The fanboys were positively deafening when Marvel announced that Joss Whedon, creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” would be directing “The Avengers.” One cartoonist even joked that Whedon would try to shoehorn a “Buffy”-esque analogy about the movie’s villain being more metaphorical than literal, and that the studio would fire him before he shot a single frame. What those people overlooked is that Whedon excels at writing for an ensemble cast, and that he has other voices in his dialogue bag besides snarky teen. If anything, he was an inspired choice to write and direct “The Avengers”; the only real strike against him getting the job was that his last feature film effort, the 2005 space western “Serenity,” tanked at the box office. And that movie did indeed tank, but it was also pretty awesome. Once people see “The Avengers,” all will be forgiven.
The story picks up where “Thor” left off. The top-secret government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. has come into possession of the Tesseract, a glowing cube with a renewable energy force. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the vengeful brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), pledges the Tesseract to another alien race in exchange for the right to rule Earth as part of their empire. When Loki succeeds in obtaining the Tesseract, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) reaches out to every, um, uniquely skilled fighter on his radar to re-launch the Avengers Initiative, a long-forgotten plan to create a small army of superheroes to fight against the unthinkable. Some are more receptive to the idea than others; Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) and Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans) were easy recruits, but Bruce “The Incredible Hulk” Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) were a little more difficult to convince. Worse, even after they all agreed to work together, they quickly realized how difficult it will be to actually work together.
It is those scenes of discord where “The Avengers” finally begins to soar. The first 30 minutes or so are necessary for the plot – the exposition, the heist, the subsequent chase – but unremarkable. Once Whedon gets the cast in the same room and gives them the chance to interact as people rather than superheroes, the movie blossoms in a strangely wonderful way, one where it’s easy to wish that they would keep talking, rather than ramping up for the butt-kicking that is just around the corner. Indeed, until the climactic battle sequence, the action plays second fiddle to the talking, and as odd as that sounds for a superhero movie, it’s the right call.
There are some issues with the story construction, though, that are hard to overlook. Whedon clearly had moments he wanted to include, like the smackdown between Iron Man and Thor, and a scene where even the good guys are scared of Hulk. Individually, these scenes are fun; as a whole, they create some peaks and valleys in terms of tempo. The end result is a movie that may not be as consistent as “Iron Man,” but contains several moments that are without a doubt the most thrilling and funniest moments in Marvel movie history. We will provide no spoilers, but we’ll say this: Hulk is responsible for two of them.
You expect good acting from a cast like this, and the leads do not disappoint, but the most pleasant surprise is watching Tom Hiddleston transform Loki from the meek schemer in “Thor” into a venomous powder keg of ego run amok. Mark Ruffalo may not have tremendous range, but he’s very likable, and with all due respect to the dedication to Method that is Edward Norton, replacing Norton with Ruffalo was a smart move. If anyone is limited here, it’s Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Nick Fury at low speed from start to finish. Johannson and Renner are clearly not on the same level as the other Avengers, but they get a ‘B’ story as a means of bumping up their screen time. Whedon knew that balance was the key to making the movie work, and wisely, he didn’t achieve balance through marginalization in one area and overcompensation in another. Everyone gets good lines, and everyone gets to kick ass.
It’s unfortunate that “The Avengers” doesn’t flow better as a whole, because Whedon really did some extraordinary work here in spots. He may have gotten the balance right, but he neglected the rhythm, and it costs him here and there. Mind you, these lapses in timing will quickly be forgotten when one of those bring-the-house-down moments arrives, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen. He may have nailed the hard parts and brought the funny by the pound, but there is no denying that as entertaining as this movie is, it could have been even better.(3.5 / 5)
This originally ran May 3, 2012 on Bullz-Eye.com.