...shining light on the media, one review at a time
What happens when the preeminent people in the world—those that are the best or unusually gifted—come together in one place? The result can be either multiplied greatness or unparalleled egocentrism. It can be difficult for the supremely skilled or enabled to also be humble, as is the case with the superheroes who make up the almost-team called The Avengers.
One hopes in such cases that the reason for which these special people are called together is important enough to take their focus off of themselves and redirect it to the bigger cause. Thus, the greatest challenge for the superheroes of The Avengers is to determine which evil is the one that needs to be conquered—the enemies that threaten Earth’s freedom or the selfishness, pride, anger, and violence within themselves.
This same dilemma is reflected in The Avengers film itself, as the story grapples with the idea of true heroism—sensitivity and sacrifice versus power and force. With a weaker plot and less character development than some recent superhero films, The Avengers comes to a simplistic and unconvincing resolution to its thematic questions. The plethora of thrills and action, however, complete with flawless CGI, may make many viewers unaware or careless of the movie’s lack of substance.
The Avengers is one of those films that’s ideal for popcorn-popping fun—packed with excitement, not much by way of sexual content, and even relatively mild language compared to some—but violence and a lack of heroes worth emulating means discerning viewers will want to be sure they don’t drop their brains and biblical mindset in the popcorn bucket.
[NOTE: ALL THAT FOLLOWS MAY INCLUDE SPOILERS FOR THE FILM, THOR. TO HAVE THE WHOLE STORY, YOU’LL WANT TO WATCH THAT MOVIE BEFORE CHECKING OUT THE AVENGERS]
If only stronger folks from other planets would leave Earth alone, we would be just fine. At least, that’s what it seems like to Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D, an organization that is supposedly committed to protecting the United States and global survival, but is shrouded in mystery and secrecy. Provoked by fear of the unknown—including immeasurably powerful beings like Thor, who have already visited planet Earth—Fury dabbles in technologies, research, and manufacturing that may be dangerous in an effort to, as he sees it, protect the people of the U.S. and the world.
One such project revolves around a mysterious cube found along with the miraculously-alive Captain America. As it turns out, this cube holds the possibility to be an endless, self-renewable energy source of seemingly limitless power. Fury isn’t the only one who sees the value in the cube—Loki, still alive and kicking after tangling with his brother, Thor, knows of the cube and bands together with a barbarian planet to conquer the Earth and take possession of the powerful cube.
With stakes that high, it seems time to revisit the previously abandoned “Avengers Initiative.” With the help of his agent, Black Widow (a superhero in her own right), Fury gathers The Hulk, Captain America, and Iron Man in an attempt to get them to work together. None of these rather unique individuals come easily, and more than a little persuasion is required from Fury and Black Widow.
The Hulk comes in his calm, controllable form as Bruce Banner, with Fury assuring Banner that he is only there for his gamma-related knowledge, which is needed to find and recover the cube. Iron Man is drawn in by the technological implications and potential of the cube, while Captain America needs only be apprised of the real dangers that are threatening Americans in order to join in.
Thanks to Thor’s familial relationship with Loki and his promise that Earth is under his protection, the demi-god of mythology also shows up, at first only to remove his brother from the planet and return him to Asgard for trial. Fury and the other superheroes have other ideas, however, as they’re concerned that they will lose their chance to get the cube back and secure safety for the world if Thor takes Loki. Thus ensues one of many battles that take place between the superheroes themselves.
This dissention is what Loki will use to undo these very fallen heroes and conquer the world unless The Avengers can learn to focus less on themselves and more on being the true heroes that the world so desperately needs.
Superhero movie fans have been looking forward to The Avengers for a long time. Never before has such an attempt been made to rope so many films with separate creative teams and tie them together into one massive picture. It’s a task fit for a superhero, and the results of The Avengers’ effort are mixed.
In some respects, the build-up to this movie and the long wait was worth it. Fans of the action that comes with this genre will be more than satisfied by the non-stop, edge-of-your-seat adventure. The superheroes’ impressive moves are as fast-paced and jaw-dropping as ever, as are the special effects used to render the battles and other-worldly creatures seamlessly real.
Fans of the individual superheroes themselves may be a bit disappointed, however, at the lack of character development and consistency with the previous installments for those characters. While signs of an effort to respect the recent superhero movies are obvious, The Avengers at least partially undoes the progression and development made by characters in the recent films The Incredible Hulk and Thor.
The implication at the end of The Incredible Hulk that Bruce Banner has learned to control his episodes as The Hulk and to direct that green persona’s fury is disregarded here, as Banner is portrayed as having made progress, but still uncertain and, at least for part of the film, unable to focus The Hulk’s violence on true enemies. The Avengers script is most flawed when it comes to its treatment of The Hulk, as the story is inconsistent and undecided concerning whether the monster inside Banner is under his control or not. Add to this change the fact that Banner is here played by a different actor and a vastly different CGI Hulk, and fans of the last film about this superhero have a lot to adjust to.
Thor followers also may be bothered by the portrayal of their hero in The Avengers. Some credence is given to Thor’s dramatic development toward maturity and admirable leadership in the recent movie about him and his brother Loki, but not enough. When Thor appears in The Avengers, he speaks of his former self and immature ways, and sees some situations with wisdom. Yet he has apparently lost the marked humility and self-disregard that came to define his changed self in Thor, as he is now ready to fight even potential allies in order to have his way or defend his pride.
The return of his prideful and emotional, violent tendencies isn’t the hallmark of Thor’s character in The Avengers, as he is still primarily defined by his love for his brother, but the presence of those flaws detract from the cohesiveness of this tale with the one that came before. Poor Loki fares even worse, getting reduced from one of the most complex nemeses ever to appear in a superhero movie to a one-dimensional villain.
