Monday, May 7, 2012

"The Avengers"

Directed Joss Whedon, written by Whedon and Zak Penn, starring Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Samuel L. Jackson - Rated PG-13

Captain America: And Hulk...Smash!

This is the comic book movie people have been waiting for.  Anticipation is high for any big name comic book property adaptation (for instance, we still have The Dark Knight Rises on the way), but The Avengers is unique because it is so unlikely.  Take some of the heaviest hitters from the Marvel universe (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, etc.) and combine them in one huge movie.  The fact that a studio was able to plan this out after each character had his own film produced is impressive.  But The Avengers doesn’t skate by on the simple existence of itself; instead it soars up there in the higher echelons because it is one of the most enjoyable action films in years.

The Avengers was always a project I was on the fence about.  I’ve always been more of an X-Men and Batman fan, so the crew of this film didn’t excite me all that much.  On top of that, I had doubts that a big studio could come up with a storyline that managed to balance all of the personalities of the film, both in character and out.  How do you justify a scene between relatively unknown characters like Loki and Black Widow when you could just have The Hulk and Thor duke it out for a half an hour?  Why have a scene with Clark Gregg and Jeremy Renner when you can have Robert Downey, Jr. talk smack to Samuel L. Jackson? 

Surprisingly, the filmmakers (writer/director/geek god Joss Whedon and writer Zak Penn) found the perfect balance of star power and character moments.  I cannot come up with a gripe along those lines.  I felt that each actor and character was given just the right amount of screen time.  This is most likely because of Whedon’s involvement (not to take away anything from Penn), but it is certainly because there are only two screenwriters on this film rather than half a dozen.  (I’m sure more than two writers took a crack at the script, but still, only having two credited writers is a good thing.)  Hollywood should take note: you don’t need a dozen writers to hash out a script.  Less can be more, especially when you’re dealing with so much. 

Speaking of balance, The Avengers also finds a great balance between action and comedy.  I cannot remember the last film I watched that had me glued to the action one moment and laughing aloud the next.  I don’t want to ruin any gags; I just want to point out that any joke situation I could think of among these vastly different characters was addressed and it was addressed well.  Thankfully, the film never delves into deadly serious territory (that’s what Batman is for), but instead keeps things light and entertaining. 

This is not simply a comedic action film, though.  The Avengers features some very exciting action sequences, whether it’s a fight amongst the team or a full-on intergalactic war.  The characters complement each other perfectly in battle.  As if it wasn’t already awesome to see Thor and The Hulk fight (both one-on-one and as teammates), the filmmakers managed to hit on every possible fanboy desire while also making the action compelling and easy to follow.  This applies to the entire film as characters have to work together and use their specific skill sets to help each other. 

It’s easy to forget that there are actors inhabiting these characters when you’re dealing with such an action-heavy, funny film; but if you stop and consider it, every actor does a fine job.  I don’t want to waste space and write an individual comment for every performance, especially since almost all involved have played these characters before.  Downey, Evans, and Hemsworth have their respective characters down and it’s a lot of fun to simply watch them talk to each other.  Lone newcomer Mark Ruffalo has some amusing moments as well as Bruce Banner, but it is the CG-enhanced Hulk version that is the real force behind the film. 

It’s not just that the CG Hulk actually looks like the actor portraying him (previous incarnations involving Eric Bana and Edward Norton tried to personalize the face, but failed); it’s that The Hulk has finally found a film formula that works.  First, he’s not just trying to free himself of his power this time around.  Second, The Hulk is so much more fun to watch when he’s only part of the crew.  As ironic as it is, The Hulk is just not capable of carrying his own film.  Throw him in with some other superheroes, though, and you wonder why his character isn’t as popular as the rest.  Just to be clear, though, I still think The Hulk is not right for a full feature film.  Perhaps they can work him into some of the other individual films to keep the audience sated until the next true Avengers film. 

If The Hulk is the bright spot in the line up of The Avengers, then baddie Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is the weak point.  Nothing against Hiddleston, he does a fine job and is obviously having fun as the bad guy of the film, but the character of Loki pales in comparison to the iconic villains of other franchises.  This is hardly a major problem, though, especially when you’d rather spend all of your time with the heroes, anyway. 

The Avengers is nearly perfect in accomplishing what it sets out to do.  It’s a big budget movie that looks expensive.  It’s an action-comedy that provides thrilling set pieces and hilarious gags.  It’s a movie about a team that also seamlessly caters to each individual.  It might just be the best comic book movie ever made, if you’re judging it based on the sheer level of enjoyment it provides.  As of this writing, The Avengers has already broken box office records.  Part of that might be hype.  But a larger part is because The Avengers is simply a good movie.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Everything with Thor and The Hulk was simply awesome.  The Hulk unable to lift Mjolnir, Hulk punching Thor out of nowhere, etc.

I loved how the film acknowledged that some characters don't understand modern references.  My favorite moment was when Captain America spoke up after hearing "flying monkeys."  "I get it! I understood that reference..."

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