The Avengers is probably the biggest geek movie to come out since the best-forgotten Star Wars prequels. As such, the Internet is awash with opinions, reviews, analyses and hopes for the future. Of course, as a paid up member of geek society, I have to throw my voice into the fray. Rather than give you a long-winded version of my opinion (awesome and planning a “Marvel Movies Marathon” in the near future), I wanted to look at how the massive cast have each been handled in this behemoth of a crossover.
Tony Stark is the most defined character so far, having one movie under his belt after his origin story. The Iron Man in The Avengers is exactly the Iron Man we’ve come to expect. Though he’s less of a womaniser due to the much-delayed relationship with Pepper, he is still arrogant, charming and the clear choice as leader and to have a monologue battle with the god of mischief. His portrayal is completely consistent with what we’ve seen before, and he is completely believable as the future driving-force of the superhero team (if the cartoon and movie ending are anything to go by).
Whenever he’s talking. Stark is the star here, not Iron Man.
The first Avenger is a tricky one to pitch, tonally. He can either be an arrogant soldier, smug in the mistakes made since he fell into the ice and idol to the ‘new kids’, or he can be a slightly-racist grandpa who can kick your ass. In comics-speak, we have the 616 and Ultimate portrayals, respectively. The Avengers movie, which is the first time we see him in the modern world, seems to have taken the middle road.
Cap makes the odd comment about the mistakes in the intervening years, and is clearly and regularly baffled by the modern world. Nonetheless, he reminds us that not everyone from our past was a racist ass and shows strength of character in not constantly disavowing the modern age. Rather, he does what he has always done best, and lets the others deal with the stuff he doesn’t understand. This portrayal is by far my favourite, staying well away from the dull, boyscout portrayals of Superman or the X-Men’s Cyclops from their respective franchises.
Cap: “It seems to run on some kind of electricity.”
Iron Man: “Well, you’re not wrong.”
Perhaps the most difficult character to make interesting to a wider audience, it helps that he is being played by an utterly beautiful man. Seriously, let’s all take a moment to think about Chris Hemsworth…
Are you back? Good. Now, after a surprisingly-popular origin movie, Thor is back with his troublesome drama-queen of a brother and all his Asgardian issues to boot. As a second “slightly uncomfortable in the modern world” character, one might think he was treading the same ground as Captain America. Really, though, he stands as a middle-ground between the highly-powered, faceless heroes (Iron Man, Hulk) and the street-level, quipping heroes (the rest). Thor can slap around Fing Fang Foom in the same costume he wears to verbally bitch slap other Avengers in the briefing room. Thor is Superman with personality, and a perfect foil for an armour-powered Stark and a grounded Captain America.
Thor: He’s my brother
Natasha Romanoff: He killed 80 people in 2 days
Thor: …He’s adopted
Speaking of beautiful people…
The biggest obstacle Ms. Johansson had to face in this movie was in being labelled the ‘eye-candy’. As the only card-carrying female Avenger, she has a lot of responsibility to the female fans not to let the side down. Luckily, she has the most complex and morally ambiguous character of them all.
The discussion of debts and the way she bluffs Loki are enigmatic as hell. While some reviews have said that the SHIELD Avengers suffer a disservice in not having their own movies, I would say that it adds more to their characters as spies that their pasts are not completely unveiled at this point. I can’t wait to see more of her in the future and see what she’s going to do next as, unlike the other Avengers, I genuinely have no idea.
Her opening scene with the Russian gangsters. “Super spy” indeed.
Also, talking down Banner in his typical middle-of-nowhere medical practice.
Perhaps the least well-known of the Avengers, Hawkeye avails himself well; first as an unwitting accomplice, and then as a revenge-seeking super-spy. His complicated and thankfully not romantic relationship with Natasha keeps us entertained, and allows us to get insight into both characters. I think an “Agents of SHIELD” movie would actually be an awesome watch at this stage.
His best moments are as a guerilla invader while he’s working for the bad guys. His anger after the fact, too, makes us feel like he is actually one of the scarier Avengers.
As one of the characters who ties the universe together, we’ve seen Fury mainly in a cameo capacity. Finally, we get to see Sammy Jackson show off his moves. In the fight seens, we really see why he became the director of SHIELD. He’s controlled, cool and Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson. What else do you need to know?
The ones where he’s on the screen.
Another oft-cameoed character comes into his own in this movie. Coulson was created for this Marvel Universe, and has been authoritative in his role as exposition-monkey. Coulson is, as Clark Gregg described him, “the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent”. He’s a company man down to the bone, and here we get to see him in his natural environment. A man born to be an agent of SHIELD, it’s appropriate that his name should be the driving force behind the Avengers initiative. When the big badass is unavailable, he puts his best man on it. That’s Phil.
Wikipedia assures me we haven’t seen the last of him. I really hope it’s true.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know the one.
I’m a big fan of How I Met Your Mother, so I was surprised and excited to see Robin Scherbatsky’s Cobie Smulders on Avengers cast lists this year. Kicking ass in a skin-tight catsuit, Maria is everything her sitcom lookalike would love to be.
