In the interests of full disclosure I have to confess here that The Avengers is one of my favourite movies of all time, and I find it hard to be totally objective about it, so fan boy gushing is quite likely to follow.
I think it’s fair to say that before Disney bought and decided to resurrect the Star Wars ennealogy, The Avengers was one of the most highly anticipated and hyped upcoming movies. Could it possibly live up to the hype?
From my point of view the answer is yes. Let’s look at how they went about making it all work. It was a delicate balancing act. Films with large all star ensemble casts like the one they collected for The Avengers often don’t work, partly because of the diverse personalities and characters at play. These personalities and characters are often on and off screen, so it takes good writing and excellent directions to pull it all together in a spectacle that both pleases and entertains the paying audience.
This time I’m going to start with the director. I don’t think the MCU creative people could have gotten it any more right by sourcing Joss Whedon as director. I was already a Whedon fan. I loved Buffy, Angel and Firefly. Dollhouse not so much, but everyone is allowed to put a foot wrong. I liked the idea of Dollhouse, just felt some of the execution was off, and it did give the world the talents of Dichen Lachman.
Not only can Whedon direct, he can write and his dialog is excellent. Touches of Joss can be seen all through The Avengers, especially in Tony Stark’s dialog. I’d be surprised if his nick name of Point Break for Thor wasn’t a Whedon contribution.
Casting wasn’t hard, because the majority of actors returned to the roles that they had already successfully played. Robert Downey Junior was Tony Stark, Chris Hemsworth Thor, Chris Evans Captain America, Scarlett Johansson the Black Widow, Jeremy Renner Hawkeye (or as Erik Selvigg refers to him ‘The Hawk’). Samuel Jackson was Nick Fury, who had a significantly expanded role for this film (he’s kind of an honorary Avenger). The one exception was Ed Norton’s Bruce Banner, he was replaced by Mark Ruffalo.
Smaller roles were also reprised, Clark Gregg played Agent Phil Coulson for the 4th and most significant time, his fan boying performance around Captain America is a joy to watch. Gwyneth Paltrow played Pepper again, even though this wasn’t an Iron Man film. Stellan Skarsgaard came back as Erik Selvigg. Maximilian Hernandez came back very briefly as Sitwell. Stan Lee appeared as an incredulous chess player in one of the post credit sequences. Paul Bettany voiced Jarvis again.
Tom Hiddleston returned to play Loki as the villain of this piece and my God he did a good job. It was such a layered and on note performance. He seemed to connect in one way or another and develop chemistry with every character he worked with. His ‘mewling quim’ line to Natasha Romanov is one of the most remembered from the film, largely because of the modern day translation, but that entire scene is fascinating and a credit to the two actors on screen. Hiddleston’s an underrated talent.
A number of other actors appeared in smaller roles. This was the first time we saw Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. Her ass kicking role surprised me, because before I’d only seen her as Robin from the sitcom Before I Met Your Mother, and they are two very different characters in looks and behaviour. I like Maria a whole lot more.
Powers Boothe and Jenny Agutter are members of the powerful and mysterious council that Fury seems to take his orders from. There are other members on screen, but those are the only two who speak.
The film is action from start to finish, but they don’t sacrifice story or character development for action. The action sequences make sense and are placed correctly. Almost the final hour of the film is devoted to the battle scene of the Avengers fighting the invading Chitauri hordes. All the heroes are given plenty of screen time, individual and as a team. They’re shown using their particular skill set to protect their world. When Iron Man takes the nuke into the portal and looks like he may die, I can remember seeing that scene in the cinema and hearing an upset child say to their parent ‘He’s not dead, is he? Iron Man can’t be dead.’ It’s an affecting moment.
A lot of the plot revolves around the Tesseract, underlining just how important it is to the films and the universe and it's a partial pay off on something that started 2 films ago.
We get to see both the best of Tony Stark and the worst in this film. Both are evident in his complicated relationship with Steve. The two men share a mutual disrespect of each other. Steve sees Tony as a spoilt, self obsessed brat and Tony sees Steve as an old fashioned, uptight relic of the past. It’s driven by things in the past. Steve is jealous that Howard (Tony’s father) got to spend more time with Peggy than he did and sees echoes of Howard’s worst elements in his son. Tony is jealous because Steve knew his father better than he did and of how much Howard respected Steve.
The one thing that I don’t think really worked in this and future films is the relationship between Banner/Hulk and Natasha. They do try to play it up, but there’s more of a connection between her and Clint and by the time Natasha does realise the depths of her feelings for Bruce in Avengers 2, she’s already developed a real connection with Steve in Winter Soldier.
The Captain America films, especially Winter Soldier, and now Thor: Ragnarok, have come close to equalling The Avengers, but no cigar yet and nothing has gone past it in excellence for me. It’s the gold standard for superhero team movies.