No one’s going to argue with this accepted truth: Joss Whedon does an outstanding job managing the ensemble that powers The Avengers, and the first massive blockbuster of the summer season thrives because it emphasizes character and performance as much as it honors action and effects.
But we here at CinemaBlend did get into a passionate discussion about who – if anyone – distanced themselves from Whedon’s pack to emerge as the best performer in The Avengers. And we’re taking the debate online. For the purpose of the discussion, Katey and Sean singled out the actors each thought did the finest work in Whedon’s cast, then attempted to explain why. Once you’ve read through, jump in with your own opinions. As The Avengers assembled, did anyone stand out above the rest, and if so, who? The Great Debate begins!
Sean: Katey, so many wonderful things are being said about the work Joss Whedon did on The Avengers. Reviews are singling out his pacing, his epic action sequences, and the film's use of well-timed humor. Above all else, critics seem to think that The Avengers works so well because Whedon understands how to use an ensemble. Every character gets a little bit of time to shine, yet the emphasis stays on the team. That being said, I do think that one or two performers in Whedon's cast rise above the material to deliver some of the strongest portrayals in the superhero genre. Do you agree, and if so, who would you say gave the best performance in Whedon's Avengers?
Katey: I honestly have a hard time picking a single favorite performance, which is kind of the idea-- everyone adds so much to the ensemble that you come out of the film loving almost all of them. Part of the reason I like asking "who was your favorite character?" is because it's such a tough question-- how can you even choose? But for my money, the absolute standout of the ensemble was Tom Hiddleston as Loki. How about you?
Sean: Hiddleston was excellent as Loki. It's a very tough role to take, the sole villain (essentially) having to square of against six super-powered leads. But I'd have to go with Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and here's why. Hiddleston had some time to develop his role, carrying half of Kenneth Branagh's Thor. Ruffalo, as we all know, stepped into this role cold and had to take cues laid put by another actor in Edward Norton. I don't believe he bothered with anything Eric Bana did on Ang Lee's Hulk, but Norton established the boundaries of Banner, and Ruffalo had to slip into that mold ... to a certain extent. But there was one thing that set Ruffalo's performance apart from his co-stars, and that was an inherent distrust he laced all through his scenes. He never seemed comfortable around the fellow Avengers, because he knew the consequences could be fatal. That understanding -- that knowledge of how badly things can get -- has never been seen in a Hulk before, and I think it went a long way towards selling the character on screen. Now, tell me why Hiddleston's better!
Katey: I totally loved Ruffalo too, and especially how he took his usual laid-back screen persona and translated it brilliantly into a guy who has to either be laid back or put everyone he knows at risk. But I think a lot of your love for his performance comes from your love of the character of Hulk himself, whereas I have pretty limited knowledge of all of the characters, having only seen the movies and never read the books.
Katey: And I think that's why Hiddleston's Loki stands out for me-- he creates this character so fully formed that I don't feel like I need to know anything else about him. He's snide, pretentious, obnoxious and obviously cruel, but he's got this desperate need to be accepted and feel in control, which he almost never gets. That comes across in every single one of Hiddleston's line readings, and it's so crucial for making the villain work. As you say, he's pretty much the sole villain-- and the only way they can get away with that, and de-emphasize the alien army so much, is for Hiddleston to be so charismatic you don't mind.
Sean: I agree. But I'll also say that Hiddleston is helped by the fact that in virtually every comic book movie to date, the villain ALWAYS is the better-written role, from the various Lex Luthors to the various Jokers. Loki is a tremendously complicated part, as you say, and Hiddleston nails it. But Ruffalo has a much harder task. First of all, he has to make the non-Hulk part of the character interesting. The whole time he's on screen, the audience essentially wants him to disappear, so that the CGI side of his complicated character can smash, for lack of a better word. Secondly, he manages to distance himself from the other Avengers by giving what I thought was the most complex performance. I'm not saying that Evans or Downey Jr. were coasting. But they did, essentially, play varying shades of the personalities they played in their "prequel" films. And I'll say this about Ruffalo: We've now seen three on-screen Bruce Banner characters. Four if you count TV's Bill BIxby. (And I do.) Hands down, he's the best representation of the brilliant, conflicted scientist. That's saying something!
Katey: I have no doubt that Ruffalo is the best Hulk we've had onscreen, but I actually don't agree that he's doing the most complex work among the Avengers. Chris Evans is pulling off this brilliant balancing act of being this earnest, goody-two-shoes hero who's also completely devastated by being removed from his own era. It's almost all beneath the surface, but it gives the character this amazing pathos.
But I digress! I stick to my thesis that Hiddleston is the best part of the film, but I think we can find one common ground: the scenes in which Loki interacts with Hulk are by far the movie's best. Without spoiling anything, would you agree?
Sean: Oh, absolutely. In those scenes, you witness the true power of these beings, the brute force that can devastate worlds when they collide. They give The Avengers a weight and a fury that previous comic-book movies -- even Chris Nolan's -- lack.
Katey: And also one of the movie's best jokes. … Again, without spoiling!
Sean: Best joke? Well, that's a debate for another day. Maybe when Avengers 2 comes out?
Katey: So long as I can find a way to write something beyond the Chris Farley SNL character; "Remember when Hulk did this, and Loki did that? That was AWESOME." So Sean, should we throw it to the floor? Let everyone else tell us why we're so wrong, and Iron Man is the best character in the movie?
Sean: Absolutely. You might be on to something with Evans, who does give a surprisingly layered performance (the more I think about it). So long as no one picks Hawkeye, I'm cool with it!
Katey: I could honestly make an argument for Black Widow too. So much goodness to choose from! I think this has been the most agreeable Great Debate yet. Next time we need to bloody each other up a little more.
Sean: You mean like Hulk does to ... wait, sorry. I forgot. No spoilers!
Who gives the best performance in the Avengers?