The Avengers (2012): ***½
Directed by Joss Whedon
The Avengers is a delicate balancing act. You have (arguably)
nine separate main characters, including the villain. They’re all
fully-realized and each needs not only a chance to shine, but a chance
to develop and really to be known. Gee, if only the movie were
written by someone who had experience writing something with nine fully-realized
In retrospect it seems ridiculous that anyone else could have possibly
made The Avengers and done this well. Joss Whedon’s specialty
is taking a whole bunch of diverse characters and making them into a crazy,
mish-mashed family. And that’s essentially what this movie is; if
these guys don’t find a way to get along (and half of them don’t
believe it’s even possible), then the world is doomed.
And it’s a great mix. You’ve got a wiseass tech geek, a man
from the 1930s, a demigod from an alternate medieval world, a man with
a monster behind his eyes, a damaged spy trying to make up for a dark
past, and a cold and distant sniper who will quickly find he has a very
personal vendetta. Then there are the two or three people whose dumb idea
it was to bring them together.
And Whedon manages to balance the film brilliantly. Each character gets
enough moments to shine that you don’t feel they get the short shrift.
The movie shifts deftly through comedy and tragedy and excitement and
wonder, with none of the moods at the expense of any of the others.
But The Avengers is not perfect. Parts at the beginning kind
of lag. There are a lot of pieces that need to be moved into place, and
sometimes it is a lot like watching people set up a chess board. Not too
exciting, but it’s all necessary to get the satisfying ending that
we get. The alien army was kinda meh (though the Leviathan things were
cool). And I still think Thor’s costume looks, well, like something
a Thor cosplayer would throw together. I did, however, think that this
Thor was much more engaging than the smug jerk that he was in his
own movie. He seems genuinely torn up that it’s his beloved
baby brother that is causing all this awful stuff, but he just can’t
stop loving him, and it's a good performance from Hemsworth.
Downy Jr., Jackson, Evans, Johansson, and Renner are all aslo excellent
in their roles, and I was grateful especially that the non-powered members
were given such prominent roles. It’s easy to get lost when you’re
standing next to people who can fly, shoot lightning, smash, etc. But
Black Widow in particular was given a lot of important things to do in
the movie, and gets a lot of screentime and great character development.
But the real revelation of the whole movie is Mark Ruffalo as the Bruce/Hulk
(or “the Other Guy” as Bruce derisively calls him) duality.
Previous movie Bruce/Hulks have had... problems. Eric Bana did a really
good job of playing an emotionally withdrawn and unavailable Bruce. But
he was emotionally withdrawn and unavailable, which doesn’t make
for an incredibly involving performance. I did not enjoy Edward Norton
at all. He just seemed like some dude who had a kind of annoying houseguest
that inconvenienced him a little bit. He was also never believable as
a genius scientist.
But Ruffalo manages to somehow hit all the right notes, and it’s
so good that I’m not even sure what notes exactly he hits. Bruce
seems like this affable, self-deprecating, slightly shy fellow, but you
can just feel the monster seething behind his eyes. There’s a certain
resignation in his performance; he knows that the Other Guy could come
out at any moment and kill everyone within a several-mile radius. And
there’s nothing Bruce can really do about that. He’s also
grimly aware that he was brought into the team for his scientific mind,
sure, but wouldn’t the government like it if the Other Guy went
nutz on the villains...?
The relationship that Tony has with Bruce was also delightful and unexpected.
Tony, of course, is fascinated by the Hulk. He thinks the Hulk is awesome.
He wants Bruce to get in touch with Hulk and wants to know more about
him. Tony is a man who knows how to take a curse (his heart problem) and
turn it into a powerful asset, and he sees in Bruce another man who has
a curse that could be even more powerful if only he could harness it like
Tony did his own. I loved all their scenes together, and Bruce’s
final revelation of “how he does it” is remarkable and unbelievably
The Avengers is a great movie, but you already know that, don’t
you? Almost everyone I know has seen it, and not a single person I’ve
talked to has disliked it. There ya go.
By Christopher Grant Harris