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The Independent Critic

Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Chris Hemsworth
Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Rated PG-13
142 Mins.
Walt Disney Motion Pictures


 "The Avengers" Review 
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The good news for the countless fanboys and girls who will line up later tonight for the opening night of Hollywood's latest tour through the Marvel universe is that co-writer and director Joss Whedon has clearly made The Avengers with you in mind. After all, Whedon is an undeniable fanboy himself and that shines through virtually every single one of the film's 142 minutes.

If you've enjoyed every film that has teasingly played with your emotions about the arrival of this film (Thor, Iron Man 1 and 2 and Captain America), then it's nearly impossible to fathom that you won't enter geek heaven with The Avengers. The Avengers serves up not one but six superheroes including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). The six are corralled by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., on an Earth-saving mission when Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's brother from another mother, arrives on the planet intent on enslaving and ruling the entire planet and all its inhabitants.

Unless you've been living on another planet, you already realize that some of these heroes have already served up films of their own including two for Downey and Iron Man and one each for Hemsworth and Evans. The other heroes have received not so subtle hints, but are generally not regarded as candidates for branching out into their own films. The exception may prove to be Mark Ruffalo's turn here as the Incredible Hulk. Hulk has had two fairly recent cinematic incarnations with decidedly mixed results. While Edward Norton's casting in the 2008 The Incredible Hulk was deemed to be inspired casting, the seemingly odd casting of the indie darling Ruffalo comes out of nowhere and nearly hits a home run.

If you'd have told me months ago when trailers for this film started popping up that Mark Ruffalo would be my favorite of the bunch, I'd have laughed in your face.

But, there you go.

Because this is a mega-budget (rumored to be upwards of $225 million) superhero flick, Whedon doesn't hesitate to drag this sucker out to the nearly 2 1/2 hour mark. While this could have made the film seem bloated and over-extended, it actually gives each of our six heroes ample time for expository growth. Whedon has always been a fan of witty banter, and he doesn't abandon it simply because he happens to be dealing with a bunch of superheroes. If I were going to compare the film to any of the Marvel films that have preceded it, I'd likely go with the original Iron Man, a film that offered fistfuls of action and style and camaraderie and humor.

While these heroes may not serve up Hancock style humanity, they do serve up rather refreshing doses of humanity, vulnerability, humor, insecurity and what could best be described as sibling rivalry.

In addition to Ruffalo's terrific performance as the humorously geekish Dr. Banner, Downey again impresses in the dual roles of Tony Stark and Iron Man. Downey, at least to this critic, felt a bit stale in Iron Man 2 but feels energized and refreshed here and clearly seems to be having a great time amongst this cast. The scenes with Ruffalo and Downey together, especially in the lab, are among the film's best non-superhero sequences.

Neither Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans will ever be mistaken for master thespians, but Evans does a nice job of creating the retro-styled Captain America persona and Hemsworth appears more relaxed and natural on screen than he did in Thor. Two time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner isn't given much to do as Hawkeye, though it sure is nice to see the largely indie actor increasingly becoming a household name.

The other performer who really redeems herself here is Scarlett Johansson, whose acting style as of late has bordered on arrogant pretentiousness. While she still exudes a layer of confidence here, her take on Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow is one that radiates charm, humor, sexiness, vulnerability and a bit of woundedness. It's easily Johansson's most satisfying performance in quite awhile. As the film's resident bad guy, Tom Hiddleston is the perfect blend of camp and charisma as Loki. Despite eloquent monologues about submission that start to ring a bit pretentious, Hiddleston is confident and smarmy and absolutely perfect in his scenes with Thor and just about everyone else in the film.

The Avengers will undoubtedly please nearly all fanboys and most other moviegoers hoping for the quintessential popcorn flick experience. This doesn't mean, of course, that the film is perfect.

It's not.

First off, having seen the film in 3-D I can confidently say that despite the film's mega-budget the 3-D experience is occasionally disappointing and seldom surpasses mediocre. Whedon does an excellent job of painting awesome and inspired worlds, but much of the film is shot against darkness and that's never been a positive setting for 3-D imagery. The Avengers certainly doesn't suffer on the level of The Last Airbender, but there were very few times when I wasn't thinking to myself that the film would have been much more enjoyable in 2-D.

While it's doubtful that too many folks will be headed into The Avengers concerned about the story, those who do may find themselves a tad disappointed. Whedon and Zak Penn co-wrote the script by essentially serving up episodic chunks of the whole "buddy flick" thing with the film, at times, almost dipping into bromance territory. The dialogue is often humorous enough that it overcomes the plot deficits, but those who are paying attention will no doubt notice by film's end that not a whole lot has actually happened.

For all its size and special effects, The Avengers is best in its smaller moments. The Avengers is best when Downey's Tony Stark and Ruffalo's David Banner are trying and failing to squelch their inner geek while discussing nuclear physics and everything else with a clueless Chris Evans standing in the background with a hilarious blank look on his face. The Avengers is best when Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) has turned into a fanboy and is fawning over Captain America. The Avengers is best no more than two or three of our superheroes are on the big screen and they're trying, with often funny results, to figure out how to save the world while working together. Sure, many of the action scenes are awesome (especially the last 30 minutes), but The Avengers is really at its best when Whedon's own inner fanboy comes out and comes alive on the big screen.

This brings to mind, as well, the film's more supporting players including Samuel L. Jackson's stylish if not particularly memorable turn as Nick Fury and Gwyneth Paltrow's memorable, relaxed and far too brief turn as Pepper Potts.

The one thing that bothered me most about The Avengers was that it never ever achieved a level of greatness on any level. For $225 million plus, I want a film that absolutely blows me away on some level. The Avengers simply never blew me away. It was a consistently good film, and it's a good film in virtually every way. The script is good. The acting is good. The special effects are good. The direction is good.

It's simply never great. Within a good 30 minutes or so, the film's 3-star "B" rating became apparent and there was never a moment in The Avengers where that rating wavered. I never found myself wrestling with A- or B+ or B- or any variation at all - In virtually every moment of the film, I found myself thinking "This is a good film."

The Avengers is the kind of film that makes me glad that I don't have a comments section on The Independent Critic, because it's almost inevitably the kind of film where even the most trivial slight on my part will evoke the wrath of fanboys who will defend the film relentlessly and who would love to point out the myriad of ways in which my opinion is completely invalid. So, let me repeat that while there's virtually no chance of The Avengers landing anywhere near my top films of the year, it's a tremendously entertaining and well made film that will no doubt please most Marvel fans and Whedon does just about as well as is possible in weaving the stories of six superheroes into one mega-budgeted and destined to be mega-successful cinematic experience.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic