Film review: The Avengers

I watched this film a couple of days ago. I am frankly not a big fan of action films in general and the super-hero genre in particular and this film has both in abundance. Furthermore, growing up in Sri Lanka we had limited access to American comic books and I don’t recall any other than Superman and Batman. The entire stable of Marvel comics superheroes that appear in this film (Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Incredible Hulk, Thor) were almost all foreign to me, so there was no nostalgic tug either. The only Hawkeye I had heard of previously was Chingachgook’s buddy and this was clearly not him.

The one exception to my general ignorance was the Hulk, since the original TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was broadcast during my first period in the US as a graduate student and I developed quite a fondness for the character.

So why did I watch this film at all? One reason was curiosity and a vague sense of needing to fill in gaps in my knowledge of American pop culture, to see who these comic book characters were that people were talking about. By watching this one film I hoped I could get a crash course on all that I missed in my boyhood years. Another was that the film got quite good reviews and a colleague in my office said that it was not a mere action slug-fest. And the third was that although the climactic action scene was supposed to take place in Manhattan, it was filmed on location in downtown Cleveland that had been dressed up to look like New York. So I was curious to see if I could identify local landmarks. (The answer is no.)

The plot is absurd but that has to be taken as a given in a film whose premise features superheroes battling quasi-gods. There was quite a bit of interesting dialogue among the characters, with some interesting philosophical asides about the nature of human beings. Robert Downey Jr. showed once again what a fine actor he is. Given that the only superhero I knew and liked was the Hulk, and that I also think the Mark Ruffalo is another excellent actor with an appealing on-screen personality, I particularly enjoyed the scenes in which he appeared. Tom Hiddleston made a good villain, suitably sinister and diabolical, but not going over the top with malevolence.

So I quite enjoyed the film. Given my general antipathy to the entire genre, that should be considered a rave review by those who like such films. Here’s the trailer.


  1. steve84 says

    I’m not really into the superhero thing. Generally it’s just too over-the-top. But against expectations I kinda enjoyed Iron Man 1 and Thor

  2. George Yong says

    My experience was almost exactly as you describe, except I’m a lot more familiar/up to date with the characters.

    I especially enjoyed the Hulk’s two words after (literally) wiping the floor with Loki.

  3. Ysanne says

    Loved it!
    Cynical brains winning out against patriotic muscle — aka Iron Man making Capt. America look like the moron he is — how great is that?
    What other mainstream movie (especially action movie) can you recall that portrays the clever characters and especially the ones who are scientists/engineers as actual heroes and not just the token supportive nerds on the sidelines? The only one I can recall is Iron Man: Because nothing says “physics is awesome” quite like that suit and how Tony Stark builds a particle accelerator in his basement.

  4. says

    This movie gave rise to one of my favorite internet photo jokes.
    Panel 1: Captain America
    Caption: Met two gods, still a christian.

    Panel 2: Iron Man
    Caption: Met two gods, still an atheist.

    Panel 3: The Hulk
    Caption: Met two gods, beat the sh** out of both of them.

  5. lochaber says

    upright> if you don’t post a linky, I’m gonna have to do some image searches at some point. pretty damned funny.

    I thought this was a pretty well done movie. Granted, I tend to enjoy my superhero/comic book movies (although, I will freely admit that an overwhelmingly large portion of them are really bad…), and I can also be a bit of a Whedon fanboy at times.

    But, I think Whedon was a really good choice for this film, and his strengths (good dialogue, lots of pop-culture references; good team dynamics; strong female characters) worked pretty well.

    Glad to hear someone unfamiliar with the genre liked it, and for some similar reasons as well.

    wait- is this the first project Whedon has been involved with that hasn’t been canceled prematurely?

  6. says

    Oh thank you thank you! That totally made my day. As a gigantic Avengers movieverse fan, I can’t believe I hadn’t seen that one yet.

  7. berior says

    going to see the avengers for a crash course in superhero history isn’t the way to go since the Avengers is the culmination of a host of other sperhero movies.

    You’d have to see The incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: the first avenger, Iron man 1 and 2 to really enjoy the full experience.

  8. Mano Singham says

    I missed any allusions in the film to Captain America being a Christian. Given his outfit and name, I assumed that he was a super-patriot. Was his Christianity a significant feature of the comic books?

    I thought the film had a vaguely anti-god vibe though nothing too overt, the closest being the Hulk’s pithy putdown of Loki.

  9. says

    Not specifically christian, but Captain America has the line, “there’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.” Of all of the characters, he’s the man out of time…like the statement was an example of an antiquated belief system.

    I don’t recall mention of Tony Stark being an atheist, but I’m not a comic book guy and haven’t paid that much attention to the movies. It does seem that a key personality trait is that he can’t imagine any being greater than he.

