My guest writer (and buddy), G, recently went to Downtown Disney’s AMC theaters to see Marvel’s The Avengers, and here is his first hand review of this keen movie.
Marvel’s The Avengers could have failed horribly. It was a pretty huge gamble on their part to announce a full slate of superhero movies based (almost) solely on the success of Iron Man. They had to hope that audiences would connect with, and care to see more of, eight main characters that most people knew only by name. Movies with a cast list that big often fail in allowing the audience to connect with and care for everyone with significant screen time (I’m looking at you, Batman and Robin). This happens more often in movie sequels, since the goal is to outdo all other movies in a series, and while Marvel’s the Avengers isn’t a direct sequel to any one film, it was bringing together the culmination of five previous movies, so the risk was great.
Thankfully, what might have happened didn’t. Instead, the studio hired the nerdgasmic Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly) to write and direct. He’s got a long history of managing very dense stories with large casts, dating all the way back to his Oscar nominated work on Toy Story. Possibly the best part of Joss coming on board is that he’s a comic book fan, which means that he was intent on managing an epic production while keeping the characters as close to their storied selves as possible.
This isn’t a jab, but the story he came up with really follows a standard super hero structure. We start with the “bad” guy, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), showing his intentions to use the Tesseract (as seen in Thor and Captain America), a seemingly unlimited source of power, to come to earth and then steal it from SHIELD. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) puts up a bit of a fight, but in the end has to Assemble the Avengers for help. So, we get a good chunk of “lets introduce all of our main players in case someone in the theater hasn’t seen all five other movies already”. Fury rounds up Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to track and capture Loki. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) doesn’t show up until he has to (Loki is his brother, after all). Once assembled, we get the standard tension and infighting from the main players followed by coming together for the greater good.
What makes Marvel’s The Avengers really work is how Joss and company manage to make the “standard” structure unique to the characters. Each of them has their own journey to take to become part of the team and none of them come off as slighted or pushed off into the scenery (well, maybe Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) a bit, but what can you do playing a mind controlled puppet for half the movie?). Weather it’s Iron Man having to get over his “doesn’t play well with others” mindset, learning self-sacrifice in the process, or Dr. Banner discovering there is a time and place to let the “other guy” out, there is a purpose to everything the characters are going through.
Being a big summer movie, there’s just as much spectacle as story. There are smaller bits of action, but two large scale battles really earn the summer blockbuster stamp of approval. By the time we get to the final act, you really believe these guys can save the world. There is so much going on, what with an alien army invading the planet, that you hardly have a moment to breathe. Probably the best hero moments come from the least likely of the group (if his previous movies are an indication), The Hulk. Every time he gets something done, it’s in a way that only The Hulk could have.
There was a lot of controversy when Mark Ruffalo was hired on to replace Edward Norton as Banner / Hulk. Many thought that it was disrespectful and unnecessary, but as much as I think Norton did a good job as Banner, Ruffalo nails it in a way that no one has before. He really shows his struggle, how he is constantly having suppress the “other guy” from coming out. When he finally lets loose, it’s not comical or cheesy, but more of a “HOLY $#&%” kind of moment. He really steals the show, which when you’re in a movie with Robert Downey Jr. as tony Stark, that’s really saying something.
So it wasn’t the failure it could have been. Rather, it’s arguably the most exciting and entertaining movie of the year. Joss wrote and directed a movie that is true to its characters while not making it inaccessible to the non-fanboy mindset. The cast all work so perfectly together, not only as their super hero action selves, but as their “stand around the airship arguing” selves as well. The dialogue is quick and sharp (thanks, Joss!) and the action is thrilling. If you’d taken a poll a year ago asking what the biggest movie of 2012 would be, The Dark Knight Rises probably would have come out ahead. Take that same poll today, and you’ll be hard pressed to get any answer other than Marvel’s The Avengers.
For those of you that skip to the end of a review just for a quick summary, here you go:
Act 1: Quite a bit of exposition here.
Act 2: Ooooh, it’s picking up quite a bit now.
Act 3: HOLY $#@& DON’T LET THIS EVER END!