Saturday, May 5, 2012

'The Avengers' Review

Heading into The Avengers, I had high expectations. It could almost be said that my expectations were too high. I have loved The Avengers since I was a kid. I was a Marvel comic book reader and followed the team almost religiously through my childhood. These characters all hold a special place in my memories and anything they put up on the big screen had to live up to those expectations.

Secondly, Joss Whedon directed the movie, a person I count myself a huge fan of. Whether it is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, or especially Angel, Whedon made me want to watch television again. As a matter of fact, I count Angel as one of my favorite television shows of all time. It has also been less than a month since I watched The Cabin in the Woods, a Whedon scripted horror movie I consider one of the most original I have seen in years.

Needless to say, The Avengers had a lot to live up to in my eyes.

The Avengers exceeded all my expectations.

The best thing that could have happened to this movie was all the lead-in Marvel films heading to this one. When you have seven major characters and numerous auxiliary ones, there is no time in a movie of this size to give each of them room to grow. With Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, you have three main characters, and the greatest Avengers of them all, already established and can just jump right in with them.

The other major characters were also set up well in advance. Black Widow got lots of screen time in Iron Man 2. Nick Fury has popped his nose in enough to understand what his character is all about. Agent Coulson is like an old friend by this time. The bad guy is Loki, and you know all you need to know about him from the Thor movie. That leaves Hawkeye, who you caught a glimpse of in Thor, and The Hulk, who is now played by Mark Ruffalo.

I'll take a small break here and talk about The Hulk.

The Hulk owns this movie. Forget about Eric Bana in Ang Lee's Hulk. Forget about Ed Norton in The Incredible Hulk. Norton is a fabulous actor and I loved what he brought to the role when he took it on. However, Mark Ruffalo is the best Bruce Banner since Bill Bixby took on the role. Ruffalo brings the perfect laid back attitude that Banner should have at this time. He is untrustworthy of everyone around him, exactly as he should be, and he also has a wicked sense of humor as he watches the absurdity around him. Bruce Banner knows he is the most destructive force in the world and seems to have accepted that. Everything else is ridiculous to him.

The Hulk is the best written character in this movie and he is one of the film's top stars. He also shares in two of the most laugh-worthy moments of the movie. The first is with Thor and the second with Loki. Both instances had the entire audience in my screening laughing out loud. It was proof of Joss Whedon's perfect comic timing.

Wait! Comic timing in a comic book action movie?

Joss Whedon has perfected the ability to create mind blowing, destructive scenes while never letting the humanity slip away. The final quarter of this movie is The Avengers epic battle with an invading alien race. This is something that you might expect to see in a Michael Bay Transformers movie. There is one difference, though. Bay seems intent on throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you as he sets out to blow your mind with his technical prowess during fight scenes. He wants to create epic wars in all his battle sequences.

Whedon also gives you monstrous war-torn battle scenes with a knack for making sure you understand that everyone in this movie is in danger of dying. When Michael Bay does it, he exhausts you and it is never as fun as it sounds when describing it. Joss Whedon understands that for you to enjoy this movie there needs to be breathing time during these battle clashes. If a fight scene is to last 15 minutes or more of the movie's running time, you can't have 15 straight minutes of creatures killing each other.

Whedon delivers some of the best laughs during these moments. One of those is the Hulk and Thor scene. Another is the one with Hulk and Loki. These scenes prove that, when you are allowed to laugh at absurd moments, the intense battle scenes work better. He sprinkles those in throughout all his battles and these fight scenes are better than anything you will ever see in a Michael Bay movie.

Now, if this movie was nothing more than fight scenes, it would not be anywhere near as good as it was. For the first half of this movie, it is about the various heroes we love coming together as a team. No one trusts Thor because Loki is the bad guy. Captain America does not like the arrogance of Iron Man. Iron Man doesn't play well with others. Bruce Banner really doesn't want to be there. Black Widow and Hawkeye are soldiers, fighting a war. Nick Fury has a plan that no one ever really knows every part of. The best sections of this movie come when each of these characters learns to trust each other.

What makes these early scenes so important is that no character is left behind. One of the big complaints of the old Batman franchise is that too many characters were added to the mix and that meant that none of them got the screen time they deserved. Even when you look at the X-Men movies, some of the major characters received the short end of the stick.

In The Avengers, everyone gets their moment to shine. The only one that did not get as much screen time was Hawkeye, and even he was allowed to show what he is capable of on more than one occasion. This is a team movie and everyone is given equal time, with no one overshadowing anyone else. That includes the popular Agent Coulson, who gets some wonderful comedic moments in the film as well.

I will admit here that if you don't like superhero movies, you won't like The Avengers. This movie is everything that a superhero should be. There are over-the-top characters, ridiculous life-or-death situations that non-comic fans might scoff at and some of the grandest battle scenes you will ever see in a superhero movie. If you do like superhero movies, this is the best of them all.

Call that hyperbole if you want, but this is what a superhero movie is supposed to look like. When it comes to narrative films, this one doesn't come close to The Dark Knight, as much a detective story film noir as a film about a man who dresses up like a bat. But, The Dark Knight is a film. The Avengers is a giant superhero movie blockbuster that was made for one reason – fun.

Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic as Iron Man, once again. He shines best when paired up with Chris Evans' Captain America or Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner. Don't worry if you hated Scarlet Johansson in Iron Man 2 because she is a great deal more interesting in this movie and a much better character. Chris Evans is solid as Cap, learning his role in this strange new world. Tom Hiddleston is once again wonderful as Loki, more evil than before, and his final battle with The Hulk is one of the greatest scenes in years.

I already talked about The Hulk and his appearance steals the show. Clark Gregg is also on fine form as Agent Coulson, but that should be expected if you saw him in the Marvel shorts between the movies.

Go into The Avengers, expecting to see a movie that will make you laugh, make you smile and deliver a good time. Whedon delivers all that in spades. This is easily the most fun you will have at a movie in 2012.

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