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Theatrical Review: “The Avengers”

Directed by: Joss Whedon
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Written by: Joss Whedon (screenplay & story), Zak Penn (story)
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cinematography by: Seamus McGarvey
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård
Year: 2012

 

I don’t think I need to tell you that you need to go see this movie. If you’re among the several who contributed to this film’s current $641 million intake globally, you’ve likely already seen this film and are, probably, very likely going to go see this again sometime within the next month, if not within the week. While I’ve eagerly awaited the release of The Dark Knight Rises this past month plus, and while I’m fairly certain that it’s easily, very likely going to be among the best of what the superhero genre has to offer, its importance to the genre is fairly minuscule compared to the importance of what Marvel has done with The Avengers. They’ve taken years of development and the creation of five films starring four drastically different heroes and featuring several others and built it up to this one film. And you know what? They absolutely succeeded in this ambitious project of theirs. Bravo, Marvel, you’ve broken box office records!

But you know what? I could go on and on about how revolutionary the film is for you and possibly leave you with that much more knowledge about the inner politics of rights holders and stubborn studios and we’ll all be all the smarter for having taken a closer look, examined the specifics of Hollywood politics, and all that other crap that’s important to know but, good Lord, is usually boring to learn. And I’m not going to do that. You know why? Because when I went to that theatre two days early to buy tickets as soon as they went on sale at my local Harkins, when I went to the theatre about two hours early, by myself like the nutcase that I am, and waited in line in order to grab the good seats for my friends and myself, and when I sat there, watching the trailers and then the movie and then not one but TWO secret endings to the film, and when I left the theatre afterward having seen the film in its entirety, I could only think of one thing: “HOW AWESOME IS THIS!?”

You see, not only is The Avengers one of the most important and intricate superhero films of all time, it’s also a freaking brilliant, thoroughly entertaining film, from top to bottom. It’s packed, wall-to-interdimensional-rift, with amazing, funny, touching, and intelligent moments of action-packed, well-scripted comic book bliss. Though he was a completely out of nowhere and mostly untested choice to direct the film, having previously only helmed Serenity, the big screen continuation of his own failed (but also brilliant) TV series, Joss Whedon has beaten expectations with this film, tapped into his past dealings with comic book writing, and successfully taken six entirely different superheroes and made a film that is likely to go down in history as one of the best, most entertaining action-adventure films of all time. Yes, I’m eating this stuff right up.

And in spite of all the action that they needed to pack into the relatively short 2 hour 23 minutes (considering the large ensemble of action heroes), Whedon and story collaborator Zack Penn created a thrilling and well written storyline to go along with the spectacle, and even if those in the audience are unfamiliar with the comics’ lore (I mostly know through non-comic book media and research binges), I’d imagine that the strong characterizations and forward-moving plot will get them up to speed and have them enjoying the ride.

Avengers successfully ties together all the previous films’ stories into a larger scale but also logical whole that definitely warrants this diverse team to coming together. To summarize: Loki, having been lost to the abyss previously in Thor, crosses into our plane of existence and begins a rampage throughout our world in pursuit of activating the Tesseract, the glowing cube MacGuffin in Captain America. He seeks to use it to open a portal to a dimension where a group of conquerors known as the Chitauri await their entry into our world to, as one would expect, invade. In exchange for his efforts and the Tesseract, the exiled Asgardian Loki is promised by their leader an army and a new kingdom: Earth.

The battles that ensue, of course, are the stuff of brilliance and are, believe it or not, very artfully edited together. There’s a sequence during the climax where the camera pans and sweeps across an embattled New York City (of course), following each Avenger as they display their own particular set of skills before teaming up with the next member and passing on the camera, the cycle starting over again until each has their place in the spotlight. It’s made to look like one complete camera movement and manages to avoid the temptation to use shaky cam to hide the seems, instead relying upon almost balletic smoothness in editing and effects. It’s quite refreshing and breathtaking all at once.

Not only that, we get plenty of “Who would win?” moments throughout the film, as various members of the initially reluctant team (again, of course) clash on certain ideals. Think of it as fan service dressed up to suit the occasion. Thor’s abrupt entry to the picture is particularly memorable, but there are plenty more of these types of ordeals throughout the film, and none of them ever feel out of place thanks in large part to smart characterization and Whedon’s typical knack for fun dialogue.

Yes, as if all this weren’t enough (and it wouldn’t have been), The Avengers is careful to flesh out each of the characters and their place in the story. Despite audiences now having four years of exposure to these characters, throwing all these big personalities together into one film could have easily still resulted in a mess, but the film finds moments to let each character be an actual character and not just some action figure in a scuffle, and it even expands upon the backstories of even the lesser known characters of the group that didn’t get their own films, with the Black Widow in particular getting the special strong-yet-vulnerable Whedon-woman treatment that he specializes and does particularly well with. Johansson expands upon her sultry femme fatale persona in Iron Man 2 and is given a chance to show that Black Widow also has the mental skills and bravery necessary to be an actual asset to the team, and not just the token attractive and capable female.

