by Marcus Handleman

Marvel’s The Avengers is the sixth installment in Marvel Studios’ Universe of films portraying their well-known superhero properties. I wasn’t too sure what to expect going into this film. The trailers and promotional material had failed to overly impress me and if 2011 taught me anything, it was to not consider any film “a sure thing” when it comes to the superhero genre.

But even before seeing The Avengers, it seemed as though the film had achieved a life of its own. The midnight screening at my local, small suburban cinema was running the film on three screens, all of which were sold out. The first full day of showings at the same cinema was sold out for all of the screenings that day, and when I travelled across town to find an available showing, I found out that that cinema had cancelled a scheduled screening of Hunger Games so that they could add another timeslot for The Avengers due to the high demand. So if nothing more, The Avengers was going to be a success in marketing and promotion to the masses. People were pumped to see this film. Fortunately, I had purchased my ticket for the midnight screening ahead of time and I saw it in that electric atmosphere that a film only gets once. The culmination of five years of Marvel planning and a first in film making was upon me. I awaited the result.

I had a lot of fun watching The Avengers and in my opinion it is a well-earned success.

The Avengers is an all action slug-fest that begins the moment the projector starts and barely lets up for a minute during the two hour and fifteen minute marathon of CGI, humour and men in tights. I am not usually a guy who gravitates towards films that rely so heavily on straight up action to get by, but with the consistent humour and wit sprinkled throughout, it makes the action flow in a way that keeps it feeling fun. Coupled with the interpersonal banter and conflicts from the newly-formed, team there is always something interesting happening on screen. Each of the characters in the team: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow, have enough character to make them distinct from each other and therefore makes their interplay interesting.

Nearly everything that The Avengers attempts to do, it succeeds at. Its action is well constructed, directed, and choreographed. The humour is effective throughout and the character conflicts seem to evolve organically from their core character traits. The plot also feels as though it firmly belongs in this Marvel Universe due to it being a direct continuation of the events of Thor and Captain America. The basic premise of the film is that Loki has been given a second chance at being a king by a mysterious otherworldly being who provides him an army to conquer Earth and steal the Cosmic Cube from S.H.I.E.L.D. The Avengers therefore need to “assemble” in order to combat the threat with the expected teething problems of the new team experienced along the way. A few scenes feel a little flat in comparison to the high points of the film, but I believe that is more due to the strength of highlights rather than the weakness of the low points.

Now I say that nearly everything the film attempts it succeeds at, and that is true, but what I list above is also EVERYTHING that it attempts. The plot doesn’t divert from its predictable path, there are no big surprises, no underlying themes or questions being asked of the audience, and there are no character arcs to speak of. The Avengers is a direct sequel to all of the other Marvel films that came before it. It relies on the audience having just watched all of them and to have a preexisting connection with the characters. Each character is given the bare minimum introduction to familiarise the audience with them before they become just another part of the ensemble. No character is given any depth here that they didn’t already bring with them from their previous films and none of the characters experience any growth or development throughout the film. Therefore, if you are not already invested in these characters prior to The Avengers, then don’t expect to care any more for them afterwards.

These things can be viewed as very big flaws in a film and I am usually the first person to call a film out on its lack of depth, but its hard to criticise a film for not having these elements when it doesn’t pretend to even try to achieve them. There are no awkward forced love interest sub plots, no big cliched lessons learned by the protagonist, and there is nothing in this film that doesn’t fit under the banner of “Big Fun Slug-Fest”. To be honest, I don’t think the film is any worse off for not having these elements. It is what it is and it makes no apologies for that. An argument could be made that the film could have been a stronger piece with a tighter focus on one or two characters and their journey, such as Captain America and Stark’s interesting dynamic which could have been the basis for something more than what we see, as well as the Thor versus Loki relationship, which is always fertile ground ready to be explored, but I don’t think their lack of further exploration hurts the film.

Interestingly enough, there is a character who benefits from the absence of character focus and development, the Hulk. The Hulk has found his home here, which gives us only the essentials on Banner and then lets the Hulk run wild. Also the touches of humour that work well in the film as a whole work particularly well with Hulk. While I love the brooding psychological turmoil of Ang Lee’s Hulk I have to admit that The Avengers‘ Hulk is one I would be far more interested in seeing again. Hulk’s standout moments are all aided by the element of surprise, so I won’t spoil anything he does here in this review, but let me just say that the audiences I saw The Avengers with on both ocassions gave the biggest reaction of the whole film to Hulk when he confronts Loki. It was a brilliant moment.

Now the issue of The Avengers relying solely on the previous films for its character development and therefore the audiences emotional investment in the film is not automatically a bad thing. The Avengers is after all a sequel to the previous films and many of the characters’ stories run directly from their individual film into this one. We are also in a cinematic age where audiences are no stranger to long drawn out multi-movie story lines, such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Twilight, where the events and developments of one film are necessary to understand and appreciate the ones that follow. However, this means that The Avengers does not completely work on its own. As a stand alone film, it is massively flawed due to just being full of random two dimensional characters. But when taken in the context of the sixth film in the Marvel Studios catalog, it works much better.

All in all, The Avengers provides the audience with massive action sequences that show off all of its primary cast. I don’t think anybody who has had any interest in any of the Marvel Studio films from the past few years would be disappointed in this cinematic experience. Sure, it could have been better, could have aimed a little higher, and had more sophisticated substance at its core, but it has chosen not to be that. It has chosen to showcase what Marvel does best: colourful, action-filled, popcorn fun. And it succeeds at that goal better than anyone else out there. The Avengers makes the summer action blockbuster look easy. I just hope that Marvel and its imitators learn the right lessons from this film, which is bound to be a phenomenal success.

The Avengers is non-stop action, pop corn fun that succeeds in drawing the audience into its world. There is plenty of icing on the serving, you just need to bring your own cake from the previous course.

Rating: 4 out of 4.75