The Avengers: The Gizmodo Review

Joss Whedon was handed a huge task in both writing and directing Marvel's The Avengers, given that it's the culmination of a sequence of half-a-dozen other movies. How well did he assemble his Avengers?

I should note that, due to the way I'm going to tackle this, the review here is going to be massively, awfully spoiler-filled. If you haven't seen The Avengers yet, you may not want to read on. Just in case you clicked by accident, here's the trailer to fill some blank space and allow you to hit the back button gracefully.

All good? Right, then.

Any film review is going to bring the reviewer's biases with it; if you're a fan of French New Wave cinema, then your review will be informed by the works of François Truffaut. Equally, if you've fallen through a time portal from 1920, you'll wonder why everything is so noisy, and why there's so little Charlie Chaplin material around these days.

I'm neither of those things, but I am a massive comics geek dating back many, many years. That is always going to flavour my reception of any comic-derived films, but especially so with The Avengers, because it's the culmination of a cycle of Marvel Films (The Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America) that have been pretty decent. I want superhero films to be both a good interpretation of the source material — not necessarily slavishly faithful, but at least respectful — as well as good movies. Could a Joss Whedon-helmed Avengers movie satisfy my need for authenticity and entertainment?

No, not that The Avengers, which is why the movie I saw was, technically speaking, Marvel's The Avengers. That's a clumsy way to write about it, however, so I'll refrain from doing so again.

I still remember the dark, grim days of Marvel movies. While Tim Burton was making the generally well received Batman and Batman Returns, Marvel fans got… well… this:

and this:

And were it not for the fact that is was made purely so that the company involved could hold on to the film rights, we could well have also been privy to this particular "gem".

They… weren't particularly good movies, and that wasn't just a factor of the special effects technology of the day. It wasn't until 1998's Blade that Marvel fans got anything acceptable, and by and large since then the films have been on a upwards trajectory that culminates (for now) with The Avengers. Still, ensemble pieces are tricky to pull off within a limited running time, and fan expectations were high for The Avengers. It's on general Australian release now, so I checked out a screening yesterday. ((Necessary disclosure: Norton offered me tickets to a 3D screening; I took them. I would have gone to see the movie regardless, but probably wouldn't have sprung the extra for 3D. We'll return to that point later.)

What I liked

Joss Whedon knows comics geeks (and once stated that the Internet was invented for him), and he knows his Marvel history. There are countless little nods to not only pop culture broadly, but also to Marvel history specifically, skewed throughout this film. If you're a broad Marvel fan, you'll have a ball spotting them all.

Whedon's writing history is replete with ensemble casts, from Buffy to Angel to Firefly to Dollhouse and beyond, which made him a rather obvious choice for at least writing The Avengers, and he avoids most of the obvious traps when it comes to this kind of complicated cast interplay. He gives characters both time and dialogue to breathe, and this means you do get the sense of Captain America's "man out of time" backstory and slight officiousness; Tony Stark's intelligence and cockiness; and even Loki's motivation alongside his villainous nature.

That also allows Whedon to flesh out characters we've seen much less of, from The Black Widow to Hawkeye to Nick Fury. Samuel L Jackson is still in fine scenery-chewing form, but he's not the stereotypical spy guy that.. ahem.. this guy is (I did mention Marvel went through a really bad patch of movies, right?)

Instead, Fury is layered, both a hero standing up to the council behind him and a magnificent bastard in one.

Mark Ruffalo's turn as Bruce Banner is a particular highlight, and it took me a little while to work out why. Rather than use Eric Bana or Edward Norton's versions of Banner as his inspiration, he's instead used Bill Bixby as his base, and it pays off.

Video, naturally, courtesy of Popsugar

Ruffalo's Banner isn't just a milksop scientist cliché; he's a rounded human being with a sense of humour. Whedon again displays his Marvel history knowledge here, as Lou Ferrigno voices Banner's alter ego, even though he never really spoke as the 70's Hulk previously. Again, it's a tiny nod to the long-term fan that doesn't alienate those new to the concepts.

