skip to main content

Listen

Read

Watch

Schedules

Programs

Events

Give

Account

Donation Heart Ribbon

Review: ‘The Avengers’

Well Assembled Summer Package

Above: Some assembly required... finally, "The Avengers."

Marvel's epic plan of assembling "The Avengers" (opened May 4 throughout San Diego) has finally paid off. This is how you make a summer superhero movie.

I will confess up front that unlike my guest blogger Miguel Rodriguez I am not a comic book geek who has consumed all the volumes of Avengers lore leading up to this film. In fact, I haven't read any Marvel comics since elementary school but I have fond memories of doing so, and that's why I asked Rodriguez to write his review from the perspective of a fanboy. Now I'm here to tell you that even if you are not a fanboy who can identify the new super villain in the teaser treat at the end of the film you will still love this film.

Marvel -- or someone -- smartly realized that the only way to ever assemble a superhero ensemble on film was to make sure all the entities and franchises were under one roof, in this case Marvel Studios. One of the main reasons you'll never see a Freddie vs. Jason vs. Ash film is because that would require a lot of studio cooperation (plus Bruce Campbell is too smart).

Video

The Avengers Trailer

Above: Trailer for The Avengers

So Marvel had the vision or the business savvy to plan a series of films leading up to a mega-superhero blockbuster called "The Avengers." Starting in 2008 with "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk," and continuing with "Iron Man 2," "Thor," and "Captain America," Marvel has been building to this epic ensemble of Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (newly added Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) all under the supervision of Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson). By getting all the origin stories out of the way in the lead up films, "The Avengers" could just get down to business and that's precisely what it does.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) saving the planet in "The Avengers."

Walt Disney

Above: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) saving the planet in "The Avengers."

"The Avengers" dovetails off of the two most recent films, "Thor" and "Captain America." The villain, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), comes from "Thor" while the "Captain America" film brought in the final big name superhero. The job of bringing together all these superheroes, falls to Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D, a secret espionage agency. When the earth is threatened by Loki and his alien henchmen, Fury assembles his team in the hopes that their super powers will be enough to save earth. The only problem is getting all the super egos to get along.

Writer-director Joss Whedon has a huge fanboy and fangirl following from his highly successful TV shows "Buffy," "Angel," and "Firefly." But feature film success has been more elusive. He has worked as a writer on successful films like "Toy Story" but his one feature directorial gig, "Serenity," made fans happy but failed at the box office. But with "The Avengers" (and to a lesser degree with "The Cabin in the Woods" that he wrote and produced) all that will change and rightfully so.

"The Avengers" does everything right for a summer blockbuster. It's a perfect balance of humor and action, accessible fun and geeky insider jokes. The casting is spot on and the effects are integrated into the story rather than existing solely as eye candy. Plus Whedon is a master at ensemble casts and snappy banter.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.

Walt Disney

Above: Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.

As an avid fan of "Buffy," I was happy to see him carry over a lot of what made that TV show good onto the big screen for "The Avengers." First of all, Black Widow, even though she doesn't have the superpowers of her male co-horts, gets to do something and not just sit around and look pretty. She has a great introduction scene where she gets to display not only her mental prowess but her impressive gymnastic skills. As with "Buffy," "The Avengers" proves that Whedon knows how to create female action characters that are smart, sexy, tough, and not whiny or window dressing.

The other thing Whedon is so good at is balancing the outlandish with the mundane. Sure Buffy would kill vampires and demons and save the world but she still had to do homework. Similarly, these superheroes may be fighting to save the earth but they can also be petty and bickering. So while I would hesitate to say that Whedon keeps it real, he definitely keeps his superheroes human. But without ignoring the fact that they do have amazing superpowers, it's just that they don't make a big deal about it. Watching "The Avengers" made me feel like a kid again because I was pulled into a universe where I immediately believed that these characters could stop an alien spacecraft with a fist or jump off building. These are superheroes where you are really made to see that they have super powers and it's something to revel in. Whedon strikes just the just balance between flaunting the super powers and downplaying just how outlandish it all is. Whedon's "The Avengers" does what the best films of this genre do: create a fantasy world that you accept as totally real. And then provides a kick-ass good time as well.

