Since Captain America came out last year and Chris Evans’ upper-arm circumference became a bigger number than his paycheque, I—along with a good chunk of the population—have been nigh on frantic for the release of The Avengers. We knew it was going to star all of our favourite Avengers from previous Marvel-funded flicks—1940s transplant Captain America (Evans), metal-suited “billionaire genius playboy philanthropist” Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Russian spy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Norse god Thor (Our Chris Hemsworth), candidate for anger management Hulk (previously Edward “Jerkface” Norton, now played by Mark “Unshaven Face” Ruffalo) and a new-to-this-series arrow sharpshooter Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). We knew the bad guy was going to be Loki (Tom Hiddleston), a god with a big stick and hair that flicks up at the ends. (How I wish I knew his secret.) We knew Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) would bring them all together into a great big tasty Avengerrific pie. But would it live up to the hype felt by full- and quasi-nerds everywhere?
When Loki, brother of the more Earth-friendly Thor, arrives on our planet, he leaves a trail of destruction and borrows a few good guys on his path to global domination. When the person you’re fighting is as powerful as Loki, you need to band together the best of the best—the superheroes that have been defending our beautiful world (read: North America). But when they’re all together, it’s a clash of egos and personalities—will they band together to defeat a god, or will their group fracture and disperse the power they have as a team?
If that sounds trite, it’s because it is. Yes, I’m aware that in some circles (aka mine) anything but adoration for this movie is controversial. I’ve already been threatened with death, or maybe a sulk, I forget which. It has caused discord even in my own relationship, which will hopefully survive this conflict like it survived the great Sultanas: Yes Or No debate of 2004. But while it was perfectly serviceable, well-acted and fun, it wasn’t as good as it should have been. Much of this comes down to having a plotline that has been done countless times before. The heroes bouncing off each other is part of the fun, and the infighting isn’t even a problem—of course they’re all going to grate on each other. (Have you met Thor? He’s an asshole.) When they all start getting suspicious of each other and of Nick Fury, it’s ridiculous, especially when someone even points out in the film that Loki will try and prise them apart. While they can get to the group’s split (not really a spoiler, come on) in an interesting way, it’s just not a fresh concept. Yes, superheroes aren’t “fresh”, they’re comic characters that have been around for decades. It doesn’t matter. We’re sick of seeing these things happen. Get a new plot.
Despite director Joss Whedon’s habit of making women kickass characters, the film doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. There are three major female characters: Black Widow, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, recently seen 400 times this week as Robyn from How I Met Your Mother). They never talk to each other, though they are all very cool. Black Widow, while having the best introductory scene, is also the only character to break down after a confrontation. Seeing the female hero shaking in a corner, while everyone else just picks themselves up and gets over it, was a disappointment, especially after she’d flipped that idea in an earlier scene with Loki. It’s corny—Bruce Banner falls on a “contents under pressure” sign at one point—and the effects are pretty average, with a lot of blur. Because I am tragic, I saw it in 3D, which might explain some of the wonky FX, but if you’re going to market a movie like Avengers as a 3D movie, do it properly—this is one of the first movies I wish I’d seen in 2D instead. Even though the Hulk was utterly entertaining, is he able to hold a conversation while Hulky or not? Because he was coherent in convenient moments, but not others. Whedon didn’t bother avoiding that frustrating, easy-out trope where an enemy—numerous and flying—vanishes for just long enough for an important conversation to happen. There are also some continuity errors (can I just hit my past self about the head for forgetting to take a notebook, I am clearly out of practise), including the frequent amount of times that Tony Stark can be seen swanning about without his chest glowing even though it had been just a minute earlier. These are all things I could get over separately if the movie’s excellence had otherwise blinded me to them, but sadly (and I’m genuinely sad, I wanted so desperately to love this) it just didn’t.
To the movie’s credit, the characters are all staunchly excellent and the casting blissful—Ruffalo is a brilliant Banner, and made all Banner/Hulk scenes my favourite, even though I’d assumed I’d be squealing every time Cap opened his mouth. (Actually, he was kind of sulky.) The fight scenes were a knockout, and there are a few one-liners and comedic tussles that kept me smiling. Working with a great cast and acclaimed director meant it was never going to be a terrible film, but it should have been a brilliant one. The characters shared a mostly equal amount of screen time, though it could have been retitled Iron Man 3 in a pinch. Hawkeye, being the only entirely new addition to the movie franchise, suffered from lack of a backstory, but time constraints—the movie is already nearly two and a half hours long—make it understandable.
I give The Avengers three and a half out of six superheroes. How do you get half a superhero? Well, Bruce Banner, but not the Hulk.