The real standout in this ensemble casting is the Hulk, and here Whedon plays to something that's often a weakness for this kind of multi-character effort. If you look at, say, X-Men: The Last Stand, it's muddied by the desire of the director to throw every character in there just for the sake of it. As a result, nobody has any character. Whedon inverts this; there's not a whole lot of the Hulk in this picture, but that's for a very good reason. The Hulk's a bit like Superman in that he's essentially unstoppable, and Whedon nicely lampshades this with Banner's comments about putting a bullet in his mouth ("The Other Guy just spat it out").

As such, too much screen time for the Hulk would reduce his impact and make him dull, because there's no real risk to the character. Instead we get Hulk in limited doses, which makes him all the more powerful. It also helps that he gets the ragdoll sequence with Loki ("Puny God!"), which is flat-out one of the funniest things I've seen in a mainstream superhero film for years.

That being said, the heart of this film isn't Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, Thor or Nick Fury. Instead, it's Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson and his pack of Captain America playing cards. Whedon paces out the joke of Coulson's fanboyism nicely so that it's at first amusing, then chucklesome… and then worrying when Loki casually murders him.

Coulson's easily the character that a geeky audience (and I'm sure Whedon himself) will most closely identify with. While we've all got our moments where we'd like to Hulk out (I had one while trying to leave the carpark after the movie), or would like an Iron Man suit to fly above life's problems, Coulson's the everyman that this picture needs and uses to excellent effect. From a nomenclature viewpoint, the Avengers had to avenge something, and it's Coulson that fills this role, albeit via a bit of rather nasty manipulation on Fury's part. Unlike the Marvel film cycles of the 1990s, the more recent efforts have put more into characterisation rather than just the… well, marvel of superheroes, and doing so via a relatively ordinary everyman is a great move.

What I didn't like

At two hours and twenty seven minutes, The Avengers is a lengthy film, and thanks to the slow burn pacing in the first hour, it really does feel like it. By the time the final battle kicks off, I'd been left waiting for it just a touch too long. That's not to say that the preceding time was entirely wasted; still, a straight two hour cut of The Avengers would deliver a slightly more satisfying spectacle.

Loki's the main villain, and he's very well realised, but the same isn't true for the alien army he has behind him. They're terribly generic; a kind of mashup of Predators, Aliens and Resistance's Chimera. That does make it simpler for the heroes to simply mow them down in waves, but it also removes a lot of the element of risk. If we don't care about the aliens in any way (not even being frightened of them, as they're not seen as that tough, the big flying wormy things notwithstanding), there's little doubt as to how the battle will play out.

Equally, I did find it a little puzzling that a world-conquering force would only choose to come into New York in very small waves. There didn't even seem to be that many massed aliens waiting when Iron Man flew the nuke into the dimensional portal!

It would have been rather tough for anyone going to see The Avengers not to realise that it features characters that have all had their own films in recent years, but it's worth mentioning that if you haven't seen all of them, there are nuances you'll miss. Not in the long-term-Marvel fanboy way that I alluded to earlier, but in straight character explanation. The Avengers drops straight into its story and presumes you'll just know all this stuff because you've seen all the other films. Again, it's a tough problem to overcome, as adding character identifying exposition would have made The Avengers run even longer.

It's a minor critique, but the end of credits bonus scene isn't actually at the end of the credits. It's a nice scene if you do know what's going on, but surely everyone who worked on the movie deserves to be credited (and thus have the audience stick around), not just the lead players?

While I'm on the personal nitpicky trail, Cobie Smulder's role of Nick Fury's sidekick is played well, but anyone who's watched any decent amount of How I Met Your Mother may have trouble not snickering when she first shows up on screen. Although it does have to be said that she looks very nice in a tight fitting body suit, but again, that's almost a Whedon cliché.

I saw The Avengers in 3D, and it's a 3D film that goes relatively light on the in-your-face 3D effects.

That's good on the not creating upchucking scale, not to mention breaking the audience out of the narrative, because if you've got to stop while an alien head flies past your left shoulder, you're not otherwise paying attention. At the same time, it means that the use of 3D is just a gimmick within this film; I came out of it with slightly tired eyes but a realisation that you really wouldn't miss anything at all watching it in plain old 2D. As an added benefit, your wallet would be a couple of dollars heavier, and weightlifting is said to be good for you.

