Great movies that hit their target are hard to review, and Joss Whedon pretty much smacked this puppy out of the park. He made a 2:23 ensemble superhero movie that never lags and that doesn’t shortchange any of the characters. The real telling sign: my sweet wife, who is more tolerant of than eager about superhero/action films, turned to me as the movie ended and said, “This was wonderful!”
What more can I say? Well, all the actors did a better job in this film than in their lead-in superhero films, with the possible exception of Robert Downey Jr (who, as far as I can tell, was born to play Tony Stark/Iron Man and was absolutely outstanding in the first “Iron Man”). Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansen (Black Widow), Samuel Jackson (Nick Fury) and even Clark Gregg (Agent Coulsen) all had a great platform and did an outstanding job. Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) got a chance to be significant rather than the bit part he had in “Thor”. Mark Ruffalo, the third person to place Bruce Banner/the Hulk, does in my opinion a better job with fewer lines or screen time than either Eric Bana or Edward Norton.
The real key, in my opinion, was the choice of Tom Hiddleson (Loki) as the arch-villain for this film. Hiddleson (and Kenneth Branaugh’s direction) gave the “Thor” movie complexity and gravitas that saved it from being a silly B-grade superhero movie. He does the same thing here; you really believe in him as Loki, and he is often several steps ahead of those who are trying to stop him. Hiddleson was outstanding and deserves tremendous credit.
But the credit, above all, goes to Joss Whedon for both his writing and direction. At the start of the film, there’s a certain awkwardness in this group of disparate heroes, most of whom don’t even consider themselves to be heroes. They clash, figuratively and literally, and hardly seem up to the task in front of them until events lead them to put aside their own squabbles and agendas, and they come together as a team. “Come together” is such a trite cliche, yet it is very much what happens, and it happens in a real way.
Whedon writes great dialog and funny scenes, and there are plenty of both in this film. The special effects are great — and can I just say, some forty years after I first saw it in a “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D” comic, how wonderful it was to the the SHIELD heli-carrier on the big screen.
Highly, highly recommended, even if you’re not a comic book fan. Spoilers after the jump.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!!
Agent Coulsen (Clark Gregg), who has been the ‘Wedge Antilles‘ of this series of Marvel films, is killed by Loki, stabbed from behind. Whedon being Whedon, you had to suspect that someone would die, and I had been tracking the various reports of follow-up films for any clue that one of the superheroes might buy the farm. I never suspected Coulsen would be the one, which gave his death all the more impact. And Coulsen, dying, recognizes that his death might be the one thing that brings the still-squabbling Avengers together. He’s right, though Fury does some rather shameless manipulation to make sure that happens.
It is the Hulk who ends up with some of the best “lines”, though in his case, they are mostly actions. The best is a scene where Loki and the Hulk are facing off in Tony Stark’s penthouse. Loki is monologuing on how Earthlings are beneath him when the Hulk grabs him and — in a move straight out of Looney Tunes cartoons — slams him back and forth on the floor three times in quick succession, leaving him dazed, unmoving, and partially embedded in the floor. The audience erupted in spontaneous applause and laughter.
Finally, there are not one but two ‘after the film’ scenes, one at the end of the major credits, the second at the very end of all credits. The first one shows long-established Marvel supervillain Thanos as the one behind Loki’s invasion of Earth. The second one — a follow-up to a comment made by Stark during the film — shows the Avengers, in costume and apparently immediately after the final battle, sitting around in a shawarma restaurant, mostly shell-shocked, as the staff is cleaning up damage from the destruction. Even though the scene goes on for 30 seconds or so, no one says anything; they just all look at each other or stare off into space (though Thor is unfazed and eating).
Great, great film. We saw it in 2D; I’ll probably try to go see the 3D IMAX version sometime next weel. ..bruce..