"The Avengers": The Review

There’s a lot riding on “The Avengers”; not just a big chunk of cash but also no fewer than three franchises.

And it’s pretty much exactly what you want out of an “Avengers” movie; this is pure popcorn entertainment. It takes a little while to get completely warmed up, but once it does, it’s a hell of a ride.

Perhaps the best thing about “The Avengers” is that it’s a huge movie that doesn’t assume its audience is incredibly stupid, and isn’t scared of leaving non-comics fans in the dark while avoiding anything that would make the script incomprehensible. There are problems, here and there, but the movie itself has a tight, well-written script, the cast works well together, and the action setpieces, especially the finale, are pitch-perfect.

Standing out especially in the cast is Mark Ruffalo, not least because The Hulk gets all the funniest bits in the movie, and Tom Hiddleston, who has to sell Loki as maniacal yet insecure and does a great job. A nice touch to the script is that Whedon keeps ratcheting up the stakes without being obvious about it, and as a writer, isn’t afraid to kick his characters in the gut.

We’ll get into a little more detail under the cut, but suffice to say that since a fair chunk of you reading have already seen it, we’re not going to avoid spoilers. So, if you go no further: “The Avengers” is a hell of a lot of fun, and well worth seeing.

There are, as we said, a few minor problems. The first and most basic is that Joss Whedon is, well, a fairly pedestrian director. It’s not anything resembling a deal-breaker, but he’s really more comfortable working with actors doing funny or dramatic bits, and honestly, the movie’s better in its smaller moments, like Black Widow’s introduction, than it is with some of the larger bits. It stands out in a series of movies that have guys like Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branaugh behind the wheel.

And as tight as the script is, there are a few minor plot holes: Tony Stark should really put together a major plot moment together way, way, sooner than he does, for example, and characters have moments where they really should be smarter; Loki is fairly transparent in this movie.

Also, it does bother me that I suspected for months that Whedon was going to off a character and that it was easy to figure out who; killing a semi-major character is on the verge of becoming shtick for him, so Coulson spends pretty much the entire movie with a target on his back. That said, Clark Gregg does at least get some good moments, and hopefully, the rumors of his becoming The Vision are true.

Finally, the script slows down a bit once the team gets together on the Helicarrier. Whedon does a good job of maintaining narrative momentum and tweaking cliches, but the reality is, the middle of this movie is about half an hour of people taking meetings. Fortunately, Whedon excels at this kind of stuff, so it’s funny and it never loses pace, but it’s still a bit irritating that Marvel can’t shake this formula even for a movie that’s a guaranteed hit.

That said, the movie makes some really smart decisions that, amazingly, the trailer didn’t spoil. Whedon’s at his best subverting cliches, something he spends a lot of time doing.

Is “The Avengers” a classic movie? No. Ultimately, it plays it a little too safe. But it’s smart, it’s fun, and it’s engaging. It’s Marvel Studios at its best, up there with the first “Iron Man”. If you’ve been waiting for this movie for months or even years, you won’t be disappointed.