FILM REVIEW: The Avengers
As any of my long-suffering Twitter followers know, I'm a comic book fan. I still remember my childhood walks to the local Hobby Shack to pick up my weekly stash of superheroes captured in glorious 2D for the low, low price of 75 cents.
When I picked up my comics, the book of choice was always The Avengers. Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Tigra, Captain America, Vision and Iron Man -- they populated my super-powered imagination, a monthly installment of high drama with the occasion planet-shaking throw-down.
Flash forward and here we are living in the golden age of geekdom, where Marvel has not only managed the amazing feat of making a series of comic-inspired films, but also gathered them together into one colossal collection of titans -- 142 minutes of spandex -studded spectacle.
So let's take a moment now to pause, to collect ourselves and to step off the marvelous hype machine that began building way back when Tony Stark first smirked his smirk.
Is The Avengers a movie for everyone?
Mark Ruffalo, left, and Robert Downey Jr. turn in standout performances as Bruce Banner/Hulk and Tony Stark/Iron Man, respectively, in The Avengers. (Zade Rosenthal/Disney)
No. If you don't know your Steve Rogers from your Bruce Banner, you may have a tough time catching up. Writer-director Joss Whedon does what he can to bring folks up to speed and provides quick bursts of each heroic origin tale. But for newbies, this is not the film to start with.
For fans however, from the hard core comic-geeks to moviegoers who were thrilled with Thor, Iron Man and all the rest of the The Avengers, this is the pinnacle of pectoral-filled movie-making. It's packed with larger-than-life characters and stunning set pieces, yet tethered to reality with some Joss Whedon Special Sauce™ -- zesty character moments peppered with zingers that land bigger than a thousand hammer blasts.
Whedon has long been the patron saint of many comic, TV and internet fans. With Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and even Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, he's shown a knack for creating great ensembles, twisting and subverting familiar genres (Vampires! Space cowboys!) and delivering snap-crackle-pop dialogue.
Beyond The Avengers' smash-em-up action, which ranges from fantastic to forgettable, Whedon's script is the movie's true hero, doing all the heavy lifting to bring the team together. It's more than a big bad villain and a rousing "Avengers Assemble." The plot is structured so that the heroes are constantly at odds with each other. For the team to rise to the occasion, each member must confront his own weakness. Captain America, yesterday's soldier, struggles to find his place. Iron Man deals with his narcissism. The Hulk has control issues.
The Avengers also works as well as it does because of the performances of Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. Whedon's dialogue rolls off RDJ's tongue for a caustic mix of smarts and snark. He's the brains of the team, but doesn't play well with others. This is Downey's third outing as the man-made superhero and the character of Tony Stark fits the actor as perfectly as does his battle suit.
If Downey is the head, then Ruffalo is the soul. Putting his mark on a character that has frustrated fans and directors, the indie heartthrob gives us the first Hulk that works. In a world of larger-than-life characters, Ruffalo makes it look effortless. His Banner is smart, but keeps to himself. Though the film is filled with talkers, he's listening and waiting for his moment. More than just "Hulk smash," this Hulk scares.
Tom Hiddleston as Loki provides the larger-than-life opposition a super team requires. (Zade Rosenthal/Disney)
You notice I've left out Thor, Hawkeye and Black Widow. Whedon does his best jumping from storyline to storyline like a mad plate-spinner. Scarlett Johansson has improved as Black Widow, but flying high-kicks aside, the casting still strains credibility. Hawkeye's role is almost a cipher for Jeremy Renner. It takes one of Marvel's original quipsters and gives him a grim and gritty Dark Knight makeover. Finally, there's Thor. Without the context of Kenneth Branagh's classically inspired direction, Thor feels out of context -- a stranger from a strange land. Perhaps that's the quality Whedon was aiming for, underlined by Stark's mocking the Thunder God as "Shakespeare in the Park."
In the spectrum of superhero films, The Avengers is a bold, brash, unapologetic spectacle: a bright day to the Dark Knight. Most importantly, it conquers the Superman dilemma: Whedon manages to construct a believable situation in which Earth's mightiest heroes could fail.
Loki the Trickster God (played with delicious, demented zeal by Tom Hiddleston) is looking to crush humanity under his heel and has an otherworldly army to help him. As the battle rages in the sky and on the streets of Manhattan, The Avengers acquires an irresistible momentum. The bombastic score soars as Hulk and Thor double-team baddies riding an alien leviathan bareback. In the rubble below, Captain America calls the shots, while Iron Man soars and sputters as he dodges the alien hordes.
Goosebumps and glee. Mission accomplished.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Chris Evans (Captain America) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) battle for screen time in The Avengers. (Zade Rosenthal/Disney)
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