ADVANCE REVIEW: The Avengers (2012)

A movie review article by: Dylan Garsee, Nick Hanover

Dylan Garsee: "WOW!" says the lady behind me every five minutes during this movie.

Nick Hanover: Regardless of what anyone will tell you about The Avengers, Dylan and I can tell you that sitting in a theatre full of literally every census group in Austin confirmed that it is a near universal crowd pleaser.

Dylan: That screening was like a Benetton ad.

That sounded much more racist than it should have been.

I'm sorry.

Nick: This movie is about INCLUSION, Dylan.

But seriously, as a little background, The Avengers screening we went to was packed before they were even letting people in. People camped outside, and we're not just talking stereotypical basement dwellers here. This was a ridiculously well-represented crowd and they were all super excited to be there, despite the 400% humidity and 90 degree heat.

Dylan: I'm pretty sure that screening was at a time portal; everything was rundown around the theatre, my cell phone didn't get reception and some people would fit right in as extras in a Die Antwoord video.

Dylan: Not to mention our trivia-turned-world rivals were in line behind us, chattering super loud and being turdish for 4 hours.

Nick: It was like we'd been sent to screen the movie at the mall from Dawn of the Dead. But right from the get go, Avengers was hellbent on pleasing the crowd, regardless of the shittiness of their surroundings. The film initially began in a deceptive manner, with a creepy voice over explaining that the "Tesseract," that Cosmic Cube-like device from Captain America, was "ready," setting up the conflict that anchors the film. Without giving away too many details, Thor's half-brother and archnemesis Loki has allied himself with some Old God-like beings in order to get his vengeance on Earth. And to achieve this, he's centered his plans around the ability of the Tesseract to create riffs in space-time that allow for instant travel through space.

Dylan: For about half of the movie I though Loki was Jared Leto, and I was wondering how he grew his arm back.

But there is literally no stop after the Paramount logo runs. Almost immediately we are thrust into an action sequence starring more supporting characters from CBS sitcoms than I'm usually comfortable with.

Nick: Some people have been steadily voicing concerns that this movie wouldn't make the most of its budget, or that it wouldn't have enough for each of its main characters to do, or that there would be no way to balance all of the heroes. Luckily, they're all wrong.

Joss Whedon and his team have done an incredible job making every character in the film play a valuable, necessary role and though the film is jam packed from start to finish, you never feel like anyone is getting short thrift.

Dylan: Everything was high quality: the effects, the costumes, the sets, the sweet sweet explosions.

They spared no expense, and it shows.

Nick: Except for Captain America's costume, which somehow looked much worse and goofier than what we saw in his solo film. But that's a minor complaint.

Part of why this film works, though, is because Whedon and company have wisely kept everything on a compressed timeframe. Rather than drag everything out, with some stilted "let's get the band together!" gimmick, Whedon has each of the Avengers essentially broken after trying to do things their own way. From the moment the threat is presented, we see each individual's strengths and their weaknesses and it unfolds over what feels like no more than a week. They're run through an entire gauntlet, where the stakes never wind down, and it's only through that exhaustive chaos that they reluctantly come together, though Nick Fury does his fair share of string pulling.

Dylan: It's an incredibly tight movie, especially considering it's two and a half hours long. But with two long form action sequences that almost flow into each other, it sure didn't feel like it.

Nick: The Avengers basically ignores the traditional form of the origin story in favor of the development of a world encompassing threat that is first identified, then analyzed and finally faced by the Avengers. Yes, this film is about the formation of the Avengers, but for the bulk of the film there is no Avengers to speak of, instead there's a group of extremely powerful, extremely egotistical beings who are forced to form a team when they realize they can't handle the threat alone.

Dylan: Is it bad that I was kind of confused about that for the first half of the movie? I just assumed that they already knew they were the Avengers, and just came together.

But now that I think back on that, as well as the sentence I just typed, I realized that yes, yes it was bad of me.

Nick: Well, you're not entirely off, and this is an aspect of the film I wish had been developed more. In the Iron Man films, Fury's concept of an "Avengers Initiative," which would assemble these super powered beings, was batted around but never explicitly detailed. The indication here seems to be that this film takes place further ahead in time from Iron Man 2 than you might initially assume based on the ending of that movie, as The Avengers drops hints that the initiative was developed but never came to fruition because of bureaucracy. That bureaucracy almost comes across like a lost storyline of sorts, especially with the subtle hostility between Fury and the shadowy council he answers to in some scenes, who are like a cross between Marvel's Illuminati organization and the Metalocalypse villains The Tribunal.

Dylan: Alright, that's reassuring.

It's nice that this movie was simultaneously a mindless action movie and a deeply plotted look at bureaucracy and deception.

Nick: It's also a film that could only have been made in an era where we're immersed in that kind of duality, with nonstop global action of any number of persuasions butting up against increasingly more complicated red tape and terrifying government intrusions against everyday people. Whedon makes this astoundingly clear with the film's big popcorn climax, which doesn't just take place in post-9/11 Manhattan, it rips it to shreds, letting loose the kind of hysteric mayhem that Hollywood would have been paranoid about showing us as little as two years ago.