A good sense of scale also helps with the action scenes. On the surface, some of the action -- with alien creatures/vessels tearing through a major American city wreaking havoc -- look similar to scenes from the god awful "Transformers" films. But here's the difference: "Transformers" focused only on the epic scope of the action, on the immense robots ripping apart a city. It was simply big and noisy, and created no tension and engaged no emotions. "The Avengers," on the other hand, conveys the epic scale of the battle as whale-like alien ships swim through New York City leaving destruction in their wake but it also takes the time to remind us of the human lives down on the ground. The Avengers are concerned with fighting the aliens but also with making sure that civilians are guided to safety. By doing this, Whedon engages our emotions and creates tension. It's harder for a superhero like Captain America to fight an enemy while he's also looking over his shoulder to try and protect people fleeing an office building. This changes up the scale as well as the pace in the action, and makes it so much more engaging and exciting.

Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. balance each other well in Joss Whedon's "The Avengers."

Walt Disney

Above: Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. balance each other well in Joss Whedon's "The Avengers."

A sense of contrast also helps in terms of the characters. I always found Captain America a bit bland and tiringly patriotic. But his all-American attitude plays much better in contrast to Tony Stark's flippant arrogance. And Hulk's simple smash agenda plays nicely off of Black Widow's more subtle mind games. All in all it's a well-rounded team in which each members brings something different to the table, and Whedon makes that mix fun.

I could quibble about the film's length, nearly 2 and a half hours. It could have used a little trimming but even at that run time, it never dragged or felt overly long, that's a credit to Whedon's script, pacing, and cast. Downey's Tony Stark is my favorite. Downey is just perfect as the snarky billionaire philanthropist who plays by his own rules because he literally can afford to. As I mentioned earlier, Downey's Stark is the perfect foil for Evans' Captain America. Evans may occasionally be the butt of a joke -- because he's a man out of time and doesn't always fit in -- but he never plays Steve Rogers or Captain America as jokey. Ruffalo is a nice new addition as Bruce Banner/Hulk. Thank god they dropped Edward Norton (who played Hulk in the 2008 film). Norton is definitely not an ensemble player and would not have fit in. Hulk may be CGI but he proves there is such a thing as well used CGI, and when he finally gets to smashing, it's well worth the wait. The rest of the superhero cast -- Hemsworth, Johansson and Renner -- are all solid as is Jackson as Fury (although I wish he had more to do than stand around). Middleston's Loki may not be the most exciting super villain but he serves the film well and Hiddleston masters an evil smirk.

"The Avengers" (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference) is pure superhero fun and sets the bar high for the superhero films still to come this year, "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Amazing Spider-Man." Thanks Joss Whedon and I hope this means we'll be seeing more of your work on the big screen.

NOTE: Make sure to stay for BOTH post credit scenes!

Companion viewing: "Iron Man," "Captain America," "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" (especially the Captain America episode, which had the best animation of the series)

Comments

Avatar for user 'lolo'

lolo | May 7, 2012 at 10:31 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

I'm silly excited to watch this one.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'rainestorm'

rainestorm | May 7, 2012 at 11:01 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

I'm afraid I must disagree. It's easily Whedon's worst script and a virtually incoherent standalone film.

http://www.rainestorm.com/2012/05/06/too-many-cooks/

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | May 7, 2012 at 11:32 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

lolo- be excited!

rainestorm- I guess we have to agree to disagree. It stands alone so long as you accept the notion that superheroes can save the world. It's much more fun if you have seen at least Iron Man and Captain America but you can walk into this without having seen any of the previous films and still have fun.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'rainestorm'

rainestorm | May 7, 2012 at 12:19 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

I guess I'm finding that I'm surprised less and less at the movies these days. I'm not talking about huge surprises, either. Neither must I insist that all good movies are foreign or independent. I thoroughly enjoyed Lockout because Guy Pearce's hilarious performance was totally unexpected. I enjoyed The Grey because it went beyond mindless action and delved deeper into the psychology of men struggling to survive under the harshest circumstances. I enjoyed 21 Jump Street because it eschewed most of the common clichés of high school movies and because Channing Tatum was unexpectedly hilarious. I loved The Raid: The Redemption because of its exhausting relentlessness and truly interesting cinematography.

The Avengers delivers a whole lotta boom and not much more.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | May 7, 2012 at 3:59 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

I think you are just looking at the surface. I think the Avengers offers a great comic book movie, one that really gives us a superhero world where superheroes with super powers are just working guys who deal with petty office politics and have a hard time getting along. Yet Whedon also makes the super powers truly super.

