In what could be the biggest review series in the history of Obsessive Viewer, I’m committing myself to reviewing all the movies and shows in Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe. You can find an index of my MCU reviews here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, here’s my review of 2012’s The Avengers.
When I saw the first teaser for The Avengers after the credits for Captain America: The First Avenger, I was overcome with a somewhat surreal feeling. I’d been following the Marvel Cinematic Universe since about a year after Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk were released with eager anticipation for the movie Marvel Studios was building toward. So to finally see proof that this crazy ambitious movie was actually happening made me (forgive the pun) marvel at what Joss Whedon might have in store for audiences in 2012.
In 2012, The Avengers finally hit screens in a story that saw Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (now played by Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Captain America (Chris Evans) team up to take down Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an alien Chitauri army. This was the movie audiences everywhere had been waiting for and with Joss Whedon at the helm audiences went in with the confidence that Marvel would pull off the mightiest. So how was The Avengers?
The Avengers is a perfect example of what a blockbuster tent-pole release can and should be. Joss Whedon delivers a script that is filled to the brim with one-liners and moments that not only standout as the best in the MCU, but are some of the best moments in comic book movies in general.
Whedon handles bringing four leading characters into one movie expertly. In fact, the way he gives each character enough screen time while also juggling new and established supporting characters is the most impressive thing about The Avengers. Every character gets their moment and their arc. No one seems left out or cast aside, except for maybe Jeremy Renner‘s Hawkeye. Even then, however, Hawkeye has a full arc in the movie and even gets a couple good dramatic scenes out of it.
While all the actors perform well, Mark Ruffalo’s performance is worth singling out. I was underwhelmed with what Edward Norton brought to the table in The Incredible Hulk. Here, Ruffalo eschews the “calm nervousness” that Norton employed in favor of a more subtle and consistent intensity. Ruffalo delivers his lines with a slight quiver that hints at the monster inside him and his constant fight for control. He’s not as fearful as Norton’s Banner but through mannerisms and careful speech patterns, Ruffalo brings a much more nuanced performance to the Bruce Banner role.
Unfortunately where The Avengers falls short is in its villain, Loki. Tom Hiddleston is fantastic in his role as the scorned demigod and his performance is as entertaining as it is charismatic and memorable. The problem is at the script level. The movie opens with a brief expository scene explaining Loki’s role and motivation in attacking Earth. He’s a pawn in a bigger game for the tesseract. He’s given a scepter and told that if he gets the tesseract, he can rule Earth.
The scene is brief with the dialogue as “blink and you’ll miss it” as they come. The problem I have buying into this is the mystery and, ultimately, the lack of importance in Loki’s actions. Loki is a formidable opponent for the Avengers and the way he uses Hawkeye is something worth latching onto. But the movie juggles the personalities and motivations of four different protagonists, only to have them face off against a villain who’s only real motive for being a threat to humanity is that he wants to please his boss and, in return, rule the planet.
It feels more like Loki is a villain meant solely to wreak havoc for the Avengers rather than having an actual purpose for the destruction. Loki, the god of mischief, is simply a super villain for super villain’s sake. He’s an underling for a bad guy that, in 2012, we wouldn’t even see in action for another six years. Hell, at the time of this writing The Avengers: Infinity War Part I is still three years away. Assuming Thanos isn’t going to be the villain in 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2, we’re probably not going to see Thanos do anything substantial in the franchise until then.
What Loki’s role in The Avengers boils down to is that he’s a proxy of Thanos. But at this point in the MCU, we aren’t aware of Thanos. So to put a placeholder villain in the first team-up movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a movie that pulls together multiple characters established and developed over the course of four movies, without a strong reason seems like a big misstep.
The villain setup in The Avengers would severely damage the movie’s rewatchability if it wasn’t in such a damn fine package, though. Hollow villain or not, The Avengers is a crowd pleaser and gives audiences flashy action, snappy dialogue and some surprising poignancy between major and supporting characters alike.
Marvel’s conclusion to Phase 1 of their Cinematic Universe is sharp, flashy, and brings together a group of characters from titles of alternating quality in a movie that knows how to deal with them together. Even though the villain doesn’t come with the weight and motivation that this movie deserved, The Avengers still hits the marks needed to earn its place in the pantheon of comic book movies and summer blockbusters. It also solidified Marvel Studios confidence (or perhaps cockiness) that would carry over into their Phase 2 movies.
Buy it Full Price – Worthy of purchase regardless of price. But you’ll want to see it first, just to make sure you want it in your collection.