The Avengers (movie review)

The Avengers – (Marvel / Paramount Studios) 2012 review The Avengers not only lives up to the hype, it sets a new standard by which all future super hero movies must live up to.

Imagine if George Lucas had first released Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia movies before issuing the first Star Wars?  Or if Disney started with both a Buzz Lightyear and a Woody movie before teaming them in Toy Story?  That’s the genius of Marvel Studios –  by first releasing successful films featuring Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America and Thor, they’ve managed to create the world’s first crime-fighting all-star movie, and have done so with an unprecedented amount of buzz.
What’s even more amazing is how successful Marvel has become recently, after an early history that’s marked with as many misses as hits.  Marvel Studios first produced the Wesley Snipes’ Blade series in 1998.  An odd choice for a first film, since only the devoted comic fan would recognize the character.  Two years later, the studio struck gold with the original X-Men, then the even bigger Spider Man series.  Yet, they also churned out duds in Daredevil, the first, CGI-heavy Hulk, and the two lackluster Fantastic Four flicks.  However, starting in 2008, Marvel began partnerships with other studios, resulting in the hugely-successful Iron Man, a revamped Incredible Hulk, and great movies from Captain America and Thor.  

Of course, the used DVD bins are filled with failed attempts of all-star teaming of actors, so the stakes are pretty high.  The difference here is that the Avengers is a teaming of characters, while only Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man carries actual star power.  It’s the fact that every super hero has their own unique personality, that adds so much depth to the typical action-adventure film:  Iron Man is the careless, me-first egomaniac; Captain America is the by-the-books do-gooder, who eventually brings them all to work together; Thor is the lunkhead ancient god who sounds like he’s quoting Shakespeare when he opens his mouth; while Black Widow is a chick with a chip on her shoulder and a soft spot for good-guy-turned-bad dude Hawkeye.  

Yet, the single-greatest character amongst them is the Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo.  No actor since Bill Bixby in the original TV series of the 1970’s  better captures the essence of Bruce Banner – the introverted, yet good-hearted nerd who nevertheless could explode at any given moment in an uncontrollable fury.  His cool, understated portrayal is the perfect foil to Downey’s over-the-top Iron Man.  As if this teaming weren’t enough, the entire group is held together by Nick Fury, the head of the secret government agency SHEILD, played expertly by Samuel L. Jackson, who portrayed a similar, ring-leader role in the Star Wars’ series.   

Do you need to see the other movies before watching the Avengers?  I would highly recommend it.  If you only rent two, take in the first Iron Man and then Thor (it’s Thor’s half-brother Loki that is the main protagonist in the Avengers).  There is enough character development in the Avengers, so you won’t be totally lost, but the individual movies really give you a better grasp of each hero.

One of the amazing elements of the film is the human aspect that’s played out during the action scenes.  In most other super hero movies, humans are largely ignored while the fighting commences in the skies.  Shrapnel is sent careening downward, but we never see the aftermath.  The Avengers makes a point to zero in on the devastation and chaos that ensues on the ground as a result of the battles taking place up above.  The people on the ground seem very small and powerless to the battle that rages on.

It’s no accident that one of the previews before the movie was for a new Batman film.  Yet, rival DC Comics finds themselves scrambling for a blockbuster of their own.  You can bet a live-action Justice League, with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman is most-certainly on the distant horizon.  But, it will be a hard act to follow.

The combination of amazing action scenes, the varied personalities of the lead cast, and a sprinkling of just the right amount of one-liners, makes the Avengers a triumph and quite possibly, the greatest super hero movie of all time.  –Tony Peters