A step-by-step review. No spoilers, but rambling abounds.
• Firstly, a few details.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg
Director/Co-writer: Joss Whedon
• Long ago, in the halcyon days of being a little girl,
I was meant to want to be a princess. Instead, I was determined to be a superhero. This may have had something to do with my habit of reading the occasional comic and rather enjoying it, before deciding at the tender age of six that “I will write great comics!”
Let’s just say that I’m still trying.
I admit, the comic reading is now rare and almost non-existent, but I’ve read enough in my life to have at least a vague idea of who The Avengers are and what they should sound like. This left me more than a little apprehensive about the film, even with Joss Whedon at the helm.
I was pleasantly surprised.
• The overall plot can fit comfortably on a postage stamp.
Well, it’s so obviously just an excuse to get all the Avengers in the same room that it doesn’t really matter; the film’s all about the bickering, the friendships and the explosions. However, if you really want to know: Big scary device – the Tesseract, a source of power for all mankind – is stolen by villain who wants to take over the world (the wonderfully malevolent Loki – I’ll get to Tom Hiddleston later). Team of heroes (the titular Avengers) go after him to save the world.
• There’s strong scripting, and some even stronger performances.
Downey Jr. simply exudes effortless cool as Tony Stark – unsurprising, somehow – and the way he plays the character is pretty much perfect, irreverent wit and what could almost be arrogance softened by shades of humility. This is exactly, in fact, what made me like the first Iron Man film – and this cinema incarnation of Stark – so much. Credit to the writers, but it’s the excellent performance that brings an already pretty glowing script to life.
However, this isn’t the only example of “cool” within the film.
Mark Ruffalo, like an American Martin Freeman, plays the unfortunate everyman very well, and it’s used to great effect here. Far too many incarnations of Bruce Banner – the human side of the Hulk – have been shown as whiny, one-dimensional characters, with no lives outside of their alter-ego: the Hulk happens to occasionally be a normal – incredibly boring – guy.
Here, Banner is an interesting character in his own right. He’s a calm stabiliser for the volatile team, a down-to-earth man of sharp wit and quiet anger. He’s a pretty-much-normal guy who happens to occasionally be the Hulk.
Also, the interplay between Tony, who kept his fortune through his engineering and technological genius, and Bruce, a ridiculously intelligent astrophysicist, is marvellous: Get two men who are sarcastic and far too smart for their own good. Stick them in a room together. See what happens.
All due credit here to the writers: the job they’ve done on Bruce’s character is great, and Ruffalo’s understated, quietly confident performance only serves to emphasise that.
Chris Evans is fine as Steve Rogers (Captain America). I couldn’t call him wooden; his performance is expressive and likeable enough. I just wish there had been more written for the character.
There’s the same problem with Hawkeye and Black Widow – though they don’t compare to Downey Jr. and Ruffalo in terms of sheer cool, Renner and Johansson’s performances are convincing and very natural. I actually like both characters here very much. However, they simply aren’t given enough screen time, shoved out of the film to show all the cool banter and explosions. A shame, since there’s a very interesting backstory sketched out between them as the film progresses. I would’ve liked to have known more.
• Who says the heroes get to have all the fun?
Then there’s Loki, one more case of performance and scripting working wonderfully in sync.
I found Tom Hiddleston the highlight of Thor, and here he’s even better (perhaps it’s due to an improved script to play with – I found Thor‘s a little lacklustre).
He gives Loki an extra dose of madness, a manic, bi-polar energy that’s electric to behold; yet he also plays him with a disturbingly human streak that makes the character relateable. There’s also Loki’s theatrical side – despite the fact that he may be pure evil, he certainly knows how to make an entrance.
I’m actually far more familiar with the original Norse mythology than the Thor comic books, and this certainly seems like the mythological being of chaos the gods feared.
Here’s where Chris Hemsworth has his chance to shine. He plays Thor, who is by far the simplest and least likeable character of the film – one of the few areas where the writing’s a little duller. However, watching the brothers bounce off each other, with their spectacular, godlike demonstrations of sibling jealousy that are almost Shakespearean is great fun, giving us some of the tensest parts of the film.
•Things go boom. A lot.
That isn’t to say the film is perfect. Though the action scenes looked amazing and showed the Avengers’ characters very well, I’d rather there had been a bit less “action” and a bit more “talkiness”. An hour was devoted to a battle scene that could’ve been over in twenty minutes. I’d have loved to see a little more of the technology, the sharing of ideas and common interests in the team, the effects of the losses sustained in the fight.
Samuel L. Jackson is… well, Samuel L. Jackson, thinly disguised as Nick Fury. He even calls a government decision “stupid-ass.” The role was so obviously written for him that it’s… not jarring, exactly, but certainly not Nick Fury. It is, as said, Samuel L. Jackson being played by himself.
• In a nutshell?
A wonderfully witty, sparkling script, powerhouse performances from pretty much everyone involved and brilliantly choreographed fight sequences. A couple of small niggles detract from the experience, but you just won’t care once you get caught up in it, and they really are insignificant in the whole. Don’t go in expecting to see the meaning of life – it’s most definitely a fun film, not a deep one – but it is certainly one of the best superhero movies around.
• Edited to add:
After posting a generally glowing review of Ruffalo’s performance above, I found this, which explains it a helluva lot better than me, even if it is in all-caps: The Hulk On Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk.
Film Crit Hulk may now have become one of my favourite blogs, ever. It’s hilarious, and often spot-on.