Maria Hill is the only other female character in the film, and comports herself with confidence and strength. Of the humans Nick Fury turns to, Maria is in the top two. We got to see enough of her to know she’s a badass, a great SHIELD agent and a possible foil for a future movie.
Speaking in comic book terms, she was a character designed to disagree and ultimately replace Nick Fury. With that in mind, I expect to see a lot more of her in upcoming Marvel U movies.
When she’s the one a wounded Nick Fury calls to fix the problem he couldn’t.
To paraphrase Tony Stark (because I can’t find the quote on Google), Tom Hiddleston is everything America expects an English villain to be. He a camp, over-the-top diva who is utterly evil and wants nothing more than the downfall of the United States (and, as a result, the world). Surprisingly, this is not a criticism. Loki camps it up as an immortal, power-hungry monster as only an ancient god can. As a man with huge power, a thirst for revenge and (as he sees it) a divine and immutable right to rule the world, there is no other way to play it than scene-chewingly angry. He faces every challenge with a curved lip or victorious smile. I loved every second he was on-screen. Even more so once defeat becomes inevitable.
Either his face-off with Stark or his attempt to do the same with the Hulk. Evil villainy at its campy best.
The biggest out-of-the-part success for me. This almost feels like it should be a discussion of two characters, and not just one. So let’s start with Banner.
Mark Ruffalo compares well to the two actors who preceded him in the role, I think. And that sentence is exactly why: he has to be awesome in comparison. So let’s get that out of the way first.
Eric Bana was an irritatingly depressed Banner with no great personality and even less reason for the audience to care. He was miserable, passive and a bore to watch. Unfortunately, the big green monster wasn’t much better, and was barely relevant to the character Bana had painstakingly defined as miserable, pointless sop.
Edward Norton is an amazing actor. If you’ve seen Fight Club, I think you’ll find it difficult to disagree with me. His Banner has self-control as a watch word, and has trained himself to be as hidden as possible from the world at large.
“Exactly right”, you might say. This first remake made a big point of being inspired by the much-loved Bill Bixby series of the ’70s and ’80s, even having the long-dead actor himself make an appearance. It was, indeed, a far superior movie to the much-maligned Eric Bana version. The monster was terrifying, and the man tried to keep him caged at all costs.
One element is missing, however. The Hulk’s rampages are only engaging if you give a damn about the man inside the monster. Eric Norton is a wonderful, intense actor. He can plumb the depths of character that other actors fail to even reference. What he is not, however, is a likeable everyman. The point of his character in Fight Club is that he’s a little “off” despite his mundane surroundings. That character, much like Norton’s Banner, is never a character we can like and empathise with. He’s just a little too “off”; too intense. It’s a criticism that hadn’t occurred to me until I saw Ruffalo’s performance in The Avengers.
Ruffalo’s Banner is initially introduced as a difficult mission for Black Widow. It’s her job to “bring in the big guy”. Nonetheless, when we meet him in Nameless Third World Village Number Three, we find a timid, kind and mild-mannered man you wouldn’t look at twice in the street. This is compared to the Banners of Bana and Norton, who you might cross the street to avoid on a dark night.
So, this Banner is kind-hearted, but when issues of anger-management or past sins arise, we see his facial muscles tighten and eyes focus. We see that this is a man of great resources and personal strength. He is a man of self control.
Indeed, when he threatens to release his self control in the lab, when he loses it in the Helicarrier’s underbelly, and when he focusses it on the battlefield we find ourselves afraid as an audience. Banner is a strong man in his own way, holding back the tide of his fury.
“That’s my secret: I’m always angry.”
On to “the other guy”, then. This is a Hulk with a sense of humour, of honour and with a dislike for campy British acting, apparently. The thing that this Hulk has over the other two modern incarnations is personality. Save a penchant for women called Betty, the other two Hulks are all anger. Granted, that is the bottom line of the character, but if that were all, he’d just be another villain. In Ruffalo’s Hulk we have a monster with ties to the man we’ve spent time getting to know and like.
In punching Thor, flattening Loki, saving Iron Man and grinning at the word “smash”, we have neither a mindless monster nor a bulked-up Banner. We have a monster with all of the drives and feelings of the man, but with all the instincts and limits of a monster. This is a monster who smashes the thing that pissed him off, rather than just smashing because he’s pissed off. Despite his first, terrifying appearance, we’re rooting for a big, green hero in this movie, rather than a persecuted Frankenstein’s monster.
This is by far the best Hulk I’ve seen. He even beats the mulletted body-builder I remember from childhood reruns. This personality-imbued Hulk is one I’m dying to see again, which is why this made me very happy.
Unless I’m very much mistaken, Hulks only non-“grrrr” line:
Loki: I am a god! I am not going to be bullied by a –
Hulk: [Grabs Loki by the legs and repeatedly smashes him into the ground]
Hulk: Puny god.
So, what’s my point? I think it’s pretty obvious that I loved this movie. I think the characters were marvellously realised. The Marvel Universe has been delivered with all the clarity and entertainment promised. I am going to watch all the movies in sequence as soon as I can get this in a decent, non-cam version, and I know that I will find a coherent, entertaining and believable world in which these characters live. Long may it continue!
I see Avengers fanfiction in my near future. Sorry in advance.