(In England, anyway.)
The following review, while spoiler-free, has explicit spoilers for Thor as well as potential implied ones for Iron Man 2 and Captain America. That said, if you’re reading this review and haven’t seen those yet, go watch them and then come back here.
The thing about The Avengers—or Avengers Assemble, which only about ten people actually call it—is that it was pretty much guaranteed to be at least decently good. Obviously, until it came out, there was no gauge of exactly how good it was, but like macaroni and cheese or chocolate, for it to actually be bad, something would need to have gone pretty spectacularly wrong.
(And it’s not, strictly speaking, a sequel to anything, so I’m going to avoiding pointing out that, often, things do go spectacularly wrong for sequels.)
There are very few unknown quantities in Avengers. Joss Whedon, of course, is no stranger to nerd movies (see: Cabin in the Woods) or to superheroes (see: Buffy Summers) or even to Marvel’s universe (see: his run on Astonishing X-Men). With the exception of Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, Cobie Smulder’s Maria Hill, and arguably Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who had only a small cameo in last year’s lead-up film Thor, all the lead actors (and plenty of the supporting ones) aren’t new to viewers. I knew that Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark would be snarky and fun, that Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers would be touchingly good, that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki would teeter dangerously on the line between heartbreaking and terrifying.
But even knowing all those things, the resulting movie was very good. It’s less heavy on character development than any of the preceding films (well, I haven’t seen the Hulk ones so I can’t really say there) but it draws nicely on the things they set up. It also, to its credit, lets the characters (and actors) who have carried less weight previously shine a bit. Ruffalo does such a tremendous job as a Banner scared of his own power that I’m disinclined to watch any of the movies where someone else plays the character. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who has been accused more than once of being window dressing, carries as heavy a portion of the plot as any of the superhero dudes coming off their own films, and a heavier chunk of the character development. Renner carries his weight as well, but that’s less of a surprise, perhaps. (Just for the record, I’m not saying that Johansson carrying as much of the story as she did is inherently surprising, but that a lot of people are expecting her to do nothing but stand around in tight clothes and look, well, like Scarlett Johansson.)
In all honesty, Ruffalo was probably the biggest surprise about the film. I was fairly confident, when I walked into the theater, that the movie would be sharp and funny—it was, full of the great one-liners we all expect from Whedon’s writing—and that it would be moving—it retains, among other things, the emotional crux of Thor between adopted siblings Thor and Loki, the latter of whom is the clear villain of Avengers. But Ruffalo’s Banner—man, he came out of nowhere to be, possibly, my favorite character in the movie.
There’s very little I can say about the plot without spoiling it, obviously. It’s well-composed, tight and compelling without lurching along so quickly that you’re left wondering what just happened—except, of course, when you’re meant to. It’s wonderfully quotable, most of the characters trading wisecracks and barbs with each other easily, but not so determined to be snarky that it loses its emotional wallop. And believe me, it does have an emotional wallop. After all, in addition to bringing with it four (or five) movies’ worth of investment in the individual characters, it’s about the formation of a team from a group of dysfunctional individuals.
If I were asked to give my biggest complaint, it would be that there wasn’t enough of Pepper Potts. She’s a great character, and even though I enjoyed her scenes a lot, it would have been nice to see her have more interaction with the main plot. Well, that, and the fact that because of the lag between the movie’s release in the UK, where I saw it on Saturday, and its US release, I can’t watch it again until midnight on Friday. The wait is torture.
In summation: Avengers lives up to the hype (seriously, unless someone is trying to convince you that it is actually the greatest film ever made, it probably will) as well as my personal expectations, Jeremy Renner is really attractive, and I want to be married to Bruce Banner. It’s smart, sharp, funny, fast-paced, moving, and just an honestly good movie. And seriously, the funny thing bears mentioning again.