“The Avengers” is a PG-13 superhero movie with “intense sequences of action violence throughout and a drug reference,” according to the MPAA. So why is it marketing the film via action figures and costumes for children? Alert reader Andreas U. kindly brought to my attention that once again the MPAA insists that toys and costumes are not a part of movie advertising and thus not subject to the restrictions they impose on other outreach to underage audiences like commercials during programs directed at kids. “Gamma Strike Hulk,” “Ultra Strike Captain America,” “Mighty Strike Thor” and the others, not to mention the ever-popular Hulk hands, are quite clearly intended to get children under age 13 excited about the movie. The movie’s trailer appears on the site for ordering the toys. This is further proof of the need for an overhaul of the MPAA ratings board.
What It Is
“I don’t get a suit of armor,” says Bruce Banner. “I’m exposed.” It’s a joke, sort of, when the nerdish scientist describes himself like this, because everyone knows that when he transforms into the Hulk, he basically is a walking suit of armor, unstoppable and not a little impressive. (He’s also survived a series of re-castings, from Eric Bana to Edward Norton and now to Ruffalo, since 2003.) But still, when Banner says it — near the beginning of The Avengers, surrounded by other superheroes aboard the super-tech-outfitted S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier — you also know that he is actually different from the rest of them, that he is exposed.
This becomes extra clear a few minutes later, after he’s changed into the Hulk and started fighting with his fellow Avengers — especially with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), whom he slams against more than a few walls — and then changed back into Bruce Banner and crash-landed back on earth. He’s naked now, a little dazed and deposited in a hole created by the Hulk’s huge body. Here he’s spotted by a security guard (Harry Dean Stanton), who says he saw him hurtle through the sky, huge and green. “You an alien?” asks the guard. No, Banner shakes his head. Well, then, observes the guard, “You have a condition.”
It’s this “condition” that makes Banner and the Hulk exceptional even amid a team of exceptional beings. Afflicted by a long-ago gamma rays experiment gone wrong, he’s morose and brilliant and hyper-self-controlled, until he’s not, that is, until he’s angry. That his superpower makes him irrational — or rather, his irrationality makes him super-powered — also makes him “exposed,” an ever-raw nerve just waiting to be irritated.
It’s a great, complicated, ongoing story, and it gets about 10 minutes of screen time in The Avengers, which gives just about that time to each of the superheroes lives since last we saw them — in their individual Marvel franchise movies, each a blockbuster, each delivered with much summertime fanfare, and each associated with a long line of games and toys and fast food items. So, the movie spends its first hour re-introducing the gang, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Thor the Thunder God (Chris Hemsworth), as well as a new guy, the super-archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who spends most of his screen time in thrall to Loki, who puts a terrible zap on him with a light-up scepter.
They’re called together by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), when the pasty-faced Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) steals the Tesseract, an ancient artifact with a gargantuan ability to open a hole in the sky and let in an army of monstrous aliens. As Loki is fond of Nazis and the idea of making all humans kneel before him, the Avengers mean to avert that catastrophe, and so, even though they’re given to competing and arguing among themselves — a tendency exploited by both Loki, whom they capture briefly, and S.H.I.E.L.D., a government agency that’s apparently deceptive and conniving by principle — they come together and sort out a plan to do just that.
En route to that happy ending, they fight. A lot. They fight each other, they fight the bad aliens, and they fight Loki a few times, both physically and intellectually, as he manipulates them so he can get his way — which mostly has to do with getting revenge against his adopted brother Thor. Of course, this is the usual way with superhero sagas: for all the mighty weapons and the high-flying chases and destroyed landscapes, for all the demonstrations of super-courage and feats of super-strength, superheroes have “issues,” like the rest of us.
Why It’s Fun
The action is zippy, the made-up futuristic technologies are slick (especially Iron Man’s), and the conversations are snappy.
If the story is predictable — do you think the Avengers won’t save the world? — personal exchanges within and between the action scenes make the movie entertaining in ways apart from explosions.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the previous Marvel superheroes movies will be happy to see their favorite characters again. Captain America is as patriotic and behind the times as ever, just as Tony Stark cynical and fast-talking and Thor is noble and (mostly) polite (he’s instructed that his human girlfriend from his first film, played by Natalie Portman, has been removed to a secure location: she never shows up in this movie except as a photo).
Fans of Marvel comics may have questions about what’s included and what’s left out: the film covers a lot of story in its 142 minutes, but not everything.
Fans of Joss Whedon’s work — especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer — may miss the focus on strong girls, more than one and in various ways. Though Natasha has a dynamite first scene, fighting a squad of thugs while tied to a chair, she’s essentially The Girl in this movie. (Nick Fury works with a woman agent, played by Cobie Smulders, and Tony Stark spends a minute with Pepper, his girlfriend/CEO of Stark Enterprises, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, but they’re hardly full-on characters here.)
What To Be Aware Of
The movie’s promotional campaign includes lots of merchandise — action figures, dolls, t-shirts, shoes, costumes, plastic weapons like the Hawkeye bow, Legos, masks, shields — marketed to children considerably younger than the movie’s PG-13 rating might suggest.
Lots of violence, most of it cartoonish, in the sense that superheroes smash into buildings or fall for miles and emerge mostly unscathed. And even when regular people run screaming from the alien invaders, they appear on screen as background material, their peril inspiring the superheroes, but their fates unclear.
A very appealing character (Agent Phil Coulson [Clark Gregg]) is killed, his injury bloody and his death takes some painful time, after which his associates look sad.
The government agency is not to be trusted: this is a regular plot point for superhero movies, but might invite a question or two from attentive younger viewers: why are the good guys not so good?
Tony Stark suggests that Bruce Banner keep calm by smoking “weed.”
Language includes the following: “hell,” “damn,” and “buck-ass nude.”
7 out of 10
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany
US General Release: May 4, 2012
UK General Release: April 25, 2012