As if the freakishly hot weather wasn't a big enough clue, I guess summer is officially here with the first of the big summer blockbusters -- The Avengers. The Avengers has been one of my most anticipated films of the year, especially since Thorand Captain America gave the film such great set-up last year. Now it's no secret I ADORE superhero flicks -- I've loved both Iron Man films, Thor, and Captain America, but with the addition of Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the Hulk, I wasn't sure how that much awesomeness could fit into one film. Taken singularly, anyone of the aforementioned denizens of the Marvel universe is more than big enough to carry their own movie, and given the action-heavy trailers for this group outing I was a bit concerned that character was going to be lost in the sea of explosions. Placing Joss Whedon at the helm of this movie was a masterstroke of genius. Whedon knows how to bring ensembles together and make you care about each of the players, and happily The Avengers is no exception. This movie is freaking AMAZING. Plenty of spoilers to follow... :)
So remember the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube thing? The Tesseract has been on lockdown in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility under the supervision of Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who reports to the always enigmatic Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) has been the lead scientist on the Cosmic Cube project, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s attempt (allegedly) to harness the object's limitless energy. What apparently no one realized was what, exactly, a live wire the Tesseract could be, serving as an energy portal between worlds. This is something that, of course, the exiled and angsty Loki (Tom Hiddleston) takes full advantage of, since he's the god of mischief and conniving and all.
Now I could sing Tom Hiddleston's praises from now until the end of time, I love him so much, I do I do! :) He is such a delicious villain. I mean take his headgear -- it is ridiculous -- but Hiddleston owns it. Props to him for that. :) This time around, Loki is working on behalf of an alien race called t Chitauri. They (mustn't forget, they oddly reminded me of future predators from the TV show Primeval) want the Tesseract, and in exchange for the Cube they'll loan Loki an army so he can conquer Earth and show up his brother Thor. Yes, poor Loki really thinks that is going to work out. Bless his heart. :P Anyways, Loki is a lot of fun in this film -- all sturm and drang and stomping around (watch for the scene in Germany -- Hiddleston in a trenchcoat -- GAH I CAN'T TAKE IT). Loki destroys S.H.I.E.L.D.'s facility and in the process takes Selvig (WHY OH WHY COULDN'T HE KILL SELVIG?!) and Agent Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
Hawkeye was briefly introduced in Thor, and after seeing Renner at work in this film I have to say it is a crying shame that he and the Black Widow didn't get their own origin film (it's never too late for that, Marvel...just sayin'!). It's really quite wrenching seeing Hawkeye in thrall to Loki, however briefly...but that is more than made up for by Renner's intensity and charisma. He is absolutely delightful in this movie people, DELIGHTFUL. (What's not to like about a guy with a bow?) I love the act that the likes of Hawkeye help balance the superhero team with some sense of humanity, if you will. Hawkeye isn't a demigod, isn't a super soldier, isn't impervious to pain or harm -- he's just a badass with an extremely dangerous skill set.
Hawkeye's partner, for lack of a better term, is the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff, first introduced in Iron Man 2. I can really take or leave Johansson in most films, but I think she does an excellent job playing the icy assassin/spy. This film does a great job of adding some much-needed layers to the Black Widow's character by allowing us to see the cracks in her armor, like letting us see the impact of nearly losing Barton to Loki's machinations or almost getting squashed by the Hulk has on her psyche. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that Romanoff is an woman who looks on her work with S.H.I.E.L.D. as her best shot at redemption. I would love, love, LOVE a film dedicated to Hawkeye and Black Widow's pre-Avengers shenanigans. It's refreshing to see a strong female character in a film like this grappling with issues of identity and her past (as opposed to forcing a romantic hook-up, you know?).
Fury sends Natasha to bring in Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), living in isolation, practicing medicine in India, trying to avoid turning into the Hulk at all costs. Now I've never really been all that into the Hulk, and given the fact that Hollywood has tried and tried to launch a film franchise with little success I wasn't initially very excited about the Hulk's inclusion in this film. I couldn't have been more wrong. Ruffalo is fantastic as the conflicted Banner/Hulk -- perhaps all the green guy needed was a group of other superhero types to play off of? Because the group dynamic between everyone else and the potentially loose cannon that is Banner is terrific and provides the film with some of its most entertaining, laugh-out-loud moments (of particular note is the beat-down he delivers to Loki). I do think there was a bit of a logic jump as far as the Hulk's powers go -- we go from blind rage Hulk to team player Hulk -- was that a result of Banner just applying himself during his transformations or what?