Dylan: What I noticed is that I don't think any civilians died, or at least they weren't shown dying on screen. Everything that almost destroyed a building was turned away, anything that almost shot a person was deflected.

Yeah, the city is toast, but at least the people are fine

Nick: Though nothing is shown in regard to civilians, I was surprised by the carnage wreaked on S.H.I.E.L.D., including one death scene that's sure to be highly controversial. In the first 15 minutes alone, several scientists are vaporized, suited up agents are eviscerated and engineers are crushed like insects. There's no blood or gore, but it was unsettling, probably because it's not what we're used to seeing in a film like this. The Manhattan scenes are less obvious in their mass murder, but there's still the implication that untold destruction is occurring, as entire occupied skyscrapers are brought crashing down to earth in ways that almost appear purposefully designed to bring back memories of the WTC tragedy.

Dylan: I feel bad for Manhattan. I wonder how tired they are of being destroyed every summer.

Nick: To Whedon's credit, it could have come across as gratuitous, but instead it made the stakes immediately clear, effortlessly showing off the willingness of Whedon and his writing staff to display the vulnerability of the Marvel Earth.

Dylan: This movie was Whedon as hell, from the snark to the pace to even the cinematography. Everything fits right into the Whedonverse.

Nick: Everything is coming up Whedon this year and it's easy to see why. He may not have directed Cabin in the Woods, but his style was all over that as well and just like that film reinvented horror for a new, ironic generation, Avengers' intent mostly seems to be to reinvent the superhero film for a generation that has spent its adult life under the specter of 9/11 and the suffocating economic and military threats that disaster ushered in.

After all, one of the film's central internal conflicts amongst its members involves the military-industrial complex in America and whether our more "official" heroes are worth trusting in favor of rule breaking, rogue operators who at least aren't chained to lobby groups and tail-eating politics.

Dylan: I just liked when the Hulk smashed stuff.

Nick: Ain't nothing wrong with that. Seriously, this film was bizarrely funny, despite the seriousness of its plot and intentions. Whedon goes out of his way to set up sight gags and to let Robert Downey Jr. in particular riff like crazy. Downey is the magnetic center here, antagonizing and playing off of Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Chris Evans' Captain America at every opportunity. And of course the aforementioned Hulk, especially in the final battle, where he arguably gets the two best scenes in the entire film almost back-to-back.

Dylan: And Scarlett Johanssen did what she does in all of her movies: exist.

Nick: ScarJo gets a lot of hate but I actually think Whedon brought out the best in her with this film. She was seductive, sure, but Whedon played up her aloofness as a simultaneously dangerous and valuable aspect of her personality. The Widow's abilities were less about her gymnastic skills and attractiveness and more about the way she could manipulate others into thinking they were outsmarting her when really they were telling her everything she needed to know. It was a huge step up from Iron Man 2, where she may as well have been eye candy and more in line with Whedon's typically strong work with dynamic female leads.

Dylan: She was a great character and Whedon treated her perfectly as a character. I just like to give her a hard time.

Dylan: Although I was surprised the other female character [I don't remember her name] wasn't more fleshed out. Even though she was a very small character, she still deserved more than "girl who shoots guns/asks Nick Fury questions."

Nick: Maria Hill? Trust me, she'll almost certainly play a bigger part in the follow-up films. She's one of the more controversial Marvel espionage characters. Colbie Smulders didn't get to show it much, but occasionally she showed off some aspects of what makes her so fascinating in the comics, but I would have loved to have seen her and Fury butt heads more. But again, I'm sure that's coming.

Dylan: That's good to know. It seems that studio is in this for the long haul, so it's nice to see things already being planted.

Nick: As someone who doesn't read the comics, how easy was this to follow, would you say?

Dylan: Besides the confusion I had about the Avengers name, I'd say 8 out of 10, 10 being crystal clear.

Nick: We were surrounded by casual and non-fans too, and it seemed like that was the general consensus. What are you hoping to see in the sequel?

Dylan: I'd like it to not feel like a summer movie. With the Dark Knight saga ending, I'd like to see a movie about famous super heroes and not a "super hero movie." Something that doesn't feel like a commercial. This one did a great job not crossing over into Transformers territory, but I'd like it to push the envelope just a bit more.

Nick: That's the trajectory Nolan took with the Batman films, too. The first one was a lot of bombast and a lot of world building and then Dark Knight broke it all apart.

Shall we rate this?

Dylan: I honestly don't have any issues with this movie, and I can't think of any reason why I'd give it anything less than a 5.

Which puts it at the same level as Girls.

Nick: I enjoyed it and it surpassed my expectations, but I'd say it's still mostly a great first chapter rather than an exceptional standalone work. I fully expect the next entry to be the real moment of truth and I don't think Whedon will disappoint.

Dylan: Whedon never disappoints

Nick: I take it you've never heard of Dollhouse?

Dylan: I love Dollhouse!


Nick: That's too bad.

Dylan: Haters gonna hate.

Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.

When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set and functioning as the Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and has contributed to No Tofu Magazine, Performer Magazine, Port City Lights and various other international publications. By which he means Canadian rags you have no reason to know anything about. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon and you can follow him on twitter @Nick_Hanover 

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