The Avengers (2012)

When it was first announced in 2008 after the success of the first Iron Man movie that Marvel Studios would be producing an all-star movie called THE AVENGERS, all comic book fans (and movie fans in general too, that fell in love with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man) cannot help but to wait in anxiety for this movie to come out. Originally scheduled for July 2011, the movie was eventually pushed back to 2012, making it a long four-year wait for the fans before their wildest dreams came true. Along the way, we got Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Thor, movies that would eventually tie-in to this final one. Now that the movie is out, has it actually fulfilled every fans’ expectations, or was it merely an overhyped movie?

PLOT DETAILS AND CONTINUATION
While this movie somehow ties-in with the four movies I listed above, the strongest link is with the Captain America and Thor movies. The plot in The Avengers happens right after the end of Captain America, and with Loki as the major villain, ties in directly with the aftermath of Thor, as one of the ulterior motives of Loki’s return and his invasion of Earth has to do with his long time hatred of his adoptive brother Thor, which was previously explored in the THOR movie.

Captain America‘s characterization here fits in perfectly with his backstory in his own movie. A man lost in time, trying to face his new reality in a strange new age where everything he knew and everyone he cared for has passed away (Bucky Barnes, Peggy Carter). I would have liked him to have some interaction with Sharon Carter – Peggy’s niece and Cap’s love interest in the present time. Considering that she is actually a S.H.I.E.L.D agent, it would have been fit had they met each other on the Helicarrier, but maybe there is simply not enough time to put these scenes in the movie (which already has a long run time: 143 minutes). In fact, in one of his interviews, the director, Joss Whedon himself said that he originally had more scenes for Captain America that he had to cut due to the limits of the movie’s running time. Hopefully, we will have these scenes in an “Extended DVD” or “Director’s Cut DVD” so that we will be able to see what Whedon originally had in mind for Captain America.

Thor, on the other hand, suffers from a weak and gaping plothole. The premise of his own movie, what made the story and the ending so strong, was that he sacrificed his personal needs, his feelings, his love for Jane Foster, for the greater good. To stop Loki’s plans and save Jotunheim (the realm of the frost giants), he had to destroy the Bifrost (Rainbow Bridge), knowing fully that by doing that, he might never be able to return to Earth and meet Jane again. By suddenly arriving on Earth during the events on the Avengers with little to no explanation offered (only a line about “Odin’s Dark Energy” is given, which confuses things even more), it betrays the entire plot of the THOR movie, and it made his sacrifice seems totally hollow and unimportant. As one who really enjoyed the THOR movie, this was one of my greatest disappointments with the plot in The Avengers as it undermined everything that was great about Thor’s character in his movie.

Trivia: In the comics, Thor’s hammer Mjolnir always had the ability to open a portal between Asgard and Earth. Read about it here under “Teleportation”. Someone is clearly not doing their homework properly.

SENSE AND SCALE OF DESTRUCTION
It is necessary for a movie of this scale to be able to convey the sense of foreboding danger to the audience. When Loki was seen conversing with the Chitauri in the beginning, and during the scenes where the Chitauri are being mentioned, they are conveyed as a race that is powerful and dangerous, capable of bringing great destruction and mayhem upon Earth. But sadly, when the moment comes and the Chitauri is launching its invasion upon Earth, I DID NOT feel that the Earth was in any danger at any moment.

In fact, the most tense moments in The Avengers for me was not when New York was attacked, but it was when the HELICARRIER was attacked and there was a lot of mayhem and danger happening at the same time. The engines were down, they were falling from the sky, the Hulk was rampaging inside, Thor locked up in the prison, Iron Man trapped inside the fan, Coulson killed, etc. I must admit, my adrenaline shot up really high during these intense scenes.

If we want to talk about movies that gave the audience an enormous sense of foreboding danger and destruction, the best one to refer is Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon. There I could feel that the Earth was in a danger so great, and that the main characters might face something so powerful, something way beyond their league. Remember when Sentinel Prime activated the pillars that sent hundreds of Decepticons to Earth? Remember about the Driller, that huge snake/eel creature very much like the sandworm of “Dune” that caused so much destruction? I’d say THAT is how you convey a real sense of danger and destruction to your audience!

