Monday, May 7, 2012

Movie Review – The Avengers

WARNING: I’m not going to run down the plot here, just share some thoughts. But there will undoubtedly be spoilers. And I am definitely spoiling the after-credits sequences because I have to talk about them. So if you haven’t seen this movie I wouldn’t read this. And as always, please feel free to share your comments.

The Avengers is the biggest and most effective superhero movie I have ever seen.

 A large part of that is the fact that Marvel has already spent five movies – over ten hours – establishing characters and the world they inhabit. Most superhero movies have to get that done in around an hour. However, The Avengers had a HUGE challenge in that it was attempting to present the four biggest superheroes that have ever shared the silver screen alongside two regular ol’ humans and make everybody seem equally important in both story and ability. And yes – I know the previous sentence does not account for Colonel Nick Fury, but Colonel Nick Fury is played by Samuel L. Jackson and I don’t think anybody on this planet has to worry about whether or not Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson is going to make an impact.

Speaking of non-powered characters, I want to go ahead and address those. Agent Phil Coulson, Pepper Potts, Doctor Erik Selvig, and Agent Maria Hill were all secondary but critical characters in the movie. I’m not going to run down who did what or how awesome the actors were (and they were – so awesome), but each of those four not only had majorly important roles to play but were strong enough to make you care about them. Maria Hill was the only one that did not enjoy the advantage of an established story from previous screen time and she was probably the biggest of the three characters. She got the most screen time (I think) and had the opportunity to establish herself and possibly even set up something of a future story arc.

Moving on to the superheroes, I want to start with the unknown quantities – Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo. Now, I know we got to see Renner in action as Hawkeye in Thor and he was definitely impressive. But we didn’t learn anything about his character or how Renner was going to portray Agent Clint Barton. Who knew if Hawkeye was going to be able to hang with the already established and badass Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, and Black Widow? Or more importantly if Jeremy Renner was up to the task of sharing the screen with Downey, Jackson, and Hemsworth.

As a quick aside – I know I’m discounting Scarlet Johansson and Chris Evans there, but I feel like the three I mentioned are such big, overwhelming personalities that an actor not up to the task could easily end up as scenery. Evans and Johansson were both much more ensemble players in their previous movies and thereby seem less intimidating.

Anyway – Jeremy Renner was fantastic. He had the most significant arc of anybody in the movie and carried it off beautifully. By the end of the movie it was clear what part each of the Avengers played on the team, but Hawkeye was the one that had been through the most and had to truly prove his worth. He totally did.

Mark Ruffalo was not the person I wanted playing Bruce Banner. I loved Edward Norton as Banner just as much as I loathed Eric Bana (who later redeemed himself by being totally rad as Nero in Star Trek). I was crushed that Marvel could not work out a deal with Norton and, well… I have to ashamedly admit that I saw that as the first sign that The Avengers was destined for failure. I grow attached to actors in roles and have always been a very vocal opponent of recasting. But Mark Ruffalo does a great job as Bruce Banner. Visually I don’t like him as much as I did Ed Norton, but character-wise he has Norton beat. There’s a certain acerbic, cynical perspective that Norton didn’t quite have. I heard the other day that Ruffalo signed on for a possible six Hulk movies and I will be there for every single one.

Oh, and Hulk looked fucking amazing. There was not a single second where I thought about computer generated images. He was organic and fluid and meshed beautifully with every scene he was in and every character he touched. Or smashed. This Hulk wasn’t a ripped, cut bodybuilder. He had a bit of a gut. His arms were hugely muscled, but meaty as well. The Hulk in The Avengers was so much more real than what we have seen before. He looked like an actual being rather than a created thing stuck onto some backgrounds. It was perfect and I would love to see Ruffalo in a Joe Fixit Hulk movie with this approach.

The last of the regular ol’ humans – besides Samuel L. Jackson – is Scarlet Johansson as Natasha Romanov. Obviously Johansson is nice to look at and fills out her SHIELD-issued combat suit quite nicely. But she came off a little flat to me. I mean personality-wise. She wasn’t bad by any means and maybe the whole point is that Romanov is a been-there, done-that, hard-as-nails chick; but sometimes Johansson’s delivery just seemed kind of like she was just reading the lines. But at the same time, I kind of like that she wasn’t a smarmy, joke-cracking type. Hers and Hawkeye’s seriousness not only grounded the movie but made everything seem so much more real. Sure, it’s easy for a guy in a nigh-impenetrable suit of high-tech armor to crack jokes and obviously the God of Thunder or the Strongest One There Is can afford to play a bit. But we regular humans have to stay focused. So I dunno. I need to see it again to really figure this one out.

Of course, then there’s Captain America’s seriousness. Chris Evans had a very tough role to play, as he had to be the heart of the group as well as a convincing leader. It’s easy to say that, but think about the fact that Evans had to take the character of Steve Rogers – a soldier, a fighter, a guy who just wants to beat up bad guys – and make the audience believe that he could hang with Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and the world’s most elite group of trained military specialists. Oh, and not only that but that Steve could inspire and lead these people as well. And Evans carries it off effortlessly. Well, with just a little help from Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson.

