By all reports, Avengers: Age of Ultron is already kickin’ butt in Europe. Assuming this post goes to press on time (i.e., the night I’m on the road to Baltimore), the film will have its North American premiere in just two days from now (May 1, 2015)! Woo-hoo! Circumstances will, unfortunately, prevent me from seeing it anytime soon, but I am still stoked to see the latest installment of Marvel’s cinematic Avengers. In fact, just the other day I re-watched the first Avengers film to get in the mood. (LOVE the Hulk scenes!) That, and to help put me in the right mindset for writing this post.
I’m not going to get into a whole lot of detail, but I have been thinking about it for awhile and wanted to comment on two aspects of the on-screen Avengers (both as a team and in solo adventures): casting, naturally, and characterization. Overall, I like the actors and think they (and the directors) are doing a terrific job. Individually, nobody’s “perfect” (except maybe Fury), but they all range from good to great. Of course, I also have a few nits to pick. So, without further ado, and in alphabetical order….
Black Widow / Natalia “Natasha” Romanova: Scarlett Johansson has the curves and is certainly pretty enough to play the Russian femme fatale, though I don’t think her face is quite right for the character. (Not in my mind, anyway.) Neither is her voice, which I think should be less husky and with at least a trace of a Russian accent to remind us she was a Soviet spy. (Yeah. She’s older than she looks — at least, in the comics.) Also, at 5’3″, she is several inches shorter than the comic version, who is listed at 5’7″. (Her stunt double, Heidi Moneymaker, is the same height, so at least they’re consistent.)
Since she hasn’t had a solo movie, we haven’t learned a whole lot about her past or how she began working for S.H.I.E.L.D. We do know she’s worked with Barton before and they have a strong mutual respect and close working relationship. (Romantic, too?) We have seen some of Natasha’s fighting and gymnastic skills, acting ability, marksmanship, and electric “widow’s bite”. She has also displayed a stereotypical Russian cynicism and wry humor. Johansson has handled it all quite capably and believably. In the end, while she would not have been my choice to cast, I think ScarJo does a great job with the character.
Captain America / Steve Rogers: Chris Evans has been doing a wonderful job as the old-fashioned, patriotic super-soldier. He is almost as tall (6′) as the comics Cap (6’2″), and his bulked-up physique is almost big enough. They did a decent job with his origins, including many details from the comics re Dr. Erskine, the Super-Soldier Serum, vita-rays, etc. After that, though, his WWII career seemed a bit rushed. (As cool as the Winter Soldier is in the movies, I wish they had handled Bucky more faithfully.) In a recent post, I expressed my annoyance that Cap seemingly became both an expert hand-to-hand combatant and a master strategist/tactician practically overnight. The audience really should have seen vignettes or gotten other visual clues of him studying and training. Also, maybe it’s too early in his present-day career, but Cap doesn’t seem to come across as having the gravitas that he does (and should) in the comics, as a war (super)hero and leader of men.
Going back to his behavior and relationships for a moment, I like that the filmmakers have made a point to remind us here & there that Rogers is a “man out of time”. He really does come from a simpler (in many ways), more “innocent” era. Yet, he is adapting admirably. I appreciate, as well, that he is still working out what he thinks and feels about his teammates, while maintaining a great deal of respect for their abilities and accomplishments, even when he might disagree with them. (I think this will come more into play in Captain America: Civil War.) I could nitpick a bit, but overall I enjoy Evans as Rogers/Cap.
Hawkeye / Clint Barton: I like Jeremy Renner — really, I do — and he has done a decent job with the Barton/Hawkeye character, as it has been written for him. But, I have a few issues with both casting and characterization for the movies. Let’s begin with his size — Renner’s 5’10”, ~175lbs. vs. the comic version’s 6’3″, 230 lbs. (see Marvel’s wikia). That’s slightly bigger than Cap! Honestly, given Barton’s primary skillset, the size difference isn’t that big a deal, as long as he is sufficiently bulked up in the arms and upper body, which Renner seems to be. But, I would have liked a closer match. In fact, if he wasn’t playing Cap, Chris Evans might’ve been a good casting pick for ol’ Hawkeye!
As with Black Widow, the lack of solo film means we have a minimum of info on the cinematic version’s past. I hope they reveal more about his history with Black Widow. (Note: In the early comics, they were lovers in their spy/criminal days.) If this Hawkeye is based on the “Earth-616” comic Hawkeye, they should eventually at least mention his circus upbringing and early life of crime. (Note 2: This version of Barton eventually dates & marries Bobbi Morse, aka the Avenger called Mockingbird, so that could be a fun crossover someday.) If he is based more on the Ultimate version, I hope they reference his competing in the Olympics, being on death row, maybe participating in the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. We really do need to see him interact more with the rest of the Avengers team, too. By the way, in the comics (original version, at least), Barton is much more vocal — loud-mouthed, even, and sometimes belligerent — with a sarcastic wit. Why such a change? (Probably because they already altered Tony Stark to be the comic relief. (see below)) When I can look past all of these differences, though, I do like Renner’s Hawkeye and the slight air of mystery about him.
