Ever since the first “Iron Man” teased “The Avengers” in 2008, people have been counting down the days until the release of “The Avengers.” At long last it’s time to assemble and see this highly anticipated film. Boy, was it worth the wait!
“The Avengers” is about a team of superheroes (and a few regular, but talented, humans) that come together to take on a manipulative foe, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is bent on the imprisonment and destruction of the planet. There’s the rich, brilliant and strong Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr); the God of Thunder with his mighty hammer, Thor (Chris Hemsworth); the brilliant Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) with his indestructible alter ego, The Hulk; the super soldier Steve Rodgers/Captain America (Chris Evans); the spy Natasha/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the sharp archer Agent Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). At the center of this power play is a cosmic energy object called the Tesseract. Depending on who has it, this could be a powerful, life-providing energy source or a terrible weapon of mass destruction.
Though the villain isn’t particularly strong or incredibly brilliant in comparison to our heroes, he is smart enough to spot how to turn situations to his advantage. So like the true dictator he is, Loki gives the heroes a lesson on freedom and plays them like puppets, trapping them in their own inner boxes.
“Freedom is the biggest lie in life,” Loki tells Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), early in the film. It’s an abhorrent thought, but one that is easier said as wrong than it is to actually disprove it. Loki is constantly staying one step ahead of the Avengers and showing them how trapped they are by their own arrogances and flaws. In one scene, Loki is trapped in a prison – one strong enough to hold the Hulk, and the rest of the Avengers are pacing nearby, unhappy to be called to duty. At that moment in the film, Loki is the only one who doesn’t seemed trapped. He seems to be exactly where he wants to be, yet the good guys walking around in “freedom” seem to be trapped under their obligations, insecurities and lack of trust. So is Loki right? Is freedom a lie? As the movie is kind enough to point out, there was another man who had similar thoughts; a man who like Loki, wasn’t necessarily stronger or smarter than anyone else, but who had a powerful voice and knew how to prey on the thoughts of others…in one of the more subtly powerful scenes, Loki is cast as a modern Hitler. It takes a skinny, old man – not a buff, super powered being — to stand up to Loki and say he won’t give in to men like Loki. It’s funny – you’re watching a film about superheroes, but it’s the average Joes that prove where real strength lies. Unfortunately, it takes our heroes a while to learn this lesson. The heroes first must learn that sometimes they’re their own biggest adversaries. Saving the day isn’t just about who is the smartest, strongest, fastest or strongest. Real power comes from the heart (Hm, maybe Captain Planet was on to something). Of course, this film is true to the superhero movie formula, so as dire as it gets in the middle, you can guess who wins in the end. But what makes this film so great is the fantastic journey to get there.
With an all-star cast, some amazing special effects and witty writing, this film is the whole package. But those same things could have been a recipe for disaster – when you have so many major characters together in one film it would have been easy to make a special effects heavy film with big names, big explosions, but no substance. Fortunately, we had Joss Whedon behind this film and not Michael Bay (though some of the final fight looked a lot like a fight out of “Transformers”). Despite his sometimes lukewarm reception from the masses, Marvel/Disney couldn’t have found a better man to direct “The Avengers” than Whedon (Buffy, Firefly).
Whedon’s writing wit and quick quips have often been one of his more polarizing features – people either worship him for it or hate him – but the sharp dialogue was just another of the many elements that helped keep the film moving at a great pace without bogging old fans down in lengthy back story meant for the newcomers. Take the scene where Iron Man first has an unsteady meeting with Thor. ”You know not what you’re dealing with,” says Thor. “Shakespeare in the Park?” quips Iron Man. This scene does a great job introducing the cockiness that Thor and Iron Man have both always struggled with, but it also throws in the double-edged quip of a Shakespeare reference (The “Thor” movie was directed by Kenneth Brannagh, who is mostly known for Shakespearian films). In another humorous scene, those unfamiliar with how deep Thor’s relationship is with villain Loki get a quick explanation in a scene that’s equally hilarious for new and old fans. “He’s of Asgard…He’s my brother,” Thor tells the other Avengers. “He killed 80 people in two days,” retorts Black Widow. “He’s adopted?” shrugs Thor. Of course, as great as the dialogue is, Hulk shows us in some scene-stealing moments that sometimes actions speak louder than words.
As fan boy himself, and a master of working with ensemble casts, Whedon delivers a well-paced film that does justice to each of the mighty characters in the film – it’s what any fan could hope for. For those that followed the comics and the five films leading up to “The Avengers,” Whedon does a good job making sure that those stories and those character developments already established are not compromised. Yet he also makes sure that new viewers don’t get too bogged down in the references to the other movies. The characters are each given their proper screen time and big moments of character growth. This balanced attention to each of the characters is most notable in the character Black Widow, who came across as a bit flat in “Iron Man 2,” yet in this film there is some surprising insight into her past and we finally understand her motivation for doing what she does.