Also, Cap had my favorite line in the whole movie. In response to Black Widow telling him he doesn’t want to get involved in the fight between Thor and Loki – who she describes as gods – Caps says, “There’s only one God, Ma’am. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” Dude, I loved that line so much. If there was one perfect Captain America line that is also the perfect line for Joss Whedon to have written for Captain America; that is it.

I don’t feel any particular need to address Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark or Chris Hemsworth as Thor. We all already know they are fantastic as those characters.

Dammit, I’m wrong. Because I’m sitting here thinking and realizing that both of them had story arcs almost as compelling as Hawkeye’s.

Thor has to deal with the fact that Loki is back and accept that his brother is irredeemable, and also that he has to work with these strange, disparate humans to save the world he has grown to love.

Tony Stark evolves more in The Avengers than he did in either of the Iron Man movies. He learns from Captain America what a real hero is and by the end of the movie he becomes one. He and Cap have a confrontation aboard the SHIELD helicarrier (one of many truly epic confrontations in this movie) and Cap tells Tony that he isn’t the guy that jumps on the grenade, that he’s never had to truly risk it all. There’s always a way out for him.

And now onto the confrontations. The epic battles. I have never in my life watched a movie and thought, “HOLY SHIT” so many times. Some examples:

HOLY SHIT – I am watching Captain America fight Loki.”
HOLY SHIT – I am watching Iron Man fight Thor.”
HOLY SHIT – Captain America just OWNED Iron Man and Thor.”
HOLY SHIT – I am watching Thor fight Hulk.”
HOLY SHIT – Black Widow is whooping the piss out of Hawkeye.”
HOLY SHIT – did Hulk really just do that!?!” (x3)

That is far from a comprehensive list, but I hope it gives you a good idea of just how much awesome there is. And not only is each confrontation epic, they earn those holy shits. Each one makes sense within the context of the story and serves a purpose. Not a single one of the big fights in The Avengers feels like it happens just because somebody thought it would be cool to have Hulk punch Thor.

Which finally brings me to the name I didn’t want to use until the very end of this discussion because I was afraid once I mentioned him I would just go on and on and this whole thing would end up being a big ol’ handjob for Joss Whedon like those reviews of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies over at And while at this point I would certainly give Mr. Whedon a handjob if he asked, I didn’t want my whole article to be like that.

I was already a huge fan of Joss Whedon before I saw this movie. I have several Buffy the Vampire Slayer tattoos on my right arm. I own many hundreds of dollars worth of Joss Whedon-inspired and –related products. I will blindly partake in pretty much anything with his name on it. He is an entertainment icon to me. But I very much doubted his ability to do the kind of Avengers movie that I wanted to see, let alone the kind that Hollywood or the American public wanted to see. After seeing The Avengers, I realize that doubt made me a shithead of epic proportions. I won’t go into why I doubted, I’ll just admit that I was way wrong.

I know a whole heck of a lot more people were involved in this movie than just Joss Whedon, but there is no mistaking the fact that The Avengers is a Joss Whedon production just as much as BTVS or Firefly or Dollhouse. Every character interaction, every line, every shot of the movie has that special feel to it. It’s all done in that way that he has. I can’t explain it, but there’s just that certain off way he has that makes you go, “Oh, that’s different. And awesome.”

Like the one shot when the Chitauri are blowing New York to shit so much better than the Decepticons did in Transformers 3 (which, by the way, was previously my favorite example of aliens blowing a city to shit) and rather than just showing a bunch of cars blowing up and flipping over Whedon stuck a camera in a car while it was being blown up and flipped over. And you’re all like, “Huh. Weird… that was cool.”

Or when Iron Man is jump-starting the helicarrier (which is a very Whedon-y in its own way) and you get this long shot that’s kind of quiet and all you see is Iron Man’s thrusters lit up and going in circles in this HUGE turbine.

Whedon (and company) absolutely nailed this movie. There was not one wasted minute or word or action. And it gave me everything I wanted. I thought it would be impossible to deliver on the promises of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America. But it happened. I am satisfied. More than satisfied, even.

This moment had so many moments of pure release. Thor raising Mjolnir and armoring up. Banner saying, “I’m always angry” and willingly Hulking Up in a controlled manner that reclaimed the term “Hulking Up” from Hulk Hogan like a motherfucker. Hawkeye shooting arrows into everything. Cap showing why people should do what he says. Hulk showing why bad guys shouldn’t soliloquize.

So much awesome.

Finally, the very best thing about The Avengers is that I can take Lil’ Troublemaker to see it. There are a couple of naughty words and certainly some intense action, but nothing terrible. Certainly nothing near as bad as the Transformers movies.

5 OUT OF 5 

Also key is that this movie made me want to go out and buy toys. So bad. I already wanted the Hot Toys figures, but now I am seriously looking at ways of raising the money for them. I am going to be putting together a massive eBay sale tonight. I’m cutting out some future purchases. I’m not positive yet I am going to get them, but I am working on it. I was even tempted to stop at Walmart and pick up some of the 3 ¾” scale figures. It’s going to be a fight not to. Lil’ Troublemaker may end up with those after I take him to see it.

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