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a fascinating character to throw onto a team like this -- because historically I don't think anyone is less of a team player than Iron Man, you know? I can't really complain, though, because Stark's ego and quick-witted comments (when he tells Thor he thought the demigod was playing Shakespeare in the park I could've died laughing) make my heart sing, I MEAN IT. Sarcasm of that type delivered with verve by RDJ -- it really doesn't get better than that for my snarkiness-loving-heart. *wink* It was nice to see how Stark's relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) has mellowed him just a smidge (speaking of Potts, her cameo is just one example of what a fantastic job Marvel does ensuring continuity in their films -- I LOVE that). Also, I adored the way Stark befriends (if that's the right word) Banner -- their shared scientific background means they speak the same language -- and Stark, impossible though it may seem, actually has the insight to know how to push Banner to use his alter-ego. LOVE THAT.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is of course a major player seeing as it is his brother wreaking havoc on the planet where his lady love resides (sorry, I couldn't resist waxing poetic -- I love Thor's more formal, courtly manner of speaking -- it's a small thing perhaps but it helps set him apart from the rest of the Avengers). I'm so happy that this movie continued to explore the strained relationship between the Asgardian brothers...it would be so easy to just have the two fill distinct hero/villain roles, but knowing their history, seeing how Thor impossibly still seems to care for Loki (while of course wanting to throttle him) adds fantastic layers to their respective characters. Is it perhaps the fact that Thor can't seem to quite write his brother off that lends Loki the hope of some sort of redemption? Food for thought. :) Stark and Thor are definitely alpha characters on the "team," so this movie explores the struggle to find shared purpose and balance. The Iron Man/Thor introductory fight was a highly entertaining way of working out those intitial personality clashes. :)
Obviously I loved everything about this movie, but I have a special soft spot for how this movie handled the Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) character. Seeing as how we last saw Steve waking up after a seventy year sleep to a very different world, he arguably had the biggest learning curve of the entire group. The thing that impressed me the most in his film last year was that Steve was very much an old-fashioned hero, just a nice guy with deeply held principles of honor and duty ingrained in his psyche. Whedon made the right call in choosing to tell most of the story from Rogers' perspective, as the outsider who has to come to terms with the 21st-century and his place within it. Rogers is very much a soldier's soldier, and his sacrifice at the end of last year's film cost him his brothers in arms, his family, so this film is in no small way about Rogers once again finding a sense of purpose and community. He is the very definition of selfless, so it's interesting to see how he clashes with the more self-absorbed Stark. But for all the angst the payoff during the climactic battle is a sweet one, when the rest of his Avengers cohorts cede to his battlefield expertise and look to him for command in the field.
Now, as much as it pains me I need to talk about Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). I ADORE COULSON. He's been a constant presence throughout the Marvel films, always bringing the everyman touch to the fantastic goings-on, with snarkiness, sarcasm, and class, completely unflappable. He apparently had a thing for Captain America, and his trading card collection and unabashed fandom was a stroke of comic genius (as well as the whole horribly awkward "I watched you sleep" speech). Coulson was the very definition of team player, how much so revealed by his death. HIS. DEATH. At the hands of Tom-freaking-Hiddleston no less. This is a filmic tragedy of epic proportions in my world, people! Now I realize killing off a well-liked co-worker, basically, someone everyone on the team liked, was needed, the impetus to make this motely crew of loners a team. But that doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. *SOBS* WAY TO RIP OUT MY HEART AND STOMP ALL OVER IT, WHEDON!!! (And brings me back to the whole question of WHY COULDN'T SELVIG GET KILLED OFF INSTEAD?!)
I really enjoyed finally seeing Nick Fury in an entire film (as opposed to a teaser scene or two). One gets the impression he is extremely dedicated to his work, but not above using less than aboveboard methods to achieve his purposes (re: the trading card incident). I really hope this announced Nick Fury origin film is given the green light soon, as I'd love to know this guy's backstory, the council he is supposed to answer to (but ignores for most of this film), where he first got the idea for the Avengers Initiative. So many questions, so little time. :)
So, basically, EVERY LITTLE FLIPPING THING about this movie is just made of awesome from start to finish. Whedon did an excellent job weaving together the storylines and strengths of so many disparate, wildly dysfunctional characters into a family of sorts (Firefly, anyone? *wink*), replete with lots of humor and heart. The Avengers worked better than I ever could've dreamed -- a little slice of superhero film paradise. :) Keeping an action film character-centered is no small feat, and Whedon does an excellent job balancing the players with the action sequences. The latter are spectacular (I particularly liked the Chitauris' fishlike ships). And Alan Silvestri, who scored Captain America, provides a rousing score that given his recent history with Marvel films, provides a nice sense of continuity score-wise. With Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 scheduled for release next year, and the Nick Fury film in the pipeline, I can only hope their certain success will lead to a second Avengers film in 2014 or 2015. This formula worked so well, with the same team -- well a sequel just desperately needs to happen. Pretty please? :)