I was originally only going to write 50 words on The Avengers, and then hand it over to you Giz readers to make the rest of the review. Instead, I've ended up with something a little more detailed. So that's my take — what's yours?


Comments

    Please put spoiler alerts at the start of your review. I had no idea you were going so in depth into plot elements and I still haven't seen the movie :(

      Did you not see this bit?

      I should note that, due to the way I’m going to tackle this, the review here is going to be massively, awfully spoiler-filled. If you haven’t seen The Avengers yet, you may not want to read on. Just in case you clicked by accident, here’s the trailer to fill some blank space and allow you to hit the back button gracefully

      I do apologise if the film's been genuinely spoiled for you (and not at all if you're just trolling), but there's a big clear paragraph at the top that gives a spoiler warning. I've now bolded and italicised it to make it even more clear.

        Not a big deal, but just make it a little bit easier to see please. I tend to skim and just missed it is all.

        Not trolling or anything here (and not trying to tell you how to do your job), but one of the things I like from IGN's site is that there's a discreet alert right above every large spoiler. I was just used to that system and so I missed your alert at the top.

        Again, no big deal, just wasn't used to your system.

        Cheers

        Have a wrap up, for people like me who don't want spoilers but just want to know whether it's good or not, and to watch or not.

          ...so... is it worth seeing?

    Watched this in 2D. Much like any other recent CGI-heavy film, I wasn't enthralled and sucked in to the final battle - there was no emotion to that, mainly because the invading force wasn't characterised enough - indeed they were rather generic, and just battling over New York... sigh.
    Loki as great, and I think more could have been made of his emotions, and made him more a singular force to be overcome by the Avengers.
    Hulk, I agree - awesome minimal use.

    So, I give it a 7/10. It's pure mindless entertainment. No brain required.
    There was a heckuvalot of humourous one-liners or visual gags, which were sorely needed to break up the pew-pew, the audience cracked up when those occurred.
    Definately better than Transformers, simply because the characters had character.

    Can anyone explain who the character is in the bonus scene during the credits, and how they fit in to the marvel-verse?

      The character in the end credits clip is Thanos. I hadn't heard of him before I started looking but it seems like he will be someone not to mess with in upcoming films. Especially if he gets his hands on that Gauntlet stored in Odin's safe room. My guess is that he will feature in the next Thor movie given this connection.

        Thanos is actually a nhilist, which means he worships death (thus the smile after his advisor says attacking earth is like courting death) and wishes to present his love with the universe.

          Could be a way of doing "the Infinity Gauntlet" which was a comic storyline that had pretty much everyone in it. Avengers definitely feature in the story as does silver surfer.

        Mmm, considering he first premièred n an Iron Man Comic, could be the villain for Iron Man Three next year.

    Skrull. Deal with it haters.

      Well, no...

        What is that supposed to mean? There's a god damn Skrull on the other end of the 'first' credits.

          If that isn't Thanos, I'll eat my Captain America trading cards. They're near mint...

            Yes! I got you to spoil it for everyone! It's your fault.

              Yeah, like I'm not used to hearing that by now ;)

                Thanks for clearing up who it was. I've only been reading Marvel comics since Planet Hulk and assumed it was some Skrull, the weird chin threw me off. Didn't make sense bringing them in so early.

    I loved this film, the action was great and the hulk proved a very unsuspecting comic relief which was great because you didn't see it coming. Now I'm not sure if I missed a movie somewhere but I would have like a little more backstory on Hawkeye (which I'll no doubt look into now).

    I agree the 3d wasn't in your face which personally I prefer 3d shouldn't detract from the movie and this didn't which I liked.

    All up this was a great film and honestly the benchmark for all future Marvel films, of I had my way Joss Whedon should be the only person to work on these films in future. My score 9/10

    I heard that Whedon wanted to bring in more villains but the shadowy suits stopped him. I loved the whole movie but agree with the lameness of the generic aliens. If they were an alien mercenary army, they could have thrown some cameos and made it a little more unpredictable.
    Before I saw the movie I was a little unsure how one effeminate Bob Geldof could be intimidating to a whole superhero team, but I thought Loki was brilliantly played. His takedown of the whole team on the helicarrier was excellent.