Other than Transformers 3, I’d say that these recent movies also gave me a greater sense of danger and destruction than The Avengers:

Battleship – When those “wheeled thingies that looked like they came out of Transformers” (and looked far more dangerous than the alien battleships themselves) came out and destroyed things, you knew that Earth was in a real serious trouble.
Captain America – No extraterrestrial enemies here, but the moment you see those nuclear warheads on Schmidt’s ship, you knew they were in real trouble too. Had Steve Rogers not sacrificed himself and crashed the plane to the Arctic, America would have seen a great devastation.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that Black Widow was able to kill the Chitauris with plain guns. PLAIN GUNS – yes, even though she dual wields them, but still. I know Hawkeye also wiped the Chitauris with arrows, but at least they were special explosive arrows of some sort. It seems that the Chitauris doesn’t have the strength, so they try to overwhelm by number, like what they did to the Hulk. This also brings forth another weakness in that there’s no major villain in this movie that could go toe-to-toe with the Avengers. Loki was the mastermind, but he was largely out of the picture when the Chitauri invasion started.

It wouldn’t have hurt to have a strength-type villain alongside Loki to fight the Avengers, balancing Loki’s role as the behind the scenes guy. In THOR, Loki was the guy behind the scene, while the Destroyer was there as the physical villain. Whedon could have gone with the same route in the Avengers, instead of relying just on Loki to tackle the Avengers. After all, Loki was better when he was in his evil mastermind mode (like what he did in Germany) compared to when he was physically trading blows with Thor on top of the Stark Tower.

COSTUME DESIGNS
This is my major gripe of the entire movie, so please bear with me on this one. For all the budget they have for this movie, the costumes are actually worse than what they had in their original, individual movies. Let’s break them down one by one:

Captain America – The worst offender of all, with the worst costume design. The leather design they had in the original movie was far better than this one. I know they wanted to update the design to a modern one, but what’s with replacing Cap’s actual helmet with a cowl here? And the material? I don’t even know what it is. Spandex? Kevlar? The old costume definitely looked tougher and more rigid than this one, which seems to offer no protection at all and will shred and tear under the minimum amount of impact. Maybe we can all blame Agent Coulson on this one, as it is said that he was the one who designed this costume in the movie. Don’t even get me started on the shield, which looked like a toy here. There was a total sense of disbelief in me when Thor smashed THAT shield and he was thrown back instead of the shield being shattered.

Iron Man – Nothing much different here, as the design of the Mk. VI armor is exactly the same with the one we saw in Iron Man 2. But I have a little gripe with the Mk. VII armor here, as it reverted the chestplate arc reactor design back to the circular one, instead of the triangular one we saw on the Mk. VI. Maybe they just want to follow the direction of the comics, as they have also reverted to the circular design on the latest “Bleeding Edge” armor there, but I felt it would have been better if they kept to the triangle one, for this one reason: Extremis, Iron Man 3.

Thor – The costume on his original movie was awesome and I absolutely loathe the change of design here, especially in the early part of the movie where he wore his costume with his arms exposed – as opposed to the chainmail design that fully covered his arms as in the original one. I know that in the final part of the movie he DID use the full chainmail armor design, but without it, the costume just felt too big and bulky for Hemsworth. Also, I don’t like how they changed the design of his arm protector. In the original one, it was a full circular metal bangle/gauntlet, but here it’s just a metal plate he wore on his wrist with a leather strap. His hair also looked way nicer in the original one. All in all, he just felt somewhat “less godly” here in The Avengers, which is really sad.

