The Avengers is better than it has any right to be.
First things first, if you’re a comic book fan then you’re going to like this movie. It’s the epitome of a big, fun comic book adventure and will not be easily matched in this regard by any ensuing superhero films. The Dark Knight Rises will probably feel as epic, but certainly not as entertaining.
For those who are only familiar with these characters because of the movies, you won’t be taking home any profound messages, symbolism, or themes as they apply to society at large. But you’ll still feel like you had a full experience.
We all have Joss Whedon to thank for this. This is unmistakeably his script and his movie.
Seriously, we are going to dive right into this, including the two post-credit sequences. If you want a spoiler-free review, go here.
This is actually a tough movie to recap, as the movie is saturated with funny lines and interstitial scenes where the ensemble gets room to breathe and interact. This is where Whedon’s writing and structural style is most apparent, as many of these interactions are whittled down to the sharpest, cleverest dialogue. The emotions being played here turn on a phrase, resulting in scenes that deliver so much in such a small amount of time that they end up delivering just as much of an impact as the action sequences. These scenes are layered in all throughout the film and quickly become a steady background to the main plot points, so a blow by blow recap is going to miss some of these finer details.
The Avengers kicks off by immediately confirming the rumor that the Earth is under alien attack by the end of the film. We see aliens who call themselves the Chitauri hand off a staff to Loki that will allow him to access the Tesseract (the shiny all-powerful cube thing). He does this with a quickness and before you know it he’s in the underground SHIELD facility where Hawkeye and Selvig, the older Norwegian scientist from Thor, are guarding and studying the Tesseract. Loki puts them under his control while Nick Fury, SHIELD director Maria Hill, and Agent Coulson collapse the base in an attempt to get it back. They fail, and the end of the world seems imminent. Time to call in some heroes.
Coulson gathers Black Widow who in turn gathers Bruce Banner, aka, the Hulk. Fury convinces Captain America to join them while Coulson meets with Tony Stark. Pepper Potts (a guest-starring Gwyneth Paltrow) and Coulson turn out to have become buddy-buddy and are on a first-name basis. (Tony: “Um, excuse me. His first name is Agent.”)
Loki, meanwhile, is in Germany looking dapper and stealing some iridium to power a machine that will allow the Tesseract to open a huge portal for the Chitauri to come through and invade. That’s their deal: Loki gets the Tesseract, the Chitauri get Earth.
The Avengers aren’t even a concern yet, so Loki has some fun with the assembled nighttime crowd in Germany, forcing them to kneel and going on about how being controlled is humanity’s natural state. One old man, who lived through World War II, refuses to kneel and Loki makes an example of him.
Or he would have, if Cap wasn’t suddenly there to block Loki’s blast with his shield. The two of them tussle and it becomes apparent that Cap can’t quite take on a god in hand to hand combat. At least not until Iron Man shows up to finish things off.
Loki is captured, but the proto-Avengers don’t get far before Thor lands on their plane, intent on dealing with Loki himself. The two brothers have words on the ground below before Iron Man and Cap tackle him in an attempt to take Loki back. Cap blocks a direct blow from Thor’s hammer, a blow powerful enough to shatter the forest around them, which cools everyone down long enough for them to suss out that they have the same goal.
Loki’s quickly locked away on the SHIELD helicarrier, in a cell strong enough to hold the Hulk, and the film spends its second act with the characters interacting back and forth as they try to suss out what the plan is, how to respond, who they can trust, where the Tesseract is, and why Tony won’t stop meddling in everyone’s business. (The last bit isn’t anything out of character. Tony’s default setting is to walk into a room and kick over the rock that no one wants to look under.) None of the Avengers are particularly fond of each other at this point. Cap doesn’t trust Fury or even like Tony. Tony thinks Banner is playing it a little too cool. Black Widow is worried about Hawkeye, as the two of them have a history, but trying to do her job regardless. Even if it means he’s likely to die if she succeeds.
Black Widow has an intense interrogation scene with Loki where she finds out he plans to enrage Banner long enough for him to smash up the flying ship and escape back to where Loki has hidden the Tesseract. Hawkeye then reappears, slips on to the Helicarrier, and gets in a few precise shots. Enough to leave the aerial aircraft carrier tilting out of the sky.
Iron Man suits up and takes care of the damage while Cap fights off the insurgent SHIELD forces that Loki has turned. Banner finally Hulks out and chases Black Widow all around the ship until Thor arrives to tussle with the Hulk. (And it’s great, naturally.) Loki makes his escape.
Or he would, if Agent Coulson wasn’t waiting outside Loki’s cell with a fancy new gun. Although he admits, “It’s new. I don’t even know what it does.” We could listen to Coulson all day, personally, but sadly we can’t. This is a Joss Whedon film, and someone who hasn’t had a movie sequel already announced has to die. Loki tricks Coulson and stabs him through the chest, but not before Coulson gets in a great burn in the form of a laser shot from his gun. “Oh, so that’s what it does.”
Loki also tricks Thor into his own cell (“Will you ever stop falling for that?”) and shunts him 30,000 feet down. Hulk has also fallen off the ship and Iron Man’s armor is badly damaged from repairing the helicarrier. Hawkeye is back, but reeling from Loki’s mind control. The Avengers have been broken before they’ve even really begun.
And then they find Coulson. “It’s okay, they needed this,” Coulson gasps to Fury. “Something to...” He’s gone. We don’t know what the next word was going to be, but from the title of the movie, we can guess.
Loki has made this personal now and Tony quits being an impediment and the Avengers, on their own, assemble just as Loki and Selvig finish the portal machine and open Manhattan’s skies to the Chitauri.
