By Keith GibsonSPOILER ALERT: This review contains specific plot details. Avert your eyes if you do not want things spoiled for you.
Fun: that’s the single best way to describe “The Avengers,” Disney-owned Marvel Studios’ latest offering that unites its recent filmic endeavors – “Iron Man,” “The Hulk,” “Thor,” and “Captain America” – under one banner.
Director Joss Whedon and company have created a film of grand scale, with special effects up the wazoo and humor and wit to match. The film revels in camp and yet, perhaps because it embraces these moments so completely, they never feel forced or out of place. The other side of this coin is that we never feel as if our heroes are in any real danger, a problem when nearly half the film involves them battling baddies.
The lone exception to this comes, ironically enough, in a fantastic moment between two protagonists – when Mark Ruffalo’s berserk Hulk chases Scarlett Johansson’s not-so-super-powered Black Widow through the underbelly of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. The scene is fraught with tension, as we genuinely fear for her safety.
Surprising as it may be, “The Avengers” effectively manages both the super-sized personalities and the on-screen time of its leading characters. As many others have noted, you’ll find yourself cheering with all your might for this iteration of The Hulk, no small feat considering his anti-hero nature and that he threatened the leading heroine earlier in the film. Agent Coulson’s death is an unexpected but welcome turn of events, one that really elevates the level of the film. I must give special praise to Tom Hiddleston as Loki, whom for my money does some of the best work in the film.
The film has more than a couple of uncanny resemblances to “The Matrix” (which according to Joss Whedon’s IMDB page is, surprise surprise, his favorite film). Nick Fury is Whedon’s Morpheus, the patriarchal leader who has complete faith in his heroes, and disobeys direct orders in the name of what he believes to be the true and righteous path to salvation. Then there’s Agent Hill, Whedon’s Trinity, the strong and intelligent #2 who can more than hold her own against the baddies. And let’s not forget that Fury and Hill look nearly identical to their “Matrix” counterparts.
Then of course there are The Avengers. Just like Neo in “The Matrix,” they are only half-heartedly on-board with their leader’s mission until a beloved team member suffers at the hand of the enemy. This moment strengthens the resolve of the heroes in both films, and in the Avengers’ case brings them together as a team.
One of the best aspects of the film is the sense of space that the camera and editing create during the action set pieces. Unlike other big action spectacles in recent years, all of the action in “The Avengers” is visually clear and understandable.
Of course with the good comes the bad, and this film is no different. There are some silly plot-holes and deus ex machinas (Loki’s swiss army knife of a scepter comes to mind), the exposition is exceptionally run-of-the-mill, and the narrative structure is formulaic to a fault.
All of that considered, “The Avengers” is still a fantastic feat – one of the best big-budget, summer popcorn extravaganzas put to the silver screen to date. I’m crossing my fingers that Whedon returns (hopefully with a tighter script!) for the inevitable sequel. If he does, he’ll bring with him a wealth of experience from the fun-as-hell original, which I’m confident will make the follow-up even bigger and better.