Black Widow – I liked her shoulder-length curly brown hair from Iron Man 2 better than this shorter, straight, reddish hair version in the Avengers. It just made her feel leaner, meaner and sexier all the way. Like one fans said it, her hairstyle in the Avengers made her look more like a “soccer mom” than a really dangerous spy-agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. I found that to be true, here in the Avengers she looked WAY OLDER than she was in Iron Man 2. It was like in the Iron Man 2 she was a young, sexy, dangerous agent in her 20s, while all of a sudden, in The Avengers she become a 30-something veteran spy. I was wowed when she came into the screen and blew Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts out of the water in Iron Man 2. Here she just plainly looks… plain😦

Loki – THIS is the ONLY costume which is actually BETTER than the original counterpart. The black/green colour scheme combined with a long leather jacket design actually works better than the original gold/green design with a cape. See, Thor, if Loki can have those nicely designed metal gauntlets on his arms, then why can’t you?!

I put some images below so you can see the comparison. Original ones on the left, new ones on the right, except for Loki. That guy just doesn’t know how to follow the rules, does he? Being the god of chaos, mischief and all that…

Captain America

THOR

Loki

Black Widow

CHARACTER ACTING
No matter how good the set piece, CGI and the story plotline is, it will be worthless if the actors can’t act their part convincingly. Now let’s see how the actors fare in this movie.

Robert Downey Jr. – As usual, the scene stealer, the one character who looks to have the most fun in the movie, the one with the best quotes and quips such as “We have a Hulk!”, “Everything that is good from you came from a bottle!” and the infamous “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philantropist” line. But basically he’s just being himself here and there’s not much of a marked improvement from his roles in Iron Man and Iron Man 2 – 8.0.

Chris Evans – Played a convincing role as Captain America as a man out of time, trying to come to terms with his current predicament, drowning his sorrows in a gym full of punching bags, but still have that aura of heroic leadership around him when the situation calls upon him to act and lead the team. The total opposite in character from Downey’s Tony Stark carefree role, and it was a joy watching the both of them interact with one another on screen – 8.0.

Mark Ruffalo – The complete revelation of this movie as the best Dr. Bruce Banner we’ve had in ages! He played Banner as a man trying to come to terms with the monster inside him, a grim, world-weary man, but still trying to help others when he is able to. As an intellectual man on the same level of Tony Stark, the scenes where they interact with each other, especially when they talked about the Hulk inside him, was great. Simply the best character in the movie – 10.0.

Chris Hemsworth – Underused, underutilized, doesn’t even come into play until the second act of the movie as he was the last one to join The Avengers. Not much dialogue and is actually quite passable if not for these two scenes: the three-way fight in the forest and the Hulk punch scene. Shame, really, as he can actually act far better than this – as seen in THOR where I gave him a 8.0 – and deserves to have a greater role than this – 7.0.

Tom Hiddleston – A rising star who has gathered a lot of accolades and fans (including myself) after his amazing performance in THOR. Cast as the main villain and evil mastermind of this movie, he delivered a solid performance and a commanding screen presence whenever he appears. Still, there is no scene here that is above or even on par with the totally emotional one between him and Anthony Hopkins’ Odin in THOR (where I gave him a 10.0), where he confronted Odin about his true nature as Odin’s stepson and the child of a frost giant – 9.0.

Scarlet Johannson – The femme fatale of the movie (and of the Avengers team), she has been cast not only in a physical role, but also in an emotional one. She has a lot of important dialogue in the movie such as her recruitment of Dr. Bruce Banner in India and her interaction with the captured Loki aboard the Helicarrier. Unfortunately, I find her perfomance wanting and unconvincing here, not on par with the rest of the cast. Here she was simply blown away by the terrific performances of Downey, Evans, Ruffalo and Hiddleston, making her scenes quite a waste of screen time. The best interaction she had in the movie was her emotional scenes with Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, but even that is not good enough compared to the rest of the cast. She needs to up her ante for the next movies, especially if they are gonna make her star in a solo “Black Widow” movie – 7.0.

