On Saturday I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening of The Avengers, two weeks before its UK release on 27th April and three weeks before the US release on 4th May.Few movies can boast as many superheroes, as many Oscar-nominated actors – hell, as many lead actors – as The Avengers. But when you have a movie where four of the main characters have already carried their own summer blockbusters, the danger is that it will start to lose the plot, both literally and figuratively. When those characters include a Norse mythological deity, a World War II super soldier, a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” and a Hulk, it becomes not just a question of whether the movie will lose the plot, but whether the audience will too. Whilst Michael Bay’s existence is testament to the fact that films these days barely need a script, let alone a plot, the key to Marvel’s movies has always been their quality of writing. So whilst Joss Whedon may have been a somewhat unusual choice for director, the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Toy Story was, ultimately, the right one. The Avengers rocked, and for all the right reasons.
In Captain America, Chris Evans perfectly captured both Steve Rogers’ frailty and his newly-found strength. In this film, Rogers is struggling to deal with a new world order, encapsulated by a poignant yet funny scene where Nick Fury first persuades him to join the Avengers. Whedon has said that Captain America “really was the in for me” and this is evident as the film progresses, because the Captain is, in many ways, the glue that binds the Avengers together (symbolised by a set of Captain America trading cards – I’m not saying any more than that).
I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely convinced when Chris Evans was first announced as the Cap. He’d already had his shot at playing a Marvel superhero in Fantastic Four and there were a number of actors rumoured to be going for the part who, at the time, seemed better suited to it. Mere minutes into Captain America, though, I surrendered: Evans was made for the role. A year on and he has only improved, both in terms of his performance (strong) and his physique (really, really, really strong, especially his arms).
There’s not much to say about Iron Man, but only in a good way: the Iron Man we know and love from his previous movies is back except this time he’s cockier, riskier and funnier than ever. Some great interplay between Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downy Jr is worth the price of the cinema ticket alone, whilst Whedon achieves what many thought were impossible and reveals Stark’s hidden depths. Impressive stuff.
I am a big fan of Chris Hemsworth (…to be honest, I’m a big fan of all the Hemsworths: it’s a miracle of science that one family could have produced so much beefcake. Surely the odds are on par with winning the lottery? Anyway, I digress…) and my one gripe is that Thor does not turn up early enough in this movie. On the plus side Hemsworth has clearly spent the time off-screen practicing his English accent, which is immeasurably better than in Thor. Whilst perhaps out-acted on screen (there’s also the merest hint that no-one really knew what to do with the hammer-swinging Asgardian) Hemsworth gets away with it because he looks like Thor incarnate. And although his sibling issues are the cause of the film’s catastrophe, they also garner him one of its biggest laughs.
With this Black Widow, Whedon keeps everyone happy. The boys get Scarlett Johannnsen, the girls get a kick-ass heroine who defies expectations without losing her femininity (well what else did you expect from the man that created a blonde, cheerleading vampire slayer?). I’m not a huge Scarlett Johannsen fan but she was convincing in the role: her stunts were impressive, her comic timing was great and even her Russian was pretty good (I say that as a Russian speaker). She has two stand-out scenes (one where we first meet her and one with Loki) and at no point is she reduced to a helpless, whiney female. Mission accomplished.
I was thrilled when Jeremy Renner was announced for Hawkeye. He was amazing in The Town (for which he received a second Oscar nomination; the first was for The Hurt Locker) and he does a great job in The Avengers. I won’t say too much about him for fear of spoilers but, bar one inconsistency regarding his character that aggrieved my cinema companion (I might dig out a prize for someone if they spot what it is and tell me in the comments, below), his performance was really solid.
It would be fair to say that there was some apprehension amongst fans at Mark Ruffalo following Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. The Incredible Hulk was Marvel’s first in-house re-boot, the one that showed the world they were super serious about super hero movies (after years of licensing them out to other studios, resulting in sub-par films such as Fantastic Four and Ang Lee’s Hulk). Moreover, Norton was excellent in the role and his failure to reprise it was due only to a disagreement with Marvel execs: the fact that neither side could make it work felt like a bit of a betrayal of the fans. My advice when seeing the film is to put all those feelings to one side. Whilst Ruffalo’s first scene is one of the few that doesn’t feel true to the comics or the previous film, and he looks like a nod to the Lou Ferrigno era, Banner’s journey is actually the most moving, although not overtly so. One particular line, when he is explaining to Fury that the Hulk is indestructible, is truly heartbreaking, as is his revelation of how he manages to maintain control. There is also a key scene between Stark and Banner which is touchingly echoed at the end in an encounter between The Hulk and Iron Man. That’s not to say that you’ll be weeping every time Banner/the Hulk graces the screen: both are given their share of comedic moments too. It should be noted that Ruffalo is also the first actor to truly play both Banner and the Hulk, thanks to motion capture technology (although Ferrigno still provides the monster’s voice) and the CG has come a long way even since Norton’s time.
Whilst the film abounds with leading characters, Stellan Skarsgard (Professor Erik Selvig) put it succinctly when he said “everyone gets their moment.” Despite this, it’s impossible to get over the fact that this is effectively a disparate band of heroes (or “lost creatures”, as Loki calls them) that don’t appear to belong on the same team, let alone in the same film. However, Whedon uses this discord to his advantage, creating a realistic clash of egos amidst the heroics and ensuring that only a defining event can cement their union. Although the Avengers are assembled in body long before they are in spirit, Whedon ensures the audience is with them every step of the way.
To paraphrase the Hulk: smashing.