Hulk / Bruce Banner: When not hulked-out, Bruce Banner is supposed to be 5’10” (or thereabouts) and a 128 lb. weakling. In other words, a scrawny scientist guy who probably never set foot in a gym outside of high school Phys. Ed. class. On the big screen so far, Banner has been portrayed by hunky Eric Bana (Banner?) (6’2.5″,b.1968), Edward Norton (6′,b.1969) (also quite physically fit), and now Mark Ruffalo (5’8″,b.1967). Ruffalo seems to be the favorite among Hulk fans, and I would agree with them. He is certainly the best yet in terms of height and build. But, he is also the oldest of the three. If/when the Hulk character is able to have solo films again, I do hope they cast someone younger and slimmer. (I have a few ideas….)
As for Banner’s current cinematic characterization, I think it is pretty good. In the comics, Banner has varied in his level of self-confidence, assertiveness, depression, self-control, etc., as he copes with the burden of being the Hulk. Since Ruffalo’s Banner is a few years into that journey, I have no problem with him pulling from any of those periods in Banner’s life. As long as his struggle is palpable and he remains a sympathetic character — e.g., not becoming apathetic, arrogant, or a sarcastic jerk (except when Mr. Fixit) — I’ll be happy. (Even happier if his pants are purple, as they were meant to be.) I’d also like to see Rick Jones thrown into the mix.
Iron Man / Tony Stark: I know Robert Downey, Jr. is very popular and well-loved in his portrayal of this character. Personally, though, I’m not so impressed. Yes, he sort of looks the part, he’s handsome and charismatic. And, of course, he’s a wonderful actor, and I appreciate his enthusiasm and everything he has done to promote and give superhero movies more… legitimacy. But, he is 5’8.5″, maybe 160 lbs, and just hit 50 years old. (He was 43 when the first Iron Man came out.) Tony Stark is supposed to be 6’1″, a beefy 225 lbs., and probably under 30 when he first built and donned a certain armored suit. When they re-cast the part — as they inevitably must –, I seriously hope they get someone closer to the comic version in age and size. (Btw, even assuming continuity with earlier films, I can think of at least 3 ways to easily explain a younger, bigger Stark.)
Stark’s on-screen personality has always bugged me, too. Essentially, he *is* RDJ. Sure, he is a brilliant inventor and billionaire playboy. He should also be closer to the comics version of Tony Stark, which is suave and debonair, a bit more serious, businesslike, and much less free with the jokes and witty/snarky remarks. Not that Stark doesn’t have a good sense of humor; the movie version just overdoes it. (Note: They did the same thing with by-the-book Hal Jordan in the 2011 Green Lantern.) As I have mentioned before, it is almost as if Stark and Barton switched half their personalities in the transition from comic page to silver screen.
Nick Fury: While I would love to see the original version of Nick Fury on-screen (and not played by David Hasselhoff!), I like the Ultimate version just as much. So, since the producers went with the Ultimate version, how could they cast him any better than with the guy he was intentionally modeled after in the first place? He looks and acts just like him! 😉 As I understand it, Samuel L. Jackson was flattered by writer Mark Millar’s use of him as the basis for Ultimate Nick Fury, plus he is a huge Avengers fan to begin with, so it’s no surprise that he is having fun playing in that sandbox on screen.
Thor Odinson: Next to Fury, Thor is probably the next most perfectly cast. The 6’2.75″ Chris Hemsworth is tall, blonde, handsome, quite muscular, can pass for Germanic/Scandinavian, has a deep voice and confident swagger — all necessary for a faithful portrayal of Marvel’s arrogant-but-noble god of thunder. I would prefer even more height and muscle, since Thor is supposed to be 6’6″ and built like a bodybuilder. But, it’s pretty hard to find decent actors with such a physique, so… I’m very satisfied with Hemsworth.
Thor’s relationships with fellow-Avengers (what we’ve seen, so far) and other Asgardians — in particular, Odin, the Warriors Three, Loki — seem mostly on point. (Though, I don’t consider myself an expert on Thor and Asgard.) Jane Foster is another story… quite literally. She is a nurse, then physician, in the comics, not some sort of astrophysicist. Of course, the comics version of Thor started out having a human alter ego of the lame Dr. Donald Blake. While it might not change their attraction to one another, these changes do greatly alter their personal & professional dynamic. I am actually glad that the movie writers/producers opted to not have the Blake persona involved, though it might make for an interesting development later — especially if Thor reverts to being Blake when out of contact with Mjolnir for more than a minute, as in the earlier comics.
On a final note, I have been generally satisfied with the various costumes but would like to see them be even closer to the classic comics versions. I think Cap’s various uniforms are supposed to be reminiscent of what he wears in the Ultimate universe, but I prefer the original — complete with fishscale-looking, chain-mail shirt. Sigh! Hawkeye’s outfit looks closer to the Ultimate version, but I would love to see some purple added in in homage to the original. (I think I saw some in ads for Avengers: Age of Ultron!) I have to say that the Iron Man armors have been the coolest!
OK. I’m done. Can’t wait to see what they throw at us next….