Jeremy Renner – Ah, Hawkeye. A really cool character which was unfortunate enough to be cast in a “stale” role until the final act of the movie. As he was being mind-controlled by Loki, he had to put up a cold, emotionless expression until the control was broken just before the final act. But his awesome potrayal of Hawkeye in that final act more or less made up for the his lack of emotion during the first two hours. And let’s not forget his major role in the Helicarrier assault, which was frankly, really awesome. This man deserves to have a bigger role in the upcoming movies – 7.5.

Samuel L. Jackson – This is just Samuel L. Jackson channeling Samuel L. Jackson here, ’nuff said. No muthaf**** snakes on a muthaf**** plane and all that s*** – 8.0.

Cobie Smulders – Most comic book fans will be disappointed with the lack of role given to Maria Hill in this movie, as in the comics she is actually a far more important character than the way she is being potrayed here as Nick Fury’s second in command. Hopefully we’ll see more of her being tied in to the other Marvel movies, such as the upcoming Iron Man 3, as she has a lot of history with Tony Stark in the comics, especially during the Stark: Disassembled storyline – 6.0.

143 MINUTES OF FAN SERVICE
For all the weaknesses I listed above, one part where The Avengers succeeded was in giving the fans a lot of fan service material throughout the movie. Seeing the S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier took to the skies in all its glory sure will stir something inside the hearts of every fan. The movie is also filled with some smart dialogue and memorable (meme-worthy) scenes such as these…

• Steve Rogers’ $10 bet with Nick Fury about being surprised by a stranger world.
• Nick Fury’s payback quips with imprisoned Loki about the ant and the boot.
• Loki: “Kneel before me. I said KNEEL!!!” (hordes of fangirls happily comply, oh wait…)
• Tony Stark (to Cap): “Everything special about you came out of a BOTTLE!”
• Steve Rogers: “I got that reference!” (yeah, Cap, yeah…)
• Loki: “I have an army…” | Tony Stark: “We have the HULK!”
• Captain America (to Hulk): “And Hulk! ….SMASH!”
• Bruce Banner: “That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.”
• Loki (trying to mind-control Stark): “This usually works…”
• Loki: “I am a GOD you dull creature! I will NOT be bullied by a —”
• Hulk: (wipes the floor with Loki) “Puny god!”
• Hulk punches Thor off-screen. (Yes, that one!)

…and still many more out there to count, as this movie is basically just one pile of memorable quotes, scenes quips and fan service one after another. The most impressive part of all this is the way they potrayed Phil Coulson as the “fanboy” of the story, acting as our representative inside that Avengers world. A huge fan of Captain America who have even collected his trading cards, he is markedly no different than any of us who is a huge fan of the Avengers, and this worked so effectively to pull us closer into the world of the Avengers, making it easier for ourselves to relate to it, and making it seemingly ours too.

VERDICT
With all the hype and glowing reviews from a lot of screeners around the world, I walked in to the theatre expecting a 9.0+ grade movie in the mold of Inception (my best and most favourite movie in the recent years). Still, after a lot of considerations and viewings, I am just simply unable to see this movie as a 9.0+ one, but only a 8.0 one. Yes, it is good, but not great. It is, by all means, only a little bit better than THOR, which I consider the best pre-Avengers movie of them all.

If the question is “Should you watch it?”, then the answer is “YES, you should watch it!”. But if the question is “Did it manage to live up to the hype?”, then I say Yes and No, as in “YES, because the movie worked, and it is actually very good, but NO, because it didn’t manage to reach as high as the hype.” Maybe if you come to the movie with a little less expectation, you would find it very satisfying. But as one who have been caught with all the hype surrounding the movie during all these years, especially as a comic book reader who have also read The Ultimates, it’s hard not to feel that the movie could have been done a little bit better in many ways.

All in all, a good (not great), solid movie which has set the foundation and the cornerstone for the second wave of the Marvel superhero movies. Let’s hear it for Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2 and maybe even a Black Widow or Hawkeye movie. Then by the time The Avengers 2 comes, let’s hope Whedon will have learned a lot from this experience to make an even better movie that will finally be able to reach the height and pinnacle of “The best superhero movie EVER.”