Let the fanwank begin.
Let me start this review by stating that I am a pretty big Joss Whedon fan. I like most of the work he has put out, and upon receiving the news that he would be the helmer of Marvel/Disney's The Avengers, I was filled with hope. Whedon has a history of utilizing ensemble casts, he is a fan of the genre, and is no stranger to special effects-laden projects. He seemed perfect for this movie, a fanboy's dream director. The film that resulted will certainly be a dream come true for many fans, but unfortunately for many others the Avengers will come off as the most expensive fanfilm ever made rather than the epic many of us hoped for.
This review will be spoiler free and I will attempt to keep it as succinct as possible.
The Plot: Not much to say here. The plot for the film is bare bones. There's a bad guy, his forces, the good guys and they fight. This is not to say that there aren't intricacies to this film, but that tends to occur on a character level. As far as plots go, the animated Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes boasts much more intricate plots in their 22 minute running time than this film. This is not necessarily a negative. Introducing the characters, creating relationships, and exploring this Marvel Universe all takes time. I think Whedon made a conscious decision to focus on the characters and to get them as much screen time as possible. The result of this, however, is a plotline ripped out of every 1980's action cartoon.
Film-Making: The movie was pretty. Mr. Whedon knows his way around a camera, and his time directing shows laden with dialogue shows here. The Avengers does a good job of moving the camera around and creating exciting angles, even when it's just a talky scene (of which there are many). When the action does ramp up, it's all presented very clearly. No shaky cam here. No extreme close-ups where you can't even tell what you're looking at. All the technical components are handled very well, and the movie exhibits polish.
Effects: Strangely, this is a mixed bag. The list of effects companies for this film includes Industrial Light and Magic and WETA. Needless to say these are two of the most accomplished effects houses in the industry. Some of the effects are amazing, such as Iron Man. The character is brilliantly realized and I could not spot when they were using CGI. The villain army, on the other hand, is poorly animated. They are very obviously computer generated, and they move like it. There were times in the film when their movements even reminded me of the Cylon Centurions from the television show Battlestar Galactica. The effects certainly do the job, but this film isn't some milestone in technical engineering. The Hulk, in particular, still looks CGI and I think that they did a better job on the character in The Incredible Hulk film.
On a practical effects standpoint, many of the costumes and devices are very cool. Hawkeye's quiver (and arrow head selection) is particularly awesome. Loki boasts 3 separate looks, Thor has 3 different costumes, and Iron Man dons 2 different armors. The big question for many fans was in regard to the Captain America costume. It is my sad duty to report that it doesn't look that great in action. The helmet is odd and doesn't work well, and the suit seems stiff and actually makes Chris Evans look smaller.
Characters: This is where the movie shines. Whedon certainly knows these characters, and even moreso, he obviously cares for them. I don't wish to give anything away, but I think fans will be happy with the treatment of these characters. A particular standout moment occurs when Thor confronts Loki for the first time. Hemsworth (Thor) and Hiddleston (Loki) are both very comfortable in these roles, and it made me actually think that this entire movie should have been Thor 2 rather than The Avengers.
Hiddleston elevates this film in any scene he graces. Downey, Evans, Renner, Jackson, and the rest also turn in very good performances. In a world where people are in unitards and shiny spandex body armor, the actors never wink at the crowd. They take the material seriously, and the film is never in danger of becoming a parody. While the main players are great, Loki's Army lacks any sort of development. One of the big geek questions coming into the film regarded the identity of the possible alien race that Loki utilizes in his attempt to conquer Earth. Their identity is revealed in the film, and they are a race that fans of the Marvel Universe will recognize, but they are little more than cardboard cutout minions.
Cool Factor: I could not even list for you the number of things to geek out to in this film. There are so many references, so many little things that fans of these characters will absolutely love. Every character gets a moment, and most get more than one. As I mentioned earlier, many parts of this film come off as a fanfilm in the best ways. You will geek out more than once. The greatest of these moments comes at the end of the film. After a short title sequence with the main cast, a preview of things to come is shown. I will go out on a limb and say that this will be the most talked about part of the movie for the hard core comic book fan.
Verdict: The Avengers is a good film. Whedon does a great job in introducing us to these characters and putting them together somewhat organically. The care in characterization clearly shows through. That being said, the film is also incredibly uneven. The pacing seems off at times, and the plot, as simple as it is, slows down too much at certain points. The most egregious error in my estimation is the lack of the "no hope" moment. It's that moment when all seems lost, right before the good guys find a way to win. It's Han Solo coming back and making sure Luke is clear for the final shot in A New Hope, or Tom Hanks firing a pistol at a tank in Saving Private Ryan. Whedon pulls it off deftly in Serenity, but fumbles here. There is an attempt at it, but it never quite comes together. And in many ways, that's how The Avengers comes off. It is a series of good, sometimes great moments, which never quite comes together into an epic package.
Score: 6.5 out of 10 Blud Bloods.
Written or Contributed by: Doc Jon