Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers

As far as comic book movies go, The Avengers is a strange miracle. Here is a film that by all accounts should not have worked, yet it does much more than scrape by - I’d add it to the short list of great comic book films. Marvel has released five movies over the last four years (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America) which have all been building to this one picture. Under so much pressure and so many characters, a lesser movie would have collapsed, but Joss Whedon’s screenplay and direction bring remarkable balance. With the possible sole exception of the original Iron Man, The Avengers is the best Marvel movie to date.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s exiled brother, comes to Earth from outer space to rule over humanity. He brings an alien army, so S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) executes “The Avenger Initiative,” bringing together Earth’s greatest heroes to combat the otherwise unstoppable foes. The team includes Captain America (Chris Evans), who is still adjusting to modern times having been frozen in ice since the 1940’s, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who occasionally undergoes the unfortunate physical transformation of becoming The Hulk, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and famed industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), also known as Iron Man.

Joss Whedon’s involvement was the best thing that ever happened to this movie. The creator of beloved TV series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, Whedon has demonstrated great ability to juggle multiple characters and make them work as a team, which was the exact skill-set needed here. In two hours and twenty minutes, Whedon’s script somehow fits in just the right amounts of humor, action and character work. Every character receives adequate screen time, including side characters who haven’t previously been given much depth, like Hawkeye, Black Widow, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), and even Nick Fury himself. The Avengers isn’t perfect (Loki isn’t much of a villain, for instance), but given the tremendous difficulty of the task, Whedon deserves a whole lot of credit.

Four of the Avengers team members have previously carried their own films, though you don’t have to have seen them to enjoy this one. While the idea of getting them all together for one movie sounds great in theory, a single movie with that many big characters could easily have bombed. Whedon’s script is so balanced, but this group of actors also has great chemistry. The standout performance comes from Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Eric Bana and Edward Norton have played this character previously, but neither of those Hulk films got it right. Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is sympathetic and likable, and his dialogue adds new insight into his character’s struggles, exploring the relationship between his normal self and his invincible alter ego.

While the character development is top notch for this sort of movie, all of the action you would hope to see in an Avengers movie is delivered ten fold. The Avengers fight each other several times, making for some fun, explosive arguments (pun intended), and when the all-out battle arrives in act three, nothing is held back. It’s actually hard to imagine how a sequel could top the quality of these action scenes. I especially loved a long tracking shot in which each character is shown employing his/her unique abilities in battle. Each character had a moment or line of dialogue that left the crowd cheering at the opening night screening I attended, though the Hulk’s interaction with Loki stole the show.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has spun into this one picture, and now it will spin back out with continued sequels; there’s never been a multi-film project quite like it. Marvel took a big gamble investing so much in these movies, and it paid off. At this point, The Avengers 2 and 3 are inevitable, though I wouldn’t want to follow Joss Whedon’s act. Heck, I’m not even sure Whedon will want to follow his own act. For decades, fans have dreamed of how cool it would be to see all of these characters together onscreen, and The Avengers cashes in on the full potential of its idea.

For the Parents: 

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference

This is pure Marvel, comic book action. The only upsetting bits involve the death of a friendly character and a scene where Loki removes a man’s eye, or maybe he just retinal scans it? It’s not clear exactly what he does, as it happens off screen in a blood-free manner. The action is high-adrenaline and fast-paced but not graphic. If you’ve seen any of the five Marvel tie-in movies, the tone of the action and violence are similar in The Avengers.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry I haven't been here in forever! Much delayed, but completely agreed--especially in regards to Ruffalo. Bana and Norton are amazing in their own rights, but neither came anywhere near where Banner should be. A+ for Mark stepping into two pairs of big shoes and busting out of them in the way that only an enormous green rage monster can.