Robert Downey, Jr. continues to be the central character where all the humor comes from that you would expect had you seen the Iron Man films (and you really should before seeing this). His scene early on with Gwyneth Paltrow, returning as Pepper Potts, is one of the best bits of banter in the film. However, what’s surprising is how they’ve also nicely tempered his amiable arrogance by giving the metal man a proverbial heart, making his motive and actions all the more meaningful.

Chrisses Evans and Hemsworth as Captain American and Thor, respectively, likewise continue their admirable performances from their previous films, with only Evans, perhaps, coming up a bit short, though that’s likely because his character is still dealing with the culture shock and depression of having been transported several decades into the future. You really can’t expect even the most virtuous heroes to deal quite so well with that, and so I really can’t fault the film nor the actor for this, either. He still gets some great lines, particularly with the flying monkeys bit, and Cap’s interactions with Iron Man definitely set into place some ominous Civil War-type foreshadowing.

As the film’s primary antagonist, Tom Hiddleston turns up the volume on Loki’s rage, portraying the character with equal parts rage, menace, and an appropriate dose of arrogance and resentment. When facing off against some of the mightiest heroes, it’s important that a single villain be able to hold his own as a threat, and Hiddleston’s Loki is a compelling, complex villain and he does an excellent job.

Meanwhile, for understandable but nonetheless disappointing reasons that I won’t reveal here, Jeremy Renner is given the shortest end of the stick in this film, though I suppose someone had to, and it’s at least given a proper explanation. Here’s hoping he gets more to do in the inevitable sequel is all I’m gonna say. Returning as Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson actually manages to turn in a rather good, surprisingly understated performance as the concerned head of the Avengers Initiative, and he’s joined by new addition Colbie Smulders as S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Maria Hill, who gets a nice action scene here and there, just enough to get you thinking, “Hmm… Future film opportunity?” Of course, Clark Gregg returns and continues to make Agent Coulson the loveable sidekick that he is.

And then there’s the giant green elephant in the room. Including this film, the Hulk has now shown up in three different films, portrayed by three different guys, under the direction of three different filmmakers. It seems as though his is the hardest character to adapt to the screen, even though one of his teammates is a god-like being that inspired the Norse god of thunder. With Whedon, they chose one of the more unconvincing actors who will likely portray a superhero in Mark Ruffalo, an actor whom I had previously disliked thanks to his romantic comedy roles but have increasingly warmed up to thanks to films like Zodiac. Though I was disappointed that Edward Norton would not be returning, mostly for continuity reasons, as this makes Bruce Banner the only recast in the film, as it turns out, it was a very smart decision.

Believe it or not, we see more of Bruce Banner than we do “the other guy,” and, thankfully, Ruffalo is a capable actor who’s been given a great script. Banner isn’t portrayed here as pathetic,  reclusive, or even necessarily as a particularly depressive man as much as he is shown to be very self-aware, knowing his limitations, and learning to control these issues in order to blend into a crowd. It’s not without a sense of self-loathing that he does this, but he goes about it with dignity and the logic that only a brilliant scientist would likely be capable of. This makes sense, given the ending of Incredible Hulk, wherein he seems to gain a new control over himself in that cabin. Ruffalo also comes off as gentler and kinder than his predecessors, Norton and Eric Bana, and while this isn’t necessarily put into full play in the film, it does make his transformation to the Hulk all that much more dramatic. As the Hulk (for the first time motion captured by the actor playing Banner, though still voiced by Lou Ferrigno), Bruce goes from the group introvert to the raging muscle, an unstoppable but deceptively calculating monster that puts everyone, including demigod Thor, on high alert. His are some of the best (and even most humorous) scenes in the film, and luckily, even the CGI used for the character is nearly as convincing as the actor behind it.

I fear that I have rambled on a bit here, but I also feel as though I haven’t been able to get a proper chance to yammer on and on enough about this film with anyone in person in order to process it all. Such is the danger of my reviewing an exciting, highly anticipated film such as this. But since my roommate was out of town this weekend and the 10:20PM showing was late enough to make it so that us 20-something, aging, working folk were unable to stay up any later to further discuss the matters, I feel as though I must share all this excitement with you guys. In all honesty, I feel as though I could continue on with my ramblings… but I won’t.

The Avengers has completely changed the way that we will look at superhero films from now on. With their build up to a unified universe, not only has Marvel proven that it can be done as in their other media, but that it can be done well. I’d even go a step further and say that, in many ways, Avengers proves that a unified universe of characters is possibly even the best way to go in most cases. After all, isn’t Superman far more interesting when he’s playing foil to the drastically different Batman? Don’t be surprised if, when The Man of Steel comes out next year, DC and Warner Bros. have sewn the seeds of a Justice League film. Heck, maybe they’ll even beg Whedon to pull a Bryan Singer and reinstate him on that terminated Wonder Woman film after this. Hopefully that doesn’t also mean that Marvel will be stuck with putting Brett Ratner on The Avengers 2, however… Unlike The Avengers, that would definitely be the worst. (Cheap shot? I don’t care. X-Men: The Last Stand was a tragedy!)

PS: A word to the wise — Never leave a Marvel film until the screen has gone completely black for more than 3 seconds. Soooo many people left the theatre before seeing the mid-credits secret ending, and even more missed the hilarious post-credits sequence. After so much build up, neither one will disappoint!

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5

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