More accuracy and honor is paid to the stories of Captain America and Iron Man, as seen in their recent movie installments. Captain America is still the most wholesome of the bunch, with old-fashioned ideals, courtesy to women, and the most truly heroic motivations. [MILD SPOILER WARNING] He also makes the only spiritually valuable comment in the film when he responds to the claim that Thor and Loki are gods by saying, “there’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.” Even the Capt., though, is guilty in this film of giving in to prideful, petty fighting with the other Avengers (he challenges Iron Man to “suit up” so that they can “go a few rounds”) and spews out several obscenities.
As one might expect, Iron Man is quite non-heroic for most of the film, being the self-centered, self-declared playboy he was in the two Iron Man movies (though, in a nice acknowledgement of events in the other films, his playboy activities now appear to be confined within the parameters of a single relationship with Pepper Potts). Yet it is in Iron Man’s self-absorbed lifestyle that the film gets one of its most meaningful messages. Captain America criticizes Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) for his egocentric ways, which make him far from a hero in Captain America’s opinion. [MILD SPOILER WARNING] By the end of The Avengers, however, viewers see Iron Man ready to do the most sacrificial act of all.
Really, this is no surprise to audiences who have seen Iron Man in action in the previous films. Tony Stark talks a self-aggrandizing game, but he has learned in two movies how to sacrifice himself for others—how to be heroic. Ultimately, then, the best character growth in this film is not much to talk about, considering Iron Man fans have watched this superhero learn that same lesson twice before.
Black Widow and Hawkeye do little to add to the presence of real heroes in The Avengers, as the former declares that “love is for children” and wields deception and sexuality for a living, while the latter seems to favor violence and vengeance more than justice (though very little is told of Hawkeye’s backstory or character in the film).
A better example of true sacrifice and heroism is included in The Avengers, but it doesn’t come from any of the superheroes. [SPOILER WARNING] Instead, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, whom fans will recognize from the recent other superhero movies, faces up to the obviously more powerful Loki and bravely risks his life in order to save others and thwart the evil of Loki’s plans.
Perhaps the filmmakers intended this agent’s sacrifice to be more poignant because he is not a superhero and yet behaved more heroically than they do. An admirable intention, if that is the case, but it will likely be lost on most viewers who will instead be fixated on the flashier (and more flawed) superheroes as the characters worth emulating.
In defense of these superheroes, they do regularly display behavior that’s traditionally thought of as heroic—primarily as they unhesitatingly put their lives on the line to save others and seem to have a strong aversion to wrongs and evil where and as they see it. The trouble and inconsistency comes with the lack of foundation for these heroes’ moral compasses. They call right and wrong according to their individual perspectives, rather than measuring it against any infallible and unchangeable standard.
In addition, given the often immature and frequently ego-driven behavior of all the “heroes” in The Avengers, even the superheroes’ most noble acts arguably lack the pure selflessness of true sacrifice, as viewers can never be sure that these deeds aren’t done out of a quest for self-glorification.
Even so, the filmmakers avoid taking their often shaky heroes into irretrievable territory. Sexual content is limited to some tight and low-cut clothing on women, as well as one scene in which Pepper Potts whispers something suggestive (which viewers are spared from hearing) into Tony’s ear. Offensive language is present, but not as overabundant as in many action films, and profanity only occurs in a couple instances of “Oh my G--.”
The most problematic content element in The Avengers is the plentiful violence. The superheroes are called in to beat up the bad guys, and they do so with gusto. As a result, there are fight scenes galore, some of the most epic of which are unfortunately those between “good” superheroes before they learn to work together. Much of the violence in this film consists of the fast-paced kicks, punches, and throw-downs that leave little opportunity for graphic depictions.
More disturbing moments come from Loki, who performs a form of torture on a civilian’s face (viewers aren’t shown the gore of the act, but see the man struggling and hear him scream in the brief scene) and stabs another man with the blade of his weapon shown coming out the victim’s chest.
Appropriately, then, the worst of the violence is done by the evil villains of the film, but even the superheroes are guilty of unnecessary violence, especially toward each other (with attacks that seem to be launched with the unspoken assumption that none of their attempts to seriously hurt each other will cause any lasting harm at all).
Such spectacular fight scenes offer ideal material for the impressive CGI and special effects teams to go to work, and their expertise is the highlight of the film. In addition, despite the limited character development that leaves little for actors to work with, The Avengers cast does a laudable job of making something out of nearly nothing. Scarlett Johansson shows surprising range as the Black Widow and Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark is convincing and entertaining as always, while Gwyneth Paltrow is a breath of fresh air and authenticity in her brief appearance as Pepper Potts.
Like Johansson, Chris Evans also shows that he is continuing to mature into a more serious onscreen presence. No surprise to those who have seen Thor, the most riveting acting scenes are between Chris Hemsworth, playing Thor, and Tom Hiddleston in the role of Loki—two actors who have a remarkable dramatic chemistry and emotional resonance.
For superhero fans who only need to get a taste of their favorite characters and crave the fantastic action and imagination that accompanies the genre, the lack of true heroism, layered plot, and complex characters may not detract from immensely enjoying The Avengers. Relatively clean for the genre, exciting, fun, and a true summer blockbuster in every respect, this movie offers far more worthwhile entertainment (for teens and adults) and a more positive theater-going experience than most of the movies that have populated the big screen in the last months.
But while kicking back and enjoying the show, viewers should make sure they know better than The Avengers who, what, where, why, and when to fight.