    Still thinking if to watch it or not. I like super heroes movies very much. But I cannot stand stupid empty Scarlett Johansson face as it was in trailer. She seems to be SO WRONG in this movie. She is so fake with serious face and brutal sight. I have nothing against her as actress, maybe she is good in characters she suits for. But not as super hero! Please... I expect her presence to ruin whole movie.
    Why? Why she is here??? Can anyone tell me that she is not ruining the movie?

      She actually shows some emotions. She didn't ruin the movie at all, adds a human element to the movie in-fact.

    Great review Alex, good to see an analysis of the film rather than the whole gushy-gushy stuff other blogs are doing.

    I have seen all the other movies, but will I be missing anything by not seeing the Hulk movies before The Avengers? Especially if the hulk character is more a throwback to the 70's Hulk?

    I haven't heard a single good thing about either of the recent Hulk movies and probably wont bother seeing them otherwise.

      I'm probably in the minority in saying that I like what Ang Lee tried to do with his Hulk movie -- not that he entirely succeeded, but the style and intent is interesting.. but no, as long as you're au fait with the Hulk basics, they're easily the character movies you could avoid. Thor and Iron Man, much less so.

        Agreed. it would be helpful to re-watch Thor and Captian America as there's stuff from both that are critical to the plot of The Avengers.

      I'm pretty sure the only Hulk movie considered part of The Avengers' canon is the 2008 one. They reference the events of that film, but it's more of an acknowledgement, not a major plot point.

    At my screening we got Avenger 3D glasses - I got Hulk. This is probably an irrelevant comment but they didn't fit my face properly and I had to hold them up for a majority of the movie... Great review!

    I loved the film I thought it was awesome . The alieny enemies. They could have been fleshed out but I get that the idea was that we has humans shouldn't have been a threat. Loki would come down take the cube and bring in the muscle to quickly clean things up. The muscle was just muscle. The guy pulling the strings (def Thanos) and Loki were the main villains.
    I thought the Hulk was outstanding, I cant imagine Norton playing Banner like this. As much as I liked Norton Ruffalo just had a lot more layers going on.
    I thought the 3d was pointless once again. I dont see it going away in the future but it just means that I'll wait for more films to come out on Blu ray or download them where I have the choice of watching them in the preferred 2D.
    Now that the Avengers is done I'd like to see Marvel slow down a bit. There's no need for this 1 or 2 films per year business, keeping up this rate. Someones going to drop the ball and potentially destroy the whole thing.
    In reply to Sicarius, i dont think you'd miss anything there's references to the previous film (not Lee's) but you get the gist of it and it doesn't spoil the film. I'd say you'd need to watch the Cap and Thor films tho to appreciate this. Especially the relationship between Thor and Loki. Thor still trying to convince Loki to return, see the error of his ways etc. Mixed in with some great humour.
    Thor: Loki is my brother and you should watch how you speak of him.
    Black Widow: He killed 80 people in 2 days
    Thor: He's adopted.

    Well done everyone involved. What I love is that we're going to have 2..maybe 3 (spiderman) major Comic book based Superhero movies this year and each one is amazingly different than the others. It's a good time for comics and hopefully this attention will relate into better comic book sales.

    I agree that the film was pretty enjoyable, but one disappointment was that its a complete ripoff of a plot thats been done to death ... Opening a portal for an alien army to invade the earth ? !? See Transformers 3 for another example with an eerily similar final battle scene.

      No thanks, Transformers 2 was terrible enough to stop me from spending any more money on that franchise.

        I completely second the Transformers 2 sentiment. Even as a Transformers cartoon fan, there was too much of Michael Bay's dark side at play.

    I loved the Avengers
    The biggest positive I walked away with was that someone finally translated The Hulk to the big screen without making him seem overpowered or cheesy.
    Mark Ruffalo's interpretation of Bruce Banner was exceptional; after seeing him in Shutter Island I knew he would be a great choice for the role.

