The Avengers (rated MA15+)
(reviewed by Symeon Thompson)
The Avengers is an action-packed computer-generated imagery (CGI) extravaganza awash with wit and warmth and laced with awesomeness, bringing together in one film a number of heroes from the Marvel comics.
It is epic drama on a grand scale, Wagnerian opera in a movie format, but with much more humour.
Philosophically, it is a simple, old-fashioned tale of good and evil, with the good guys being flawed and the bad guys being complex; and, while some might feel it needs more of an “intellectual” justification in these “modern” times, it is just those “old-fashioned” values that this modern time so desperately needs.
Loki (played with Shakespearean aplomb by Tom Hiddleston), the villain from 2011’s movie Thor, has agreed to lead an army of Chitauri (a creepy, vile-looking, alien race) to conquer Earth. He becomes king and the Chitauri gain the Tesseract — a mysterious energy-generating cube first seen in 2011’s Captain America — that will grant them power to conquer the universe.
The Tesseract is held by SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), the global intelligence and security agency, run by the one-eyed ultimate spy, Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson as calm, cool and menacingly collected as only he can be).
Loki uses the Tesseract to transport himself to Earth where he starts causing havoc and uses his staff to take control of Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard reprising his role from Thor) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye, the bow-wielding “World’s Greatest Marksman” (Jeremy Renner, continuing his trend of playing able-bodied assassins and secret agents, and doing so with smouldering intensity).
Thus starts the drama, with SHIELD’s underground headquarters being well and truly destroyed, some of their best people working for the other side. Nick Fury activates the Avengers Initiative, sending out his two best agents to round up the heroes — his dependable, slightly-dull, but very, very effective suit-wearing right-hand man, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg returns), and the ruthless Russian assassin Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow (beautifully portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, in curvaceous cat-suits that would make that other Avenger, Emma Peel, raise an eyebrow over style-theft).
And so the Avengers are assembled. There’s the self-described “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist”, in a mechanical suit, Tony Stark/ Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr at his witty supercilious best). Then there’s Dr Bruce Banner / The Hulk, (expertly played by Mark Ruffalo, the only actor not to have previously portrayed these dual parts), a man described by Stark as “having colossal anger-management issues”.
There’s the first super-hero, Steve Rogers/ Captain America (Chris Evans at his able noblest), an old-fashioned, disciplined, good guy — notable as one of the few heroes to be a genuinely decent person with seemingly no dark side, and one who consequently finds the modern world somewhat depressing. In addition, Odin has sent his son Thor (the bulked-up Aussie Chris Hemsworth returns) to capture Loki and take him to face Asgardian justice.
There are lots of grand fight scenes, sharp quips and genuine warmth and good cheer throughout the film. There’s little point relaying more of the plot — because, as is to be expected, there are personality clashes, secrets, lies and double-crossing. So much is happening that it’s best seen on the big screen. There are so many good one-liners that a review could be made solely out of them, and many have a touching poignancy in this day and age.
The 3D cinematography is no-nonsense and brilliantly done, with an incredible clarity that has been lacking over recent years where the audience is struggling to work out who is doing what to whom. The camera soars and swoops and points out fine details while revelling in the panorama of the action. The 3D does add to the drama, but not so much that those who see it in 2D are missing out on anything. The soundtrack is simple and effective, more of an amalgam of the earlier movies’ scores than one unique to this one, but it still resonates.
Joss Whedon, of Buffy, Angel and Firefly fame, has co-written and directed a superb exercise in modern mythology. This is not an excursion into relativistic clap-trap, or modernist rot, where values are twisted and contorted to suit a particular agenda.
This is a story with a grand, and incredibly, inherently, human take on the battle between good and evil, where the characters are complex and often conflicted, but where the values they stand for are not.
It harks back to a pre-modern, ancient understanding of what it is to be good and true and beautiful, and admits no self-deceptions in the process. These are our mythologies, reminiscent of Greek and Norse legends, and laced with all the high-tech awesomeness that Hollywood CGI can muster.