“Marvel’s The Avengers”
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by Joss Whedon
It’s been building up to a fever pitch for the past four years, and now it’s finally here: Marvel’s $220 million superhero extravaganza, “The Avengers.”
Ever since Samuel L. Jackson made his first surprise appearance as Agent Nick Fury in the post-credits bonus scene at the end of the first “Iron Man” in 2008, anticipation had been leading up to this. It’s the moment of truth. Granted, the novelty of Fury’s cameos wore off a bit with his brief appearances in each of the successive Marvel Studios films that followed – 2010’s “Iron Man 2” and last year’s “Thor” and “Captain America” – but they still served to fan the flames of growing excitement for “The Avengers.”
But for a film that should, by all accounts, break the mold to be the greatest superhero movie of all time, the plot is actually pretty simple – maybe a little too simple for its own good, and therein lies the problem.
Following his defeat at the hands of his hammer-wielding Asgardian brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the villainous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) gains access to the Cosmic Cube, a powerful force that allows him to summon an alien army and take over the planet. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury assembles the ultimate team of superheroes: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Thor. But before these new Avengers can fight back against their nefarious enemy, they must first learn to stop fighting with each other.
For most people – especially fans of the comic book (first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963) and moviegoers just looking to have a good time – the prospect of seeing these heroes team up will be more than enough. The action scenes are good fun, and the film is loaded with humor, mostly thanks to Robert Downey Jr., who steals the show as Tony Stark (Iron Man), and Mark Ruffalo, who’s obviously having a smashing good time as the new Bruce Banner (the Hulk). (As it turns out, Ruffalo is much better suited for the role than Eric Bana and Edward Norton, who previously starred in the 2003 and 2008 “Hulk” films, respectively.)
But the story is weak, and there’s nothing particularly creative or imaginative about the way the Avengers come together. The first hour is slow and filled with exposition, the bickering that initially divides the heroes feels clichéd and contrived, and some of the battle scenes are pointless and fail to drive the story forward – particularly the first big showdown between Iron Man and Thor. And while some of the characters come to life, others – like Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow – are woefully underdeveloped, leaving the actors with little to do beyond the now-obligatory fight scenes that have become the norm with big budget superhero flicks.
Perhaps the biggest problem facing director-screenwriter Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), who co-wrote the story with Zak Penn (“X-Men: The Last Stand”), is that the genre is in danger of being beaten into the ground. Call it “superhero fatigue,” but films based on comic book heroes are becoming too conventional, meaning the bar keeps getting raised to tell a stronger story. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) holds up because it was a heartfelt coming of age story about a superhero. The first “Iron Man” (2008) had an earthbound plot that was smart, fresh and plausible. Then there’s “The Dark Knight” (2008), which was the most intense, intelligent and psychologically complex epic about costumed vigilantes ever made.
By comparison, the story for “The Avengers” falls way too short. It features a villain that moviegoers just saw a year ago (in “Thor”) who leads an army of alien invaders to take over the earth (ho-hum). The whole affair feels like more of the same, just a lot more of it. Sure, it delivers the goods, but nothing more, and instead of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, it’s merely equal – maybe even a little bit less.