Nerd-Free Movie Review of The Avengers

I’m writing this review specifically for people who see the preview for The Avengers and think to themselves “That looks like it might be good, but will I like it if I’m not a nerd?” The nerd factor for the film is pretty high; for some people, it’s hard enough to grasp the idea behind one superhero, and here you’re expected to keep track of six. Plus, if you’re not up to date on comics lore, you might be waiting the whole movie for Spider-Man or Green Lantern to appear (waiting in vain). I’m here to tell you though that once you get passed the nerd factor, The Avengers is a pretty enjoyable film.

To go back to the question of “will I like The Avengers if I’m not a nerd?” let me instead pose the question “Do you like Summer blockbusters?” The Avengers has many of the elements that you’d expect from a big Hollywood action film. There’s battles that increasingly get bigger, smarmy vaguely European villains (a la Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon 2, or basically every 90s action movie), flashy special effects, a handful of one-liners your kids will leave the theater repeating, and, of course, a good many explosions. The nicest part is, much of what I dislike about summer blockbusters is absent here. For example, there’s no tacked on love-story to slow things down, no random scene where the main characters shower, and, last but not least, there’s no appearance whatsoever of Shia Labouf. As far as big-budget blockbusters go, The Avengers is pretty good.

One of the big reasons to see The Avengers is, surprisingly, the writing. This isn’t a movie where all of the characters are essentially the same person. Instead, each character has a clear and distinct personality. You won’t get that from The Expendables or from anything with Michael Bay’s name attached. You will get that, however, from anything penned by Joss Whedon. He’s a master of creating nuanced, quirky characters. For proof of that, revisit a few episodes of his series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The problem here is that Joss Whedon didn’t write the script by himself. As it turns out, another screenwriter was brought on long ago to develop the script. When Joss Whedon later signed on, he gutted the dialogue but kept the story largely the same. The actual story of The Avengers is the weakest part. In fact, I’m sure if non-nerds see The Avengers, their biggest complain will be that the story was threadbare at parts.

The Avengers begins with the villain character Loki hatching a deal with an unnamed supervillain somewhere in outer space. In exchange for his obedience, Loki will be given an army to attack Earth with. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Power Rangers during this scene, and it didn’t help that when his army showed up, they resembled the Putty Patrol. After the weak opening scene, the movie shifts gears and introduces us to each hero, and thankfully, if you didn’t watch Iron Man 1 and 2, Captain America, Thor, or The Incredible Hulk, the movie will fill you in on most of what you need to know.

The good guys spend the first half of the film butting heads, and while I was anxious for the action to start, the dialogue was witty and most of the actors gave fine performances, so I was never quite bored (which is saying something when the movie’s more than 2 hours long). Robert Downey Jr., as usual, steals the show, with his eccentric portrayal of Tony Stark (Iron Man). Chris Evans, whom I hated back when he was The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four, is actually pretty good as Captain America. Mark Ruffalo is a welcome addition, as he replaced Edward Norton as The Hulk. While Edward Norton is a decent actor, Mark Ruffalo did a much better job of portraying a passive-aggressive scientist. Chris Hemsworth is the most boring member of the cast, but he also has the most difficult character to play (Thor). Apart from a cameo by Gwyneth Paltrow (reprising her Pepper Potts role) and a series of scenes featuring Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, Scarlett Johansson is the only woman in the movie to hold a big role. She does fine, but I would have preferred a few more women to round out the cast. Finally, Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury, smouldering as usual.

Apart from the so-so story, the only other weakness in The Avengers was the villain Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston. If Loki had teamed up with the villains from the other films, it would seem more like a fair fight, but having six superheroes face off against a fey, wincing, anemic looking man didn’t do much for building up suspense. Plus, the movie doesn’t make it very clear what Loki’s bad intentions are. If you watched Thor, you’ll remember he has daddy issues, but as his father never appears here, new viewers will be scratching their heads.

From the bumper crop of big-budget blockbusters coming out this year, only three rank on my must-see list: Brave, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers. Brave and The Dark Knight Rises haven’t yet been released, but you can step into any megaplex in America and watch The Avengers today. If you’re tight for cash, I would say that the
3-D option isn’t really necessary. After about half-an-hour, I ceased to even notice a difference in depth.

Of course, I should also point out the obverse of my thesis is true too: if you’re only a fan of art-house and indie films, it’s best to avoid The Avengers, but you probably already guessed that.

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