  10. says

    Captain America made his first appearance during the Golden Age of Comics (roughly late 1930s to early 1950s.) It was at this time that the whole genre was defined and most of the greats first appeared. The Golden Age was defined by writers who had lived through the Depression and the horrors of World War II, and most publishing houses were conscripted to help with the war effort, both to boost morale among the soldiers and promote blind patriotism at home.

    Captain America was part of that original set. Most superheroes have had their backstory revamped periodically, but CA’s has remained pretty stable: a smart but physically frail young man wants desperately (and patriotically!) to fight America’s enemies. American science transform the 90 pound weakling into the strong, devout (and patriotic!) archetype of the American male. His shield: the American Flag (how patriotic!) From his beginning, he was part of the American propaganda effort: his first comic, which went on sale in December, 1940, showed him punching Adolf Hitler in the jaw. In subsequent issues he fought the Japanese, Nazis and traitors to the American Way.

    As the war fervor faded in the 50s, so too did CA’s popularity. In the early 60s, the Silver Age of Comics was launched by publishing houses to tie in with Great Society and the social turmoil of the day. When CA was relaunched, it was “revealed” that the real one (not a commie counterfeit who made a brief appearance) had crashed an experimental jet into the Arctic Ocean in the mid 40s: the science (and patriotism!) that had made him into Captain America allowed him to remain frozen, in suspended animation, until retrieved decades later (the very same reason why he is now a part of the modern movie franchise.) During this time is when his overt Christianity is brought to the fore, as his super patriotism motivates him to fight the Red Threat and Yellow Peril. It later slips into the background as he takes up the fight against political corruption and in favor of social justice.

    So all in all, it is not surprising that the movie franchise has cast Captain America as a hyper patriotic, devout Christian: that is pretty much how he was in the comics. It wasn’t always overt, but it was always there, being the embodiment of what society demanded of citizens.

    As for gods: the Marvel Universe is replete with gods, demi-gods, divine/infernal beings, even a couple of beings that create and destroy entire universes for a hobby. They always end up as just super-powerful mega beings employing ultra advanced gadgetry (“sufficiently advanced technology” and so on.) No big whoop.

  11. lochaber says

    thanks, I did do some googling, but as usual, didn’t pick the best keywords, and missed that one (but found enough other vaguely interesting crap to distract me from my original task…). I think I made the mistake of trying ‘Captain America’, ‘Hulk’, ‘Ironman’, and ‘Gods’.

    I think I manage to consistently maintain the bare minimum of googling skill to avoid common email spamscams and such, but can’t seem to get to any sort of proficiency with it. meh…

  12. lochaber says

    and thanks to you as well, I (in my google ineptitude) picked the wrong terms to search for, but found enough to distract me until exhaustion set in…

  13. lochaber says

    I haven’t read the comics directly, but have read various reviews and such, and am of the impression that in the marvel universe in the past few years, there was a fairly major polarization of characters, something to do with a law requiring ‘outing’ of superpowers, and Captain America headed up the anonymity faction, with Tony Stark heading up the ‘full-disclosure’ faction (actually, I have no idea what to call it); and amongst that, a lot of Cpt. America’s ideals/postions seemed to line up more with the left-wing/liberal perspective, while Stark’s tended to be more right-wing/conservative.

    Granted, I didn’t read any myself, so I may be really misunderstanding the situation, but, eh, thought it was kinda interesting.

    Also, the bit with Cpt. America’s quote, is it would be easy to play off as just a witty comment. (or, if it works for his character, could be entirely relevant…). it’s kinda flexible that way.

    ‘sides, if I was a god, well, I’d probably wear what I do now (jeans and t-shirts), as it’s comfortable, and invulnerability gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of necessary safety gear and all.

  14. says

    Perhaps you are thinking of the X-Men, a Marvel imprint but (mostly) separate from the universe with Iron Man and Captain America.

    In the X-Men world, superpowers derive from mutations. Since the first X-Men appeared in 1963, the ongoing tropes have involved discrimination and bigotry, including the government “aquiring assests” for use as weapons, government suppression, prejudice from normals, etc. In the X-Men movies, for example, we see two such conflicts: government vs. all mutants, and mutants who are willing to accomodate the government vs. mutants who will fight for their survival and autonomy by any means necessary.

    The universe inhabited by Iron Man, Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. is different. Those heroes get their power through technology and training, not through genetic mutations (excepting those caused by technology or science.) Even “gods” like Thor and Loki are gods only in the Clarke sense: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The Avengers has it pretty close to the established canon: the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (formerly the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate and before that the Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division) is a secret international organization that defends the Earth from the major threats; and S.H.I.E.L.D. works with technological and highly trained superheroes. While they don’t often get along, I’m not aware of the kind of division you mention in the S.H.I.E.L.D. universe.

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