To round out Phase One of the MCU Reviews, it’s Marvel’s original team up movie.
It’s been a long time since I last watched The Avengers, but I do remember catching it at the cinema upon release, so there’s certainly an element of sentimentality to this one for me.
Within the opening minutes, that sentimentality was immediately justified, with the film quickly establishing the tone that it consistently maintained throughout.
Naturally, The Avengers is predominantly a superhero/action movie, but it was written with such a persistent comedic slant that it really helped redefine Marvel’s approach going forward. Making use of six heroes that all have their own varying styles and tones could have easily been a disaster, but offsetting a little of their clashing by having them actually clash – and making plenty of quotable one-liners while doing so – allowed The Avengers to really sell this team-up.
You have to remember, that until this point, each of these early MCU heroes stood entirely alone (barring mid-credits scenes and brief nods to one another), and for Marvel, The Avengers was something of a gamble. To suddenly have these characters work together could easily have been a major cinematic misstep, but luckily, the film was expertly written by Zak Penn and the now-disgraced Joss Whedon, meaning that it all fits together remarkably well, and is even able to make us laugh while doing so.
Now, despite voicing my personal dislike for Tony Stark in my Iron Man review, in The Avengers he really steps up to the plate. With other heroes to bounce off of, Stark begins to resemble an actual likeable character, as opposed to a hyper-intelligent narcissist (I said begins, let’s not give him too much credit). Seeing him at odds with Captain America’s shaken-but-still-intact idealism and Bruce Banner’s quietly volatile wariness goes a long way towards making Stark more bearable.
To address the elephant in the review (or at least, the one I mentioned in my Incredible Hulk review), the role of Banner/Hulk being recast for this film was – at the time, at least – somewhat jarring. Having rewatched both The Incredible Hulk and now The Avengers, I can definitely announce that I no longer consider it such. While I have always enjoyed the work of Ed Norton, his turn as Banner was laughably poor, and seeing Ruffalo bring the character to life with the perfect balance of humour, anger and general inner turmoil is a retroactively satisfying experience. In Ruffalo, the character finally gets the iteration he deserves, and – much like Iron Man – Hulk works far better as part of the team than he does rolling solo.
While Ruffalo, Evans and Downey Jr. were all used brilliantly, I did feel that Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor both appeared in lesser roles. However, Black Widow was given a little more attention that she received in Iron Man 2, which did flesh out the team dynamic nicely.
I’d also like to touch on the characterisation of Loki. As I mentioned in my Thor review, Loki in Phase One is criminally underwritten. While he has a few more memorable moments inhis second MCU appearance, he’s still a fairly shallow and generic villain, with his acting as a puppet for Thanos serving as a fairly weak set-up for Phase Two. With that said, Hiddleston does begin to lend a little charisma to the role, and there’s a flash of the wit and charm that has since made Loki such a firm fan favourite.
Really, The Avengers was made with one particular goal in mind: to tie the Phase One films together, and to establish a benchmark for future comic book movies. It was essentially an exercise in how to build a successful franchise, and in that capacity, it delivered in spades.
Summary: The Avengers achieves what it sets out to do, and it does so with style and wit. It’s a solid fantasy action film that (mostly) uses its characters well, positioning them for future entries into the franchise.
Highlights: The film’s writing is able to seamlessly blend world-threatening gravitas with wisecracking humour – lines such as “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” and “That man is playing Galaga!” stand out as particularly funny.