Review: ‘Avengers’ is Very, Very Good but Not Great

Months from now, when we’re bloated and gorged with yet another explosive summer blockbuster, we’ll look back on early May as a more innocent time, a time when a movie like Marvel’s The Avengers brought out the best in America, when children looked forward to the opening with anticipation, when fanboys raved on message boards, when critics lauded it to the skies.

In early May, after enduring the oh-so-serious Oscar season and doldrums of late winter movie duds, we’re all in need of a good bump, a superhero hit to get us through until Summer Movie Season officially begins.

And thus, along came Avengers, a movie perfectly calibrated for May 4, when it opens, one that would cause much less of a splash in July. It’s a fast-paced, high-octane funride with plenty of special effects, wit, and meaning to keep viewers glued to their seats, but not enough to earn a spot in the Superhero Movie Hall of Fame.

Call it a B+ effort.

Built on the foundation of years of superhero movies telling backstories of everyone from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Captain America (Chris Evans), this movie has been hotly anticipated.

It seems unlikely that a millionaire playboy (Downey), a Norse god (Hemsworth), and a superenhanced World War II hero (Evans) would team up with a spy named Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), and a green rage monster and/or scientist (Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk).

What do they really have in common? Besides being Marvel characters, I mean?

The first half of the movie plays quite well with this concept. The Captain doesn’t like Iron Man’s breezy, cynical witticisms. In his day, people didn’t make light of sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy. For his part, Iron Man doesn’t much care for Mr. I’m-A-God-And-Your-Puny-Being-Can’t-Even-Fathom-What-That-Means.

Plus, Thor talks funny, like Shakespeare in the Park.

It all works together for the good of the audience. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Thor and Iron Man in a knock-down, drag-out fight.

It’s positively seismic.

This is something I’ve never understood about superhero teams. I mean, they’re all pretty much undefeatable, including the villain, Thor’s Norse demigod black sheep of a brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

When undefeatable people fight, you get a lot of people throwing other people through buildings, hitting each other over the head with airplanes, dropping each other from unimaginable heights. That kind of stuff.

It seems like a lot of effort when the other guy just shakes it off.

A game of chess would have about the same level of determining a result.

The slamming, throwing, and smashing is more fun to watch than chess, though.

There is that.

Anyway, when Loki threatens to open a portal to another world in order to import his nasty, skeletal army to take over earth, the kids with special powers have to work together. Led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and joined at times by arrow-wielding Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), they zip off to save New York from the possible invasion.

Which, of course, means they must destroy large portions of it in highly entertaining ways.

The film starts strong, too, with grand themes that make superhero movies so epic. Loki wants to rule earth for the glory of it and because it is his right. Forcing the populace to kneel before him, he tells them subservience is better, easier, more right for them, than freedom. Humanity only wants, no needs, to be told what to do.

This happens in Germany and there is a sublime moment when an elderly German man stands up, refusing to kneel and risking his life to do so. There’s an even more sublime moment when Captain America comes in and breaks up Loki’s little party.

It’s the U, S, of A, friends. Freedom is what we do.

At another point, Captain America wonders if the stars and stripes aren’t a little “old fashioned.” After all, isn’t a team of self-sacrificing heroes a little “old fashioned” in itself, someone else wonders.

The answer comes: Maybe in hard times, people might just need a little “old-fashioned.”

As the movie progresses, however, these grand ideas are generally abandoned. The citizens of earth neither stand nor kneel. Mostly, they run from explosions and huddle in stunned terror. As things march to their conclusion, we never quite get that beat that says freedom is the right of humanity and humans will not give it up.

That would have catapulted this very good movie into the realm of excellence.

As it stands, this is a fantastic movie to enjoy with kids, family, friends, heck, even strangers. Rated PG-13, it is squeaky clean. The most drastic language is “damn,” and that’s rare. There is one fleeting reference to marijuana from Iron Man (he’s incorrigible!) The women wear tight suits, but focus on kicking, fighting, and punching rather than vamping it up. There is no sexual, or even romantic, content. This movie is fine for the whole family, for any child old enough to endure fast-paced (but not gory) action.

I guess we’ll have to wait for The Dark Knight Rises for more insight into the human condition.

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  • Mike

    I’m not sure it is “squeaky clean”. I read another review (
    They wrote: No f-words. No s-words. There are five or six uses each of “h‑‑‑” and “d‑‑n,” and one or two each of “a‑‑,” “p‑‑‑,” “b‑‑ch” and “b‑‑tard.” An anatomical vulgarity is used as a putdown. God’s name is thoughtlessly interjected a couple of times in the form of “oh my god.”

  • Rebecca Cusey

    I’m sure if Plugged In recorded all those instances, they must be there, but I found the whole thing quite clean and wholesome. What language there was wasn’t emphasized.

    I stand by my review.

  • CFloyd

    Thanks for your review. it gave me another perspective. I have six children who love to go to the movies – but good movies are hard to find.

  • Rebecca Cusey

    Thanks for reading, CFloyd. I hope they enjoy the movie!

  • do note that it may not be suitable for younger viewers even though its squeaky clean… the first time the Hulk comes out, its actually really scary as his anger is totally uncontainable.

    Also, a throwaway adoption joke was made that made me cringe – referring to the bad guy being adopted (as the mother of an adopted child)

    Overall though, a good movie

  • Johan van de Merwe

    The conclusion is typically American. This movie is greeat for kids, no romance, only once Marihuana and no sex. You forget that in this movie it all about destroying, killing, heathen gods and so much violence. Superheroes save the world in a cgi form that must even traumatise peoplle that have experience 9/11. If you are warning parents for romance and not for violence and destruction, then there is an ethical issue here. I think this kind of Hollywood productions are exploiting violence as entertainment. And we go there with our kids, because at least our kids will not be offended by nudity or ladies in tight suits kissing. So no harm done.

  • Rebecca Cusey

    I appreciate your comment, Johan, because it’s one I’ve heard before about Americans.

    I want to note, though, that I’m not particularly bothered by sexual situations in movies. I do, however, feel it’s my duty to let the audience know what it’s getting into so they can make an informed choice about movies. My readers want to know the level of sexuality so I tell them.

    The violence in this film is cartoonish, but I certainly point out violence in other films so readers will know what to expect. I find many European films to be more violent, actually, than The Avengers. That is to say, darker and more gory.

    I don’t know that either violence or sexuality is automatically a problem for me (or for my readers). The question is what the movie does with sexuality or violence.

    Ultimately, parents want to know if their kids will be scared or scarred by a movie and I aim to give them the tools to figure that out. I see neither happening with The Avengers, except for very young children.

    Thanks for reading. Check out my other stuff someday and see if it’s also intolerably American.