I’ve seen every Marvel Cinematic Universe film opening weekend for almost ten years now and, while I do remember each of those eighteen trips to the movie theater pretty well, none of them stick in my mind as clearly as 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers.
Iron Man had already proven that this new Marvel Comics film franchise was a force to be reckoned with. 2011 follow-up films Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger continued to showcase executive producer Kevin Feige’s talent of reworking second-rate characters into mainstream blockbusters. However, it was The Avengers that permanently ingrained the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cultural zeitgeist of the 2010s, simultaneously providing a springboard for potential decades of future films and proving that the superhero genre is more than just a fad.
While not the first truly ensemble superhero cinematic affair (that honor goes to 2000’s X Men), The Avengers proved to be the first of its kind by acting as both the first installment of its own franchise and a sequel to prior MCU films.
The plot of The Avengers is refreshingly simple. Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), presumed dead after the events of Thor, arrives on Earth to claim the Tesseract, a mysterious alien artifact last seen in Captain America: The First Avenger, for himself. S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) gathers all the “extraordinary” individuals he can find, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), to try and stop Loki before he uses the Tesseract to summon his alien army to Earth.
I would say the most admirable thing about The Avengers is that it chooses to focus on the interactions between its characters rather than the plot. This is something that’s lacking from many blockbuster films with convoluted plots and it is here likely due to the quirky direction of Joss Whedon. Known for cult television series such as Firefly, Angel, and Dollhouse, Whedon proved in a big way that it is possible to keep a film this big from collapsing under its own weight.
Naturally, Robert Downey Jr. takes the lead with his trademark comedic style. It’s fascinating to see the cracks form in his demeanor as he argues with his moral opposite in Captain America. It’s a standout performance that perfectly blends the humorous and serious emotional elements of the character. I’d still say his one-on-one interaction with Loki prior to to the film’s climactic battle sequence is still the greatest scene in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The other real “lead” of the film is Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Hiddleston fascinated audiences with his take on the character in Thor one year prior, but his performance here made him a permanent fan favorite. Loki and Thor’s sibling rivalry is hardly original material, but Hiddleston plays the character with such evil glee and charm that it’s hard not be captivated. There’s a reason why some fans still say he’s the best Marvel villain to date.
Another standout is Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. Director Jon Favreau horribly underutilized the character in Iron Man 2, but luckily, Whedon, given his penchant for writing female characters, creates better results. Viewers get an interesting peek at the damage lurking beneath her hard exterior and she has an excellent rapport with Evans’ Captain America, both elements are explored further in quasi-sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The Avengers is also notable for Mark Ruffalo’s first appearance as Bruce Banner/Hulk, after Edward Norton portrayed the character in The Incredible Hulk and quickly departed the role. Ruffalo proved to be the better choice and won the approval of fans with a few standout moments as both man and monster.
The rest of the cast kind of falls to the wayside, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: everyone gets their standout moment or two. By the film’s conclusion, it doesn’t feel like anything was missing. And that is what viewers look for in a perfect blockbuster, isn’t it?
The Avengers is just as much fun now as it was almost six years ago. It’s kind of a perfect superhero film, with Whedon nailing everything from the character interactions to the villain and of course the action set-pieces. Give it a spin and refresh your memory before Infinity War hits theaters soon; you won’t regret it.
5 out of 5 stars