Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Avengers (2012)

Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, and Samuel L. Jackson

It is time for my take on the record-breaking mega-movie from Marvel, The Avengers.  With five movies setting up of this giant superhero ensemble, its billion dollar box-office has made the investment worthwhile.  However, that build up has left me a little burnt out on the super hero genre (Christopher Nolan’s Batman films excluded), but I was still looking forward to checking out The Avengers to see if the film was worthy of its self-produced hype.

I want to begin by quick highlighting the five films leading up to The Avengers.  

The build up started off with a bang as 2008’s Iron Man perfectly mixed fun and excitement with Robert Downey Jr. owning the role of Tony Stark (Mark it 7).  That summer’s The Incredible Hulk was pretty forgettable; in fact I barely remember anything about that film either good or bad (Mark it 5).  Iron Man 2 followed in 2010, which took everything fun about the original and beat it to the ground until boredom set in (Mark it 3).  2011 saw the final two set-up films, Thor and Captain America.  I enjoyed the fish-out-of-water aspects of Thor that added some freshness to make up for its convoluted plot (Mark it 6), while Captain America did absolutely nothing for me.  I found him to be a pretty boring character in a bad movie that was only made to act as the final bridge toward Marvel's culminating project (Mark it 3). 

Except for the first Iron Man, I thought The Avengers’ build up was less than stellar.  That being said, with Joss Whedon at the helm (I am a big fan of his television series, Firefly, and its movie sequel, Serenity), I was still pretty interested in what his take on the superhero genre would look like.  It’s an interesting idea to take these larger than life characters that each warranted their own stories (not including the Avengers' B-Team, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye), and see them interact as one unit.  Despite the ups-and-downs in the elaborate set-up, I went into this film with an open mind.

One has to weigh through a lot of Marvel geek speak at the film’s opening with the main bad guy, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), traveling to Earth from outer space to steal the Tesseract.  The Tesseract is an all-powerful cube of energy that is heavily protected by Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) secret agency, S.H.I.E.L.D.  Once the cube is in Loki’s possession, with the help of a couple good guys turned bad through a little brainwashing, Fury must turn to the team he has spent five movies setting up, the Avengers.  Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye must learn how to work and fight together before Loki and his alien army destroy the world.

That is a very complicated way to tell a simple story: bad guys show up, assemble the good guys, let them work out their differences, and then fight the bad guys.   The first half of The Avengers is a little bit dull.  It is easy to get lost in the all the technical talk of fake comic book science, and as a comic book villain, Loki, is not nearly memorable enough to instill menace (even as he kills dozens or hundreds).  But once the team is finally assembled on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, The Avengers starts to pick up some steam.

Robert Downey Jr.’s entrance as Tony Stark instantly adds some energy and laughs that were sorely needed.  He was the highlight of Iron Man and the shtick worked well in its sequel of lesser quality.  I thought he was a highlight again in The Avengers.  The other standout was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (the third actor to take a stab at the Incredible hulk in the last 10 years – after Eric Bana and Edward Norton).  Ruffalo’s Banner is a quiet and nervous genius brought into the fold for his great brain rather than the uncontrollable brawn he bottles up inside.  Watching Stark's brashness interact with Banner’s nervousness while the two geniuses bond were always great scenes.  By only hinting at the Hulk for most of the film, Whedon is able to turn his eventual appearance into a high point in the film.  The Hulk’s contributions in The Avengers' huge, and heavily CGI, final battle are easily the best parts of the sequence.  With the Avengers, even an uncontrollable beast can be used effectively to help the fight and save the world.

The other heroes are given their share of screen time.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has his memorable fights and can act as a liasion with Loki, as his brother, and Captain America (Chris Evans) is funny as the old-fashioned All-American boy who acts as the team’s uniter (for the good of the country, of course).  Black Widow and Hawkeye perform their duties when needed, but it is clear why neither warranted their own future film; they just aren’t as compelling as the other four.  And Samuel L. Jackson finally gets a chance to sink his teeth into the Nick Fury role, no longer relegated to post-credits cameos to set up this story. Altogether, I did have a lot of fun watching these characters hash out their differences under Fury’s direction and the action pieces are handled very well.

Five films in the making, The Avengers turned out to be a pretty good superhero movie.  There have been some transcendent films in the genre (The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United), and some that have been pretty bad like Captain America, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Green Lantern (which I didn’t actually waste my time by seeing).  I think that The Avengers shares company with a lot of the other superhero movies somewhere in the middle. 

Superhero movies are usually dumb fun that, when handled well, are really enjoyable to watch.  Whedon does a good job mixing all the parts, and his attempt at the superhero genre is a fun two plus hours at the cinema.  Marvel had a lot riding on Whedon and The Avengers, and they didn’t screw it up (though with its gobs and gobs of money it made, it wouldn’t have mattered to Marvel if they did).

Mark it 6.

1 comment:

  1. Saw it last night to escape the heat. I'd mark it 7 just because it made me laugh quite a few times. My one big issue is with Scarlett. I have no problem believing she is hot or smart but she can't pull of athletic. This is a big deal considering her character seems to have normal strength and speed. This is a small deal in this film but worth mentioning.

    Keep up the good work.