Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, and Tom Hiddleston
Back in 2008, a film called The Dark Knight opened amongst buzz that it was the best comic book movie of all time and contained the best portrayal of a villain in the history of comic book movies. The movie did gangbusters at the box office, shattering records, while doing what was unheard of for a film based on a comic book ever to do: it was almost unanimously praised by both critics and audiences alike. It even took flack for not getting a Best Picture nomination, settling instead for a Best Supporting Actor Award for Heath Ledger and his said villain The Joker (and is partially to be blamed for the mess that the Best Picture category is now). That same summer, another seed had been planted. A little film called Iron Man opened, and surprised many by rivaling The Dark Knight as being the best comic book movie of that year. The planted seed was what was then an anomaly: a scene after the credits showed that, in time, a team was going to be assembled to take on all evil. Well, my friends, that time is NOW! Four years later, under the pen and watchful directorial eye of self-proclaimed comic book dork Joss Whedon, The Avengers is upon us. Exciting, humorous, and sometimes even heart breaking, this film is rivaling all the goodness of 2008, and reminding both film-goers and comic book readers the real reason as to why we go see these films: for the fun of it. And, its villain Loki, portrayed brilliantly by Hiddleston, may rival Ledger’s as the best portrayed comic book villain ever put to celluloid.
Before I get into the film itself, take one more look at the list of actors that are in this thing. Every single one of them, with the exceptions of Ruffalo and Hiddleston, have had their own names headlining some pretty big films. If anything else, Whedon is to be praised for getting them all in the same picture and not having egos explode. You really get the feeling while watching this movie that they all knew what they were doing going in, and not one character gets that much more screen time than the other. They all have their time to shine, with Downey once again sprouting one liners left and right. Even Renner, portraying Hawkeye, gets in a few zingers. However, my biggest worry coming in was Johansson’s Black Widow. While I didn’t think she was necessarily bad in Iron Man 2, she was, to me, like pretty much what that movie was as a whole: good enough, but in the end a disappointment. Here, Whedon gives her more to do, and the way she comes through exceeded my frill expectations only to make room for bigger ones. Very nicely done. Another thing that was done brilliantly was that all of the characters still deal with the same issues that they had before, but Whedon keeps it so that it doesn’t seem monotonous. Yes, Banner is still struggling to control his anger. Yes, Thor is still dealing with being..well, Thor-like. But, the pace never frails. Not one character is dwelled upon. And, in a movie that has so many moving parts, Whedon shows a type of skill that even Raimi couldn’t do in Spider-Man 2….he makes it all fit together in a very nicely formed puzzle. In other words, instead of the square pegs and round holes that Raimi was dealing with, Whedon made the film into one whole resourceful character piece. Without any one character being the center. And doing all this while keeping the egos within the set in check. That, my friends, takes skill and an ability to weave your craft. The way Whedon brings them all together in an almost totally organic way in the first part of the film was really the only way it could have been done. And, he does it so well that once they are together, you want them to take charge. Assemble, if you will.
However, as good as everyone on the good side of things is, this film, much like not just comic book movies but all movies in general, needs a good villain. And…MY GOD! I have no idea if it was the way he was written by Whedon or portrayed by Hiddleston, but the Loki of this film needs to go up in the top 3 list of best comic book movie villains ever done. Let me clarify: while I enjoyed the cheesiness and feel good storytelling of the mostly ho-hum received Marvel movie of last year Thor, I thought that Loki was one of its weaknesses. His dealing with the reveal of being a frost giant and ‘poor me’ Goth-like motivation to kill his brother left me in an almost despair state. After all, Hiddleston, in addition to being Loki last year, also showed some pretty darn good acting chops in Spielberg’s War Horse. Here however, instead of coming off as a whiny brother looking to be loved more by his father, Loki is just pissed off! His plan of stealing the cube known as the Tesseract to open a portal into space that lets a dangerous alien race to enter and destroy our planet is one that does not in fact reek of whining, and only of power. A power not even touched upon in Thor, and Whedon wisely lets Hiddleston run with it. He takes an almost out of his mind glee in what he is doing, and comes off as dangerous here. What a performance, and one that I feel should be recognized by people outside the comic book movie world come awards time.
Now, the film is not perfect. I am pretty big on film scores, especially those in blockbuster motion pictures. And, sadly, Alan Silvestri’s score in this film is mind numbingly dull. It doesn’t enhance the action at all and, in fact, the times it was on I was begging it to be turned off. Another complaint is that, once Loki’s army is finally upon the world, it is a bit under whelming. As someone who wants to destroy the world, you would think Loki would have looked a bit harder for things that could undoubtedly carry out his plan. However, very, very small qualms aside, I feel that The Avengers lives up to all its expectations and more. It is a summer blockbuster that is exactly what we need: a roller coaster of a good ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
4.5 out of 5