Just curious if you enjoyed Buffy the TV show?

I whole-heartedly agree with you about Guy Pearce in Lockout and The Raid Redemption. To me, Whedon delivers the comic book formula with a true love for the genre so in that respect it does not serve up a lot of surprises but it deliver on the formula with sweet satisfaction.

Thanks for the comments and the alternate opinion.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'ohwhatever'

ohwhatever | May 7, 2012 at 7:27 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Agreed, rainestorm. This was probably Whedon's most tired and uninspired script. It was everything you expect from a summer blockbuster, true, but it was no less and no more. As an avid Buffy fan (I rewatch the entire series annually), I can say with some confidence that this had no resemblance to that series.
Iron Man, as always, was brilliantly written, but every moment he wasn't on screen I nearly nodded off. I realize that Thor and Captain America were written in mockery of their incessant dullery, but not quite mocking enough. I think some might have actually mistaken them for real, non-tedious, superheroes. Ten years ago, perhaps you could have given Whedon some credit that in ONE SCENE Black Widow is more than a pretty face, but no longer. Every,single,moment of that movie was done before. Years before.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | May 8, 2012 at 9:54 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

I have to disagree, especially about Black Widow. Name one other comic book movie where the female character gets to kick ass and be on equal footing with male counterparts. Certainly not Jessica Alba in Fantastic Four. Jennifer Garner got some action but was more window dressing in her two outings as Elektra, and all the X-women have proven to be pretty lame. Women action stars are still the exception and not the rule so Whedon does still get kudos for his depiction of Black Widow.

As for Thor and Captain America, they are not being mocked, but their earnestness plays perfectly off of Tony Stark's wise ass. It's a great mix of superheroes rather than everyone being the same flavor.

And I can't think of any comic book movie that has brought together so many superheroes and given them equal billing.

Thanks for the comments.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 9, 2012 at 10:02 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Catwoman (Pfeiffer) was an equal adversary (though granted not a heroine) to Burton's Batman. Certainly more of a physical adversary than either the Penguin or the Joker!

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | May 9, 2012 at 1:50 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Pfeiffer may be better and more fun than Alba, Garner or the X-Women but I would still argue that Johansson's Black Widow kicks more ass and displays more mental smarts. And even if you count Pfeiffer's Cat Woman as strong she would be the exception rather than the rule, and proves that Whedon does deserve praise for his depiction of Black Widow.

Thanks for adding to the discussion.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | May 15, 2012 at 9:29 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

I loved the movie. I think Weldon did a fantastic job with just about everything from the script to the directing. The script is actually very good if only more people pay attention to it. And claiming that Iron Man was brilliantly written but dozing off baffles me to no end. I can't argue with others taste in movies. I didn't find 21 Jump Street at all entertaining much. I rather watch the series all over again than to sit through the movie the again.

Again, if you pay attention to the script, it really is well laid out and filled with hilarious tones. Tony Stark takes the cake on these of course. The setting for each character was very well done continuing from their respective movies, Hawkeye and Widow excluded of course but they had their short history told within the movie.

Capt America is suppose to be what you've said Beth, if not more...

"I always found Captain America a bit bland and tiringly patriotic." He is like batman and Superman mixed together; instinctive, tactical but always does what is "good" and "true." I'm actually glad Weldon didn't do this to Cap and instead gave him a shining part where he found phase 2 stuffs. It's this type of attention to detail that I find myself amazed at. I didn't know Weldon was a comic fan but after having seen the movie several times I have to agree or at least commend him for his fantastic efforts.

I can understand why some people may find the setting boring but seriously though you can't escape it. Transformer was NOT the first to introduce this alien attacking earth. Believe it or not :) Comics will eventually evolve to include aliens, of which some of the most powerful beings are at; hence the spoiler at the end of the movie. It doesn't have to be Avengers, any comic book heroes will eventually include the exact same setting. Therefore I suggest not fretting yourself over this minor issue but rather how well the setting is made with each director, such as Weldon has done with Avengers. Not many movies are fresh to begin with and we live in a world where it's easier to bank on sequels and old stories.

I just like to end my comments with how people could hate the script. I thought it was a great script with a little touch of everything, most importantly a touch of humanity to them so the viewer can relate emotionally to. I'm pretty sure rainestorm and ohwhatever wouldn't know or be able to cite examples from the movie on this. There are plenty, one just have to really pay attention.

( | suggest removal )