Wednesday, May 9, 2012

THE AVENGERS - REVIEW

The Avengers
April 11, 2012 (World Premier)
May 4, 2012 (United States)
143 min
United States (English)

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon



Despite a desperate beginning, "The Avengers" rises far and beyond the high call for a superhero spectacular. The Marvel team is simply a marvelous sight, I just wish we had some equally designed villainry. Regardless, superheroes and summer blockbusters do not get much better than this.

As far as I know, nothing like this has ever been achieved in the history of cinema. Sure, we have "Freddy vs. Jason," each from their respective horror films coming together for a brawl, but with Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" we are talking about 4-5 feature film (depending on if you count 2008's "The Incredible Hulk") that have been leading up to one ultimate collaboration. The idea itself is ambitious enough, I remember thinking so a few years ago when the this project was first announced. Last Friday the time had finally come for the assembling of "The Avengers"and it is far better than I could have imagined. I certainly have some gripes about the movie, but as a stage for the ultimate superhero hootenanny, this becomes the best strictly superhero movie I have ever seen. 

Full disclosure, I am not a comic book fan. I do not have anything against them, I just do not have any past with them. Superheros mean very little to my adolescence, but I have found myself enjoying several superhero movies, especially Marvel's "Spider-Man" trilogy. After the unequivocal success of those Sam Raimi films (so much that we are getting a reboot of "the human spider" this summer) we started to see the rest of the Marvel line-up: "Iron Man," "Captain America," and even "Thor" each became popular summer blockbusters. "The Avengers" is not quite a seuel. It is something much bigger than that. The previous Marvel fair of the last four years have constructed a throne for this to sit on. It fills the space nicely. It rules

The film begins in the middle of what feels like a mediocre Syfy channel movie (or better yet, an episode of Joss Whedon-created television). I was immediately worried with the lost-on-me exposition, silly characters, and sub-par action.  Some "bad guy" (Loki) takes some powerful cube (the Tesseract) that could upset the balance of the world, nay... the universe! Yadda yadda yadda. After Loki gets away, having put a couple of "good guys" under mind control far too easily. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) realizes he needs to assemble a team. "The Avengers" title lights up the screen and I took this as my chance to jump in. The film allowed for it perfectly.

In an "Ocean's 11"-like manner we see the reaching out to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and eventually Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). It is a dream team like seldom seen before - they just need to learn how to work together. There are two big battles in this film and the difference between them is stark. First, we see how capable they each are, but we see significant room for improvement. 

One of my favorite scenes is actually a heated conversation: most of the Avengers have gathered into a lab and everybody has somebody to complain about. Captain America and Iron Man get into a passionate debate about what it means to really be a hero (the film's concrete sub-theme). The performances and camerawork (heavy on the swish pans) all glow in this sequence. It ends by going around Loki's staff and giving us a literal upside-down angle of the Avengers. Loki has them right where he wants them. They simply cannot save Earth if they cannot work together.  Sure, it's heavy-handed like many other cheesy moments in this film, but taken as an adaptation of comics I was fine with what transpired and how.

The film saves its best for last and knows it. The last third is essentially a fight for the world (starting with NYC, where else?) against a seeming endless adversary. Manhattan practically crumbles in the process. The filmmakers strike the right balance between the team and show us where everyone is at any given point in the heat of the battle. We see where they excel on their own and, more importantly, as a team. Here the Hulk emerges as the audience favorite ("Iron Man" comes in at a sure second). It is not entirely balanced, but each has a shining moment or two. One sequence is made to appear as a long take (I'm now coining the term "long fake" for such constructions) that has us flying from one Avenger to the nest. It is an absolute rush. I was reminded of the now pantheon-classified hallway fight from "Inception" as it resulted in a similar feeling of jaw-dropping action. As far as superhero action goes, "The Avengers" delivers in spades.

Joss Whedon's trademark writing is in top form. The characters are distinctly defined and have the dialogue to prove it. I could watch the Avengers hang out and save the world all day as delivered by Whedon (the man behind "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly"). It is genuinely funny throughout making for a solid piece of entertainment. Tom Hiddleston gives fine work as Loki, but I couldn't help but feel a little underwhelmed in terms of the villain. We have seen other films suffer from too many antagonists ("Spider-Man 3"), but we have also seen some far more worthy challenges ("The Dark Knight"). Loki's theatrics are not bad by any means, just a bit foreign. After all, he is not from around here. He does bring some pretty fun guests to the party though.

As I have made clear above, Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk is one of the highlights of this experience. He not only gets the biggest laughs but he made the theater go wild with acclaim. I kid you not, I actually clapped out loud (yes, I became that guy) for several seconds after one particular moment. He is both terrifying and someone you immediately feel safer for having on your team. I eagerly anticipate the inevitable reboot of "The Hulk."

Of the previous Marvel films you should at least see "Thor," which was the one I had not seen. I wish somebody had told me this and so I am telling you. The film hardly works as a standalone title and for the most fulfilling watching experience you should seek out the rest beforehand.

Ultimately, this film is as confident and capable as I could have asked for. The writing, acting, and sheer spectacle of it all makes it not only one of the year's best, but one of the better superhero movies ever made.



★★★★

CONTENT: intense action and violence throughout

(Updated on 9/30/12)

No comments: