This review contains no plot spoilers. But that doesn't mean I won't talk about what made this movie great. I just won't speak to specific scenes beyond confirming what we already know. Trust me, when you see the movie, you'll know that I've barely scratched the surface, not even hinting at the biggest, coolest moments. If you've seen the trailers and tv spots, you know the heroes clash with each other. You know who the villain is. You know it will be funny. But if you have any qualms with safely skimming over the movie at all before you see it, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!!!
To say I’ve been anticipating this movie is a bit of an understatement. With that anticipation comes some pretty big expectations. I know I’m not alone in this regard. With that in mind, Marvel, Disney, and Paramount don’t have to worry about making their money back on this little film. That was never a concern. Of course, when you have a film this big, a studio can’t afford to simply get their money back. They have to knock it out of the park. They have to break records. They have to pull people out of their homes and into the multiplexes and get them to don 3D glasses and not wait until it comes out on DVD. To do that, they have to make a great movie and have the confidence to show it to the movie’s most ardent fans well before the official launch date on May 4th, just to get a reaction that they could put on film and show the rest of the world the enthusiasm surrounding this epic piece of cinematic history.
But therein lies the huge risk they took. A movie this big is almost guaranteed to fail from a “living up to expectations” standpoint, especially when it comes to an audience like this. The primary audience for the Avengers is the comic book geeks who have been following their beloved heroes for almost 50 years. And geeks are anything but quiet about sharing their opinions. If the Avengers didn’t live up to the expectations of these nitpicky nerds, the world was going to hear about it. Even worse, if the film just generated a collective “meh”, it could be the death-knell for the future of superhero movies, good or bad. Nobody likes a “meh” movie. “Meh” is death. But as we learned last Saturday morning after less than a hour’s sleep the night before, the Avengers is anything but a “meh” movie.
I’ve been to a lot of advance screenings. There’s always a bit of a tweaked rah-rah attitude to the proceedings, considering that such an audience is thrilled to get the first look of something they’ve waited years to see, but I have never experienced the degree of unadulterated enthusiasm as I witnessed during this Avengers screening. There were moments when the entire room exploded in reaction to what was happening on screen. I was among the people lurching forward in their seats, shouting profanity into my hands covering my mouth, almost jumping to my feet, followed by shouts, screams, and raucus applause. And there are more than a few moments when the audience gets to applaud and cheer on our heroes and not hold back. It felt like a sporting event. The Avengers smacked us around (in a good way) from beginning to end with its action, its humor, and the characters we love. And we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Here’s some footage from the screening events held in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Houston last weekend. We in LA were lucky enough to have director/writer Joss Whedon, producer Kevin Feige, Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), and Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) in attendance at our screening, which made that Saturday 9:30am screening all the more special, or as Clark Gregg put it “an astonishing tsunami of fanboy energy”…
Here’s a few nuggets of what I enjoyed most about the film:
That Bastard Loki – He really is a mean S.O.B. in this movie. Hiddleston is scarily sly and menacing while at times simply a guy who is in way over his head, but too proud to admit it.
It Has Joss’ Voice – Love it or hate it, director/writer Joss Whedon is the invisible character in this film. Fans of his previous work know of his love of off-kilter, grandiose speechifying and how he loves to make little moments into something surpisingly huge and turn big moments into unexpected character explorations with just the turn of a phrase or two. He often does it with humor, but there are lines in this film that will shock you, even when it’s coming from the mouth of a villain.
You Won’t See the Best Moments Coming – More than once, Whedon takes a scene you think is going one direction and suddenly turns it on its head without the slightest warning. His fans know that he’s good at that. But you won’t mind at all. You will learn to use the term “blindside” more often when talking about this film.
It’s More Complex Than it Looks (but not too much) – It’s not just about Loki invading the Earth. It’s not just about Nick Fury assembling heroes to do his bidding. There were some surprising twists that were important to the motivation of the characters to come together despite everything they were experiencing that would make them not want to work together at all. Let’s just say it’s not as simple as Nick saying, “hey, guys, let’s team up!”
Black Widow and Hawkeye BFFs – They aren’t just filling in spots in the roster. They have important roles at the beginning all the way through the end, even if they are completely outclassed when it comes to an alien invasion. They serve a purpose and they steal pretty much all of the scenes they’re in, especially in the final battle.
Everyone Gets to Fight (Each Other) – There are more great match ups in this movie and they don’t come off as screentime diversions. More than once, I had to say aloud “I can’t believe I’m seeing this!” As we’ve seen in the trailers, the heroes fight each other, but thankfully those moments barely scratch the surface of what the film gives us. You want a Hulk vs Thor fight? Oh boy, you’ve got one! Of course, put the Hulk in a fight against anyone, and it’s going to be fun.
Who is the Alien Army? – Their name is revealed in the first 5 seconds of the film. And Marvel fans have heard the name before, though it bares no consequence to the story. It’s the Chitauri from the Ultimates comic series, but don’t expect these alternate reality versions of the Skrulls to do any shapeshifting. They are simply warriors allied with Loki to overtake the Earth (or are they?). Also, their enormous power makes it easy for our heroes to justify completely cutting loose on their asses.
Joss Loves a Longshot – If you’ve seen Joss’s previous works, you know how much he loves long, continuous, flowing shots. You get one in possibly the greatest action sequence in the film. In fact, you almost don’t even know it’s happening until you’re part of the way through it because your breathing and heartbeat come to a complete stop until its over. It’s a thing of beauty. It’s one of the things I can’t wait to see again.
Unlikely Heroes Step Up – Unfortunately, Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill doesn’t get to do much more than act as an expository dialogue foil in any scenes she shares with Nick Fury, shouting commands or providing sitreps (of course, looking great while doing it), but if she wasn’t there, Nick would look strange speaking much of his dialogue aloud to himself. But when it comes to the normally unflappable Agent Coulson, whom we’ve seen in both Iron Man films and Thor, we get to see another side of him that most won’t expect, but will thoroughly enjoy when they see it. Believe it or not, he’s got one of the best scenes and lines in the movie.
The Helicarrier – It’s almost a character unto itself. It’s huge and cool as hell and acts as the centerpiece for one of the movie’s biggest conflicts. Thank god they didn’t introduce it just to make it a fancy background. It’s actually integral to the action in more ways than one.
The Brothers Squabble – The big 3 heroes in the Avengers have always been Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor (head, heart, and hand, respectively). Their interaction gives the movie its spark. Tony is always ready with a snarky quip even when it’s not appropriate, because he’s too smart for his own good, even though he’s rarely, if ever, wrong. Steve wants to just follow orders and play soldier as a way of dealing with the fact that 2012 is a mostly alien world to him. And Thor feels he alone is qualified to deal with the threat his half-brother poses. Not only do they come to blows physically, as seen in the trailers, but also verbally and philosophically, adding a few layers of tension to the film that make you wonder whether they’re going to get over themselves soon enough to fight the real battle (okay, sure, you know they will, but still…).
The Hulk – I never thought I’d say this, but we need another Hulk movie – NOW! If they can capture what they brought to the screen in the Avengers and distill it into another solo film, they could take the least popular Marvel movie franchise and turn it into the best. Like the shark in Jaws, they take their time putting him in front of the camera until they absolutely have to, but when they do, the effect is explosive and at times terrifying. And once the Hulk is getting into the groove of smashing, he’s at once breathtaking to watch and hilarious in other moments when you least expect it.
The Credits – Be sure you stick around DURING the credits. Even though your average moviegoer will wonder what just happened, longtime Marvel fans will walk away with a very big grin on their faces. Also, since there is word that they shot at least one more scene last week after the red carpet premiere in Hollywood, there’s a good chance we’ll get another scene tacked onto the end after the credits (there wasn’t one at the screening I saw) just in time for the May 4th premiere.
Expectations SMASHED! – I thought there was no way this movie could have lived up to the expectations put upon it by the fans (most importantly, by me), but somehow it did that and more. It went far, far beyond what I wanted it to do. All props go to Joss Whedon, the cast, and the crew who somehow figured out how to do it right and not just make a two hour and twenty minute Hasbro toy and Slurpee commercial. When the lights came up after the movie, fans were still sitting in their seats stunned, laughing and recounting their favorite scenes and marveling at the fact that they were absolutely blown away by it all! That didn’t happen after the Star Wars prequels, not after the Lord of the Rings movies, or any other recent super hero movie that I can recall, even the Marvel ones. This movie literally fired on every cylinder until the ride was over. I know the roller coaster metaphor is overused, but let me toss it out there like this: It wasn’t a roller coaster in the way of describing the ups and downs of the film, but rather the fact that it had the crowd shouting and screaming and gasping at every hill, every drop, every turn the movie made. Sure, maybe that’s the case with the whole-heartedly invested geeks that filled the 400+ seats, but tell me you won’t experience the same thing when you see it in theaters on May 4th!
Again, GO SEE THE AVENGERS ONLY IN THEATERS MAY 4th! Don’t be the one who waits for DVD (unless you have a noisy baby that you can’t leave at home with the babysitter).