is ran ever month through issue #402 (September 1996) with a few spinoffs and several annuals, miniseries and the larger quarterly series that ran in the mid-1970s.  There have been West Coast Avengers (1984 to Jan 1994) and a 40 issue Solo Avengers  aka Avengers Spotlight (December 1987 to January 1991).  It was re-launched three times between 1996 and 2004.  At one point Marvel contracted with outside companies to produce re-vamped Avengers that created different origins in an alternate universe for the characters (Avengers 2-Heroes Re-Born).  Eventually  the series ended in November 1997 with a cross-over title that returned the characters to Marvel.   Then a new Avengers 3 was launched and ran 84 for issues between February 1998 and August 2004).  What would have been the 500th issue of the original series saw a change to the issue numbering and there was a one-issue Avengers Finale in January 2005 which then became the Avengers Disassembled and then a new version was created as The New Avengers, which morphed into The Mighty Avengers and then Avengers: The Initiative followed by Dark Avengers , Avengers Vol. 4 debuted in 2010.

MORE MARVEL MOVIES; Thoughts on Comic Superhero Movies

"The Avengers" marks Disney’s first Marvel production since it bought the comic book behemoth in 2009 and it certainly won’t be the last with already planned Iron Man, Thor and Captain America follow-ups that will precede  Avengers 2 currently planned for 2014 and there’s also the re-launch of Spiderman. Perhaps they’ll add a Black Widow/Hawkeye movie (they should) to the mix, but there doesn’t seem to be one in the pipeline.  There could always be a surprise character from the Marvel gallery that pops into the Avengers group too (but I’m not holding my breath for original members like Ant Man or Wasp Man, but hey Silver Surfer would be welcome!)

The Marvel comic book films, beginning with Raimi’s Spiderman, (Singer’s) X-Men and (Lavreau’s) Iron Man embraced the original comic books from the 1960s, updating them but without re-inventing the basic simplistic comic book fantasy formula.   The first 2 Richard Donner Superman movies from the 70s also did this.  The Tim Burton directed Batman films embraced the new deconstructed take on Batman from  the excellent Dark Knight graphic novel re-imagining, a far darker, more adult  version than the original comics and utterly necessary since the 60s Batman TV series with its goofy campiness  had made it all so silly.  It even embraced the idea of name stars in supporting rules (Nicholson, Pfeiffer, DeVito, Gough etc.).  Unfortunately Burton can’t seem to direct a satisfying action set-piece which producers and certain filmgoers demand.   And when campiness re-emerged in this new Batman movie series it flew waay off course  and utterly off-balance.  The Nolan Batman  has found a good balance of mix of  action, dark tones and excellent casting.  Raimi’s Spiderman embraced the characters of the Marvel Universe, updating them but not re-inventing them—since they’ve never been done successfully as big screen movies before.  Unfortunately by the 3rdgo-round there weren’t many new tricks  left in the bag. 

Whedon and company have created a wonderful super-hero smash-up, utilizing the pre-established characters and various strategically placed links in previous movies for The Avengers.   It comes together like an old fashioned crime caper movie where various experts are assembled and complications within the group dynamic create dysfunction, until the members become team players to complete their task.   Remarkably the 143 minute movie has character development, humor, and some impressive big action sequences.  It’s a solid, entertaining popcorn movie that rewards those who pay attention to the details.   Much better than I expected it to be!    If you enjoyed the first Iron Man film—see it. 

Also part of the elvisdo’s 2012 Funny Pages Writeoff

©2012, Christopher J. Jarmick

Recommend this product? Yes

Movie Mood: Action Movie

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