    Can't wait to see where the series goes next; I see Marvel are talking about a Black Widow movie.
    I personally would like to see Mark Ruffalo and The Hulk make an appearance in the next Iron Man film which is looking like it's going to have Guy Pearce playing Killian.
    Perhaps Dr Bruce Banner can help Tony Stark to find an antidote for the virus once the Mandarin is ready to release it to the world....

    The Avengers was boss and Cobie is hot. That is all.

    I dunno. I felt that they shoehorned a lot of the humor in there and so it felt out of place to me, even at times making the crowd laugh where I felt that it wasnt actually a joke or shouldnt have been.

    One thing I couldn't understand is the number of people at the theatre i was in who bailed as soon as the credits started rolling so they missed the little vignette. Surely Marvel fans would know to stick around.

    One disappointing thing was that Stan Lee's cameo was too short

      Yeah, and we didn't have to wait as long for the extra bit this time around

    i actually really liked the 3d whenever it showed loki in space talking to the aliens. the way the room just disolved around him to transition to it with the 3d was really nice.

    Why review a movie and put spoilers in it? Why would someone who has seen the movie want to read a review of the movie?
    Isn't a review supposed to help you decide whether or not to see it?

    I haven't read it as I don't want the movie spoiled, so to me it is an awful review.

      Keith: Um, nearly every review i've read features spoilers. Unless the reviewer states that the review will be spoiler free. This one does not. In fact the reviewer states in the first paragraph that this review will be full of spoilers. He then gives a really good review of the film. You're calling it an awful review because it does exactly what it stated it would do??? This review is more for people who have seen the film to share their thoughts.
      Blake: Agreed, but wearing the glasses and squinting for 2+ hours doesn't really make sense for 5 minutes of nice footage. Green screen really comes off well in 3d.

      Like, I'm not sure if the same previews were shown for everyone but we had the Spiderman preview before the film. In 3d. There was a couple of scenes of him swinging through the city. He completely vanished a couple of times as the 3d tried to keep up with him.

    "I should note that, due to the way I’m going to tackle this, the review here is going to be massively, awfully spoiler-filled. If you haven’t seen The Avengers yet, you may not want to read on. Just in case you clicked by accident, here’s the trailer to fill some blank space and allow you to hit the back button gracefully."

    That is utterly ridiculous. The point of a review is to, er, review the film for people who have yet to see it. Those of us who have seen it don't need a review. So if you can't write a review without giving the film away then you are Doing. It. Wrong. And you're also indulging yourself and doing your readers a disservice. And it's lazy. Poor show all 'round.

      but he says in the first paragraph what he's going to do...how is that wrong? why are people commenting about it having spoilers?

      The point of a review -- any review -- is to provide a critique of a given thing, be a phone, jar of honey, or in this case, a film. Whether or not it "spoils" anything can be secondary, and given it had opened wide yesterday AND had other press reviews anyway, it seemed like the most sensible review course to me.

      There's been intense interest in The Avengers any time we've published anything on it, and based on the fact that it's had the 2nd largest opening in Australian Cinema history -- http://mumbrella.com.au/the-avengers-takes-second-biggest-opening-day-in-australian-box-office-history-87813 -- AND this review has had really solid amount of traffic throughout the day, I'm essentially happy with it as it stands. You're entitled to your viewpoint, naturally.

      Oh, except about the "And it's lazy" quip. Did the review actually appear out of thin air? No.

      I've seen the movie and read this review. I often read reviews after seeing a movie. To me, a review is someone else's take on a film and the quality isn't on how well they don't give anything away, it's how well they articulate their thoughts and feelings and (if making an argument) how well they give reasons, so others can understand also. It's similar to an essay on a book or a critique of a picture. There's varying levels of subjectivity, but there are plenty of good reviews out there which talk about the film in detail.

      I would think if the reviewer listened purely to you, he would be doing his readers a disservice - because is readers actually read the review.

        Well, thank you for agreeing that I'm entitled to my view. The fact that the film and your 'review' are popular is hardly proof of its quality. The point of a film review is, as I said, to help those of us who have yet to see it decide whether or not we'll see it. Clearly you disagree, and clearly I think you're wrong. There are plenty of film reviews in the papers and on the web, if you'd like to get some tips. You'll notice that they all make efforts not to reveal key plot points of the film you're reviewing. It's not easy to do that, it takes time and thought to work out how to do that and still write an effective review, but you chose not to bother. That's why I think you were lazy to do it this way.

