Tuesday, May 8, 2012

“The Avengers” – I guess it was worth the wait.

Let me be the first to say that I was wrong. No, I didn’t think that the movie was going to suck, quite the opposite in fact. However, based on all of the prequels and origin stories leading up to The Avengers, I thought Robert Downey Jr. was going to have to carry the movie in order for it to live up to four years worth of hype. And how could you blame me? Aside from the Ironman movies, the other three (Captain America, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk) were nothing more than ear-splitting, brain-shattering, CGI-heavy, story-less money grabs and the studios literally advertised these facts. What you may not know is that The Avengers was very close to following its predecessors down the road of mediocrity, but was saved by Joss Whedon – director and writer (I won’t bore you with the story, but if you are interested, Wired magazine has a feature story that covers it in great detail). For those of you familiar with Whedon’s previous work, let’s hope The Avengers earns him enough money to buy the rights to Firefly and he gives Fox Studios the finger.

As you already know, The Avengers is the culmination of five movies’ stories coming together – except that it’s not. None of the plots of those movies actually come into play here, but rather their characters and a couple of plot elements only. Aside from the four title characters, we also get Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of S.H.I.E.L.D.; Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), Fury’s right-hand man; Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and assassin; Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the super villain and Thor’s brother; Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow), Tony Stark’s assistant and girlfriend; and that scientist guy from Thor (Stellan Skarsgard). The only plot element carried through is the glowing cube from Captain America, which is also hinted at in the end of Thor. That’s it. The interesting thing about that is that it was intentional; the studio has actually gone on record as saying that when the characters are not The Avengers, they are really in their own little universes. The way you interpret that is “We all knew The Avengers is the only thing that matters, so we didn’t have to try hard with those other films.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you when Ironman 3, Thor 2, and Captain America 2 all release in the next two years (seriously, they are) and their stories are as thin as toilet paper (the cheap kind).

Getting back to The Avengers, it actually did have a story, albeit a very standard comic book story (but that’s okay here). Loki has met up with The Other, the leader of a race called the Chitauri, who has promised Loki an army to fetch the cube and enslave Earth. Loki steals the cube from S.H.I.E.L.D. and enacts the Avengers Protocol to stand against Loki. As I said before, that’s it. It’s your standard “super villain wants to take over the Earth and the heroes must stop him” plot. It’s simple and to-the-point and there’s nothing convoluted or complex about it. Ordinarily, this would make a very ho-hum movie, but this movie had something those other movies didn’t have – Whedon’s love for characters.

What made this movie phenomenal (yes, I said phenomenal) was the dynamic of the team and how it evolved throughout the film. Most of them are reluctant to help and they fight with each other whenever they’re within one hundred feet of each other. This exposes their flaws and humanizes them to the audience, making it all the more satisfying when they finally stop being selfish and band together. This even includes new characters in Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), another S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and archer; and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Fury’s left-hand woman. I’ll admit, I had my doubts about the smorgasbord of characters, but there isn’t a single one you could delete from the film without detracting from it.

As good as all of the actors were, the two that were the most surprising were Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk and Hiddleston as Loki (with apologies to Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth). Hiddleston seemed to be relishing every second as the villain, turning in a performance as memorable as Jack Nicholson as the Joker. There was no hamming or overacting, which would have been easy considering the character. Even better was Ruffalo, who had to overcome the stigma of playing the Hulk. After Eric Bana failed miserably and Edward Norton made a valiant attempt a few years ago, Ruffalo finally created a believable Hulk. As Banner, he ditched the woe-is-me attitude and replaced it with a calculating man projecting calm overlying rage. As the hulk, they finally used motion-capture, which I couldn’t believe was really the first time they tried it. I’m not sure what took them so long, but better late than never.

In short, The Avengers is awesome and Joss Whedon is a genius. Even at one hundred forty-three minutes, the movie flies by and there is no shortage of action. The special effects are spectacular, most evident in the rendering of the helicarrier – S.H.I.E.L.D. flying aircraft carrier. The dialogue is fun and reminiscent of the great action flicks that perfectly mixed action, humor, and seriousness. The only flaw is that the studio insisted that the movie be available in 3-D, which was done post-production (unfortunately, I had to view the 3-D version). Given that the individual character sequels are all under way, we can now start the countdown to The Avengers 2 (and yes, stay until after the credits for arguably the greatest scene in the movie).

Rating: Do you really have to ask? You should feel lucky you aren’t handing over all the money you should have gotten back from the prequels.


  1. Nice write-up Kevin. With over billions and billions of comic book fans and Marvel practically breathing down his neck, Joss Whedon was given one job and one job only and that was to not screw this up. Thankfully, he doesn’t even come close to screwing it up and makes this one of the funnest superhero movies in recent time.

  2. You said it perfectly - his job was to not screw it up. More directors should think that way.