Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Avengers Review

Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” is not only the first Marvel movie to feature all of the key members of the famed comic book superhero team (Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, etc.) but is also the first Marvel movie that feels like a complete movie instead of a piece.

Before this, we’ve had to sit through five (technically six, since there were two “Hulk” movies) individual films, starting with the first “Iron Man” in 2008, then the second “Hulk” also in 2008, then “Iron Man 2” in 2010, “Thor” in 2011 and “Captain America” later that year. These movies were decent for the most part (except for “Hulk”) but—with maybe the exception of the first “Iron Man” picture-- all of them felt like full length teasers, like warm ups for something bigger to come. You could sense the hurriedness, especially in ‘Thor” and “Captain America,” in order to come out before this movie’s pre set release date.

“The Avengers” is the main work out.

It’s big, and it’s loud all right. There are a couple of massive battle sequences, the biggest comes at climax, but it’s the only Marvel Avenger movie so far that’s well thought out. The only one that doesn’t feel rushed, like it’s looking ahead at a future movie. Sure it’s long (roughly two hours and twenty minutes) but quite frankly, it has to be long in order to let the characters breathe and move the story along at a comfortable pace.

Considering how much hype was built up behind it, I’d say it’s the first immensely satisfying Marvel movie.

On top of that Whedon has fun with it all. His script is both self aware of the Marvel mythology (lots of references to previous movies and characters) and also aware of things like pulp culture and fandom. Shakespeare and the movie “Point Break” are both referenced.

Even though the previous pictures felt rushed, I suppose they were necessary. They provided a swift and entertaining way to introduce all of the key players and their assorted origin stories. And unless you’ve read the old comics I’d suggest you watch all of them in preparation for this movie, because the minute it starts “The Avengers” takes off.

In the opening scene at a top-secret military base we’re introduced to the supporting Avengers, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and the leader Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson). In addition we’re reintroduced to Loki (Tom Hiddelson) the main villain of “Thor,” and the central villain of this movie. Basically, he wants to take over the world (more specifically take away our freedom) and he’s going to do that by harnessing some kind of blue energy that will create a portal to another universe that contains a fierce, interdimensional army.

After that, for about the first quarter of the movie it’s a comic book nerd’s delight, as the other returning super stars slowly trickle in. First off is Bruce Banner aka The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Ed Norton in the 2008 “Hulk”), then Mr. First Avenger himself Steve Rogers/ Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark/Iron Man (the always entertaining Robert Downey Jr.) and finally the muscled, hammer wielding Norse demigod, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Without getting too deep into the plot, they all come together to fight Loki and his evil minions, and more importantly, New York City receives a considerable amount of damage.

One of the trickiest aspects of the entire movie is balance. There’s so much stuff in it, so many characters that all need ample screen time that you have to find the exact balance. Whedon has achieved this through a couple of things. First off (as I said before) he jumps right into the action, getting all the characters together in swift timing. Secondly, in his script he’s included plenty of scenes of the Avengers interacting.  The best moments in the movie are not the big (but gloriously good looking) action sequences, but the semi funny meetings and confrontations between the different heroes.

Whedon has cracked the tough, superhero exterior and brought out the real, blood and guts mortals that inhabit each outfit. They’ve gotten deeper since their last movies. And all of the actors play off each other wonderfully--whether it’s the stern smugness of Evans, the sly cockiness of Downey Jr., the gritty complexity Ruffalo (who by and large plays the most compelling character of all of them) and the Shakespearian intensity of Hiddelson. Hemsworth even brings plenty of brute silliness to Thor (who’s the most one dimensional of the team).

If I tried really hard I’m sure I could nitpick “The Avengers,” but, with so much that Whedon has gotten right, why get caught up in the little things? The final climax is a little tedious yes, but at the same time it feels deserved. We’ve watched these characters grow and disagree and reconcile, why not let them duke it out in a mammoth battle?

I know that a sequel is already in the works but at least Whedon and Co. weren’t thinking of that while making this.


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