Overall verdict: 8.5/10
The Good: Pretty much everything from the stellar cast chemistry and incredible action sequences to the witty humor and well rounded character development
The Bad: never challenges the audience to think with deeper more complex themes, generic sounding background music
Since 2008's Iron Man movie, Marvel studios has been teasing us with the prospect of our favorite comic book superheroes teaming up on the big screen. Four years and 5 other movies later, "The Avengers"arrive on the scene, heralding the first big budget cross-property movie team up. Director Joss Whedon brings his trademark flair for an ensemble cast and weaves one tight tale of great heroes who put aside their differences and fight against a threat mightier than any they have ever faced.
Loki, last defeated in Thor (2011), has returned to pave the way for a massive alien army invasion. He breaks into the S.H.I.E.L.D organisation, and steal the Tesseract, the artifact of untold power which was central to the plot of Captain America: the First Avenger (2011). During the escape, Loki mind controls the head scientist Dr Selvig and ace archer Hawkeye before making his getaway. Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D assembles some key personnel to retrieve the artifact. The newly revived Captain American is brought on board due to his experience in the past. Iron Man/Tony Stark is here to review the research on the Tesseract. Superspy Natasha romanov/Black Widow is sent to retrieve radiation expert Bruce Banner (who also happens to transform into the Incredible Hulk when enraged) in order to track the artifact's radioation signal. Of course, Thor has pursued his brother Loki to earth and has a run in with Iron Man and Captain America. Thus, the team is assembled.
But the beauty of it is that they were never meant to be a team. They were just different special people with their own talents who are forced to work together despite clashing egos and personalities. The fun is seeing those clashes yet seeing how a greater threat can unite people. There is never that cartoony "Let's all work together guys" feel that typically permeates superhero team movies like Fantastic Four. Marvel "humanises" all its characters just enough so they are easy to relate to yet distinct in their own extraordinary personalities.
Despite picking off immediately after Captain America, you do not have to really watch the previous movies to get a sense of the characters. Amid the big action beats, the plot allows for little character centered moments that flesh out these larger than life heroes. A single 5 minute scene in Whedon's hands is enough to establish the motivations, attitudes and personalities of the protagonists. That style is a throw back to classic comic book storytelling where, due to a limited page count and the "per issue" format of old comic stories, characters have to be introduced as quickly and effectively as possible to advance the plot. It takes a master to weave convincing character development into a movie as face paced and plot driven as Avengers. That and impeccable cast chemistry. Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr et al play off one another's energy with dialogue flowing so naturally that it almost feels ad-libbed.
The script is peppered with one hilarious scene after another. Avengers boasts the most tasteful, witty and spot-on humor in any summer blockbuster to date. Gems include the "Shakespeare in the park" exchange between Iron Man and Thor, and pretty much anything the Hulk does.(Especially his "showdown" with Loki).
If there is a major downside to this movie (there always is), it is the music and the wasted potential for a deeper look into the nature of a superhero team. Alan Silvestri returns to scoring the soundtrack but gives a rather generic sound to the whole film. With his previous work on Captain America, he successfully captured the tone of swashbuckling adventure stories of that era with a fitting theme that underscores Captain America as a symbol of American patriotism and as man of humble beginnings. It was a nice touch for Silvestri to incorporate recognisable character motifs from previous Marvel films but Avengers lacks that nuance of an underlying theme. The problem could be that Avengers never manages to fully develop its underlying themes.
Preceding films went in depth to the deconstruction of the "hero" concept. Thor was about a hero's humility and heroism as a service to others, Captain America showed that it was the individual and not his powers that made a hero.Iron Man dealt with the fine line between using one's power for good and abusing one's power for self gain. But with the Avengers, we never get that sort of clever subtext. We were teased with Captain America's growing distrust of S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick fury and Stark's underhanded methods to advance their own agendas, the internal squabbles; that perhaps a hero's worst enemy is another fellow hero (something the comics really went for). There was one underlying theme that questioned the possible repercussions when knowledge of America's super soldier project and alien powered weapons of mass destruction became public, or worse international.(another theme the comics successfully addressed) Alas, that intriguing little nugget was given the boot in favor of a full blown action heavy final act.
At least the payoff is worth the shallowness. With Spectacular special effects complementing epic action beats that would put Michael Bay to shame, Avengers is the rare gem of an adaptation that appeals to both fans of the original comic book characters and the main stream audience. The cool factor is cranked up to the max. It will have you leaving the cinema pumped for a sequel, laughing with your buddies and going on and on about your favorite scenes and characters.
This is a movie that will linger in your minds and be talked about for weeks, months or even years to come.
Just like a good classic comic book.
Go For it: to see the most faithful, fun filled and adrenaline pumping comic book movie ever put out by Marvel
Avoid it: if the deeper philosophical musings that award winning superhero comics touch on are more your thing
Replay value: A-