What follows is the Avengers turning back an epic invasion, under Cap’s orders. (“...and Hulk? Smash.”) That flying serpent thing in the trailer? There’s DOZENS of them. Oh, and the Hulk? Turns out Banner can control him now. (“You want to know the secret of how I do it? I’m angry all the time.”)
The directing board of SHIELD isn’t counting on the Avengers, despite Fury standing resolutely behind them, and they launch a nuke at Manhattan to stop the invasion. (The shadowy directing board is really dumb all throughout the movie, so no surprise there.)
The Avengers get control of the portal and are ready to close it, but not before Iron Man flies the nuke up through it, into deep space, and into the Chitauri mothership. The portal is closed before the nuke’s blast wave can reach it, and Iron Man only just squeaks through in time, his armor busted but the fight over. “So, Shawarma? There’s one two blocks from here. I’ve never been to one. We should try it.”
Loki is captured and he and the Tesseract are taken back to Asgard by Thor and the Avengers go their separate ways. Nick Fury isn’t worried. When they need them again, the Avengers will be there. And Tony Stark is definitely putting plans together for some kind of headquarters....
The credits roll. Then they stop rolling. In deep space, the Chitauri address their leadership, noting that Earth is far more tenacious than they realized and that they should leave it well enough alone. Their leader turns his head and smiles. Thanos is obviously not dissuaded.
The credits continue, reach their conclusion, and we see the post-credits scene they filmed only weeks prior to the film’s release: All of the Avengers in their gear in a hole-in-the-wall dive, eating some truly awful-looking shawarma silently around a table, exhausted. Fade to black.
Things That Were Even More Awesome Than Chris Expected:
1.) The Hulk. Mark Ruffalo turns in an amazing, definitive performance of Bruce Banner in only a few scenes and by the end of the movie you are ready, so very ready, to see the Hulk bounding around New York City beating the crap out of things a million times his size. Which is exactly what you get. I would watch a Hulk movie after this.
2.) Captain America. I might be the only person thinking this, but Chris Evans is so oddly pure in his performance as Captain America that I want to endlessly watch him interact with people. When the NYPD ask why they should take orders from him during the alien attack, I wanted him to yell, “Because I’m Captain America, godblessit!” and I would love a well-crafted movie about Captain America becoming the superhero icon of the modern age.
3.) Thanos. I did not see that coming, and I had a big list of what the post-credits twist would be. Thanos is a concept so huge that I’m not sure how they’re going to make him plausible. It took five movies just to establish the Avengers as something not to be mocked, how will they do that with a universe-spanning psychopath who wants nothing more than to be the consort of Death? (And don’t even get me started on the possibility of an Infinity Gauntlet showing up. No, don’t get me started! I said no!)
Chris’ One Criticism of the Film:
Joss Whedon needs to pick up the pace. There was some criticism before the movie came out that the action sequences didn’t provide enough oomph and while that’s not true, they are a bit slower than you expect. It’s a difference of nanoseconds during editing, really. Whedon is just slow to cut to the next punch, the next strike, the next explosion, and in comparison to today’s films, you actually notice this. It’s mostly noticeable in a movie theater audience. We want to hoot and yell and clap, but the just-off editing prevents the audience’s energy from building to a peak.
Things That Were Even More Awesome Than Emily Expected:
1.) Loki. Yes, Tom Hiddleson was easily one of the best parts of Thor, but there were a few things missing from that movie that prevented him from being a more formidable, well-rounded villain. This time around we actually get to see just how well that silver tongue works, watch him specifically manipulate people and be truly nasty. All while having a sense of humor, of course, the way all good villains do. Frankly, he and Thor felt more like actual brothers in this film, something that Thor also missed out on. The look on his face when the lightning starts overhead and he realizes big brother is coming to whup his behind? The argument that ends with “I’m listening”? I want a personal gaurantee that Loki will come back in a sequel. Preferably side-switching to save Thor while the team argues about how they can’t trust him (because they can’t).
2.) Stark and Banner = Genius Flirting. Of course we expect Tony to have a bit of a brain crush on Bruce Banner, but the movie takes it to another level by giving the self-obsessed Tony someone he feels the need to prop up and give agency to. The idea that Tony respects both the Jekyll and the Hyde of Bruce’s person and, more importantly, understands the need for Hyde, was a stellar choice within the script. Also, there was genius flirting. (An aside: Thank you for that perfect Potts cameo. I would watch an entire movie of her and Tony arguing over 12%.)
3.) Magic and Science. In Thor, the eponymous god tells Jane that where he comes from, magic and science are one and the same, but that doesn’t mean that was going to translate well to screen. Iron Man director Jon Favreau commented to that effect, saying that he didn’t think he could direct an Avengers movie after Iron Man because he wouldn’t know how to merge those sensibilies. Joss Whedon managed to do it without a single word — in the initial smackdown bewteen Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America, we simply watch as these three try and fail to tear each other apart. The hammer deflects off the shield, and everyone has to calm the heck down. Magic and science together. Deal with it.
4.) Black Widow. Wait, she’s an actual character? She acts like a spy? She gets equal screentime with the boys? She has motivation and the best stunt double ever?
Emily’s One Criticism of the Film:
They left off the scene with Cap and Peggy. I know that Whedon said it was slowing the film down and couldn’t be there, but I really wanted to see it.
Chris Lough is the Production Manager of Tor.com and bounded straight out of his seat and instantly found the manager when the movie froze early on. You’re welcome, theater 4 at Union Square.
Emily Asher-Perrin is the Tor.com Editorial Assistant. She already misses Agent Coulson.