          They "all" make efforts? No. Warning of spoilers (especially in online reviews) is a time honoured tradition; it's not a sign of being "lazy", just of taking a different tack to it, and one that I very clearly bothered to highlight at the very top of the article.

          I don't think we're going to agree on this one, though, so I'll leave it there.

            No, we're not going to agree, and clearly the weight of opinion is not on my side here. I will point out, though, that you did make your warning about spoilers very clear and as a result I didn't read the subsequent article, so I thank you for that.

            C'mon Alex,
            You wouldn't be disappointed if you saw one of your favorite blogs review a movie you were interested in but not seen to then find out you can't read the review because it is filled with spoilers.

            It is a pretty common assumption that a movie review is not going to reveal major plot points. Once again, the whole point of a movie review is to help the reader decide if he or she wants to spend their hard earned dollars to see the movie.
            You might not agree but let's face it, you aren't a movie reviewer and the fact that you include so many spoilers highlights that fact. A gadget review and a movie review should not be treated the same way.

              Thanks. Glad I'm not completely alone in my opinion.

    Couldn't agree more on the Loki/Hulk scene. I'm still chuckling about that 24hrs later...

    The only thing i disliked was that when the portal closed all the bad guys died. Why? They were not robots and I am sure the world will agree with me no one would make an army that will die when the first ship is destroyed.

      Userinterface: yeah, there was mention of the staff being powered by the cube as a weapon and the aliens seemed to have something on the back of their necks giving them power. Perhaps with the gate closing it severed the link between them and the cube?

      I agree that part was a bit deus ex machina, but the team would have finished the leftovers eventually and the movie was beginning to stretch its time limit so it wasn't too much of a trespass.

    Loved it. Every bit. I get enough comments about how movies aren't as good as the books from my wife with her complaints about twilight and now the hunger games and next will be the movie she can't wait to see because the book was great. But that won't be as good either. Neither of us has read marvel comics though I'm old enough to have grown up with them and we love them. I stopped reading the review after the nit picking started and generally just wanted to comment that the movie is great IMO and the wife's. I'm sure the review reflected your personal views and appreciate that was its intent.

    Great balanced review Alex. I loved the trailers you interspersed to show how far we've come and how high the bar's been raised on our expectations of superhero movies.

    I also read this after watching - it's nice to see and hear well-articulated thoughts from other reasonable people and compare them to my own.

    Watched it in IMAX 3D and i must say it was a pretty good flick like everyone has already pointed out, but man i have missed how good IMAX 3D is over normal theatre screen.. picture quality is just so good and the 3D is effortless, i find it less straining even in fast paced action scenes.. to be honest i wasn't gonna see it in 3d because watching the 3d trailer hurt my eyes trying to keep up with everything but it wasn't like that at all... weather it was the IMAX quality or not that helped im not 100 percent sure but definitely worth the extra bucks :)

    Loved it, except:

    - Banner magically became in control of the Hulk?
    - They used a NUCLEAR BOMB against the opposing army. I'm pretty sure that's not a thing that is OK.
    - All the other aliens magically died once the mothership was exploded. I'm not sure why.
    - This supposedly unstoppable gigantic invasion force sure took their time to actually get to Earth.
    - "Wait, I think I built a failsafe in there somehow even though my thoughts were being controlled by Loki. You know how he had everyone under his powers, causing even Hawkeye to turn on you all? Yeah, well somehow I managed to still build an inherent weakness into this fantasical weapon design, and all you need to do is poke it with that other blue glowing thing."
    - "All you need to do is poke it with that other blue glowing thing" was a pretty lame end to the battle.

    But still: everything else was great.

    Black Widow was better and more interesting than expected.

    Ruffalo was just great as Banner.

    Captain America came out into his own and showed why he's the leader. I'd always kinda wondered, but every scene that he was in, he was trying to make everything work. Iron Man's "Call it, Cap" was one of the best parts of the whole thing.

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