I know I'm a little behind things reviewing The Avengers so long after it opened and way after most of you planning on seeing it in the theatre have already been, but this is when I got around to seeing it. What can I say? Joss Whedon is definitely having a good summer between this film and The Cabin in the Woods. For those of you expecting an enjoyable and action packed thrill ride with great FX and maybe a touch of humor along the way, congratulations, this is the film for you. So many people have enjoyed it on that level that it is now the third highest grossing film of all time. If you were hoping for something a little deeper and thoughtful that redefined the super hero movie genre the way that Iron Man and The Dark Knight did, well...let's think happy, hopeful thoughts for The Dark Knight Rises next month.
Which is not to say that I did not find this to be very high quality popcorn fare. It was well directed, with a decent storyline, a script peppered with Whedon's trademark wit, and a great ensemble cast that actually made these classic characters seem like real people.
Let's talk about the cast. Robert Downey, Jr., of course, gets best in show. His take on Iron Man may be the most character enhancing interpretation of a super hero ever. Whedon's brand of snark plays well to Downey's comedic sensibilities. In his capable hands Stark becomes a man so gifted, flawed, fearless, and determined that you feel like you know him, like a friend that you are always lovingly disapproving of.
Rumours abound that the box office success and mostly positive critical reception of this film have prompted Marvel Studios to consider a THIRD attempt to create a successful Hulk franchise starring Mark Ruffalo. I am all for it. There was a certain weariness that served Bill Bixby's portrayal of David Banner on the TV show back in the day that successive takes on the character have lacked. Ruffalo has it in spades, plus a sense of intellectual authority and a darker edge all his own. It is the most interesting portrayal of the Hulk that I have ever seen and I think he could do a lot more in his own film.
Chris Evans is also a bit of a standout. He pulls all the "man from a simpler time" humour out of his interactions with his team mates without ever coming off as a clown or a joke. My one real disappointment as far as the cast goes is that Jeremy Renner (just as talented as any of them) was given so little real chance to shine. Hawkeye IS a boring character, that's why you cast someone with Renner's potential and give them enough material to make him interesting.
There has been a lot of idle chatter about the possibility of The Avengers breaking into this year's Best Picture race. Not only do I have my doubts, I am actually hoping it doesn't happen. This film, though of high quality for a summer blockbuster, is not the stuff that Best Picture rosters and top ten lists are made of. It doesn't transcend being an FX driven action extravaganza. It also doesn't need to. However, for above the line awards consideration, this film would have to at least be more than the sum of its parts and it is not.
Both Iron Man and Captain America were actually better (if less emphatically showy) films with more developed story lines and character arcs. Neither of them came anywhere close to the top eight Oscar awards. Still, that is not meant to decrease the enjoyability of Whedon's latest effort for what it is. 3 1/2 of 5*.