Review: THE AVENEGERS 2D (plus 3D viewing revisions) (LITE SPOILERS)
In a highly ambitious move, MARVEL STUDIOS set out to connect five individual superhero films to form one colossal superhero film called THE AVENGERS. This would be unprecedented and undoubtedly an historical moment in the genre of comicbook films. Helmed by director Joss Whedon and opening this weekend, I review MARVEL’S biggest film.
Lord Baggins goes in on MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS. The EPIC review.
Wondering why such an important film would be handed over to a man best known for television and a single feature film (released seven years ago), I was skeptical about the choice. And after seeing the Avengers on opening day, I can honestly say he did a good job. There’s some choppy pacing in one of the early sequences, but most if not all the “glitches” are too insignificant to derail or distract from the overall picture. The dialogue for the most part is good and well executed by the actors who all do a decent job with their characters. The humor is quick, witty and hitting more than missing. For the amount of constant one-liners and quips coming in, it is amazing that duds are kept to a strict minimum. And if anyone told you that each character gets his or her individual shine, it’s an understatement. The film manages to capture everyone’s story, showcase their individual attributes and display them interacting with each other.
The film is over two hours long, so the build up to the finale may have me squirming anxiously during my inevitable second viewing. But there are some great moments along the way; crowd pleasing moments that remind me of why I like going to the movies; the fun and excitement of the blockbuster experience. Whedon's Avengers is a comicbook film in a very literal way. It’s like he peeled the frames right out of a comicbook, accessed the wet dreams of a geek’s imagination and put them on screen. The best part of the visual splendor is that it isn’t a SUCKER PUNCH. The glue that holds the action together has more substance than the average action/adventure movie likes to offer.
Whedon pulls off an element that is rarely conveyed properly in the genre; a palpable sense of threat- though the weight doesn’t come from the threat itself, but rather the teams reactions and emotional response to the threat. The motives and story in general are simple here, but the drama and weight given to the impending threat creates an urgency that many adventure films and CBMs’ fail to express. You're not merely told to be worried about what’s coming, but you can sense the importance and concern through the characters.
When an alien invasion is tearing the city apart and THOR asks Loki to end it, he replies with genuine concern that the invasion can’t be stopped. Weather Loki is having second thoughts or just mocking sincerity, one thing is for certain; the shit is hitting the fan. Bringing weight to the threat is even more impressive considering that the invaders themselves are faceless, nameless, expendable figures to be cut down like BattleDroids. They are here primarily to give the heroes some kick-ass moments. And they provide much ass.
There’s non-action, dialogue-driven scenes in the movie that don’t threaten to bore the audience. This can be attributed to the humor in the dialogue which is sprinkled throughout the film. Such scenes include Fury having words with a caged Loki, or a group scene where the team is taking heated swipes at one another. Whedon has directed the cast nicely and I can only see improvement with a few more feature films under his belt. His Avengers, for me, unfolds like a film directed by a student of JJ Abrams. I see much potential here. At this point it seems mandatory that he direct the inevitable Avengers sequel.
Some of the scenes do play out like that of a TV show at times. But you can attribute an enhancement of that quality to a generic score such as the one played during an escape scene where Black Widow defeats enemies while tied to a chair. Still, not enough to overshadow the films good points.
Loki has made a deal with the villains of the cosmos; trading the cube for rule over the Earth. He holds private council with a hooded figure that resembles a cross between Emperor Palpatine and the hideous Mouth of Sauron. The dialogue and execution of these meetings are pretty cheesy, including the visual settings which give them an outdated look and feel- like watching SPAWN or MASTERS of the UNIVERSE. The mysterious being conspires with Loki while skulking around rocks in a setting that looks like they’re on the set of the original Lost in Space. But don’t worry; look at it as pure comicbook cheese and theatrics. It’s right off the panel of a comic page. The highlight of this: Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki is refreshingly consistent with the Branagh directed THOR. And you get the sense that whatever deal Loki has made, it’s one that is not fully stable. So you have an added element of intrigue.
Once Loki arrives at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters by way of the Cosmic Cube/The Tesseract, an awkwardly paced action sequence ensues where Loki uses his Gem staff to disintegrate people and/or tap them on the chest with it to make them his bitch. This is one of the few times I felt like the execution of the action seemed off.
The Black Widow chair-attack scene didn’t come off as top notch as other action sequences. Whedon gives us a combination of superhero one on ones’ and two against ones’.
THOR vs HULK: is the highlight of the film basically.
The Review: Characters
When I first saw Iron Man 2, I was mesmerized the second Scarlett Johansson graced the screen and every consecutive appearance afterwards. Fast forward to Avengers and Johansson is less hot, but a little more developed as a character here.
Renner is definitely in his element as Clint Barton. Under the control of Loki (One of the dumb things about the film), we get to see Hawkeye in infiltration mode. We also get to see him in a fist fight with Black Widow (mostly getting beat up).
With Iron Man 2, I became convinced that director Jon Favreau didn’t bother to direct Sam Jackson as Nicky Fury and just let Jackson play the part however he wanted- which, to me, looked sloppy. He delivered his lines with boredom and exuded lazy body language. He just didn’t seem like the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. He did however embody, the director of S.H.A.F.T. But here, in the Avengers, Whedon appears to be taking care of the character portrayals/performances. This time around, Nick Fury has a leadership presence. He conveys concern, determination and emotion when presented with the situations rising around him. It’s not a Shakespearean role, but he wasn’t allowed to phone in his performance thus giving the character a little more impact.
Coulson continues to be Coulson, with an added characteristic in being a fan of Steve Rogers. A small inclusion, but this element expands his character. Was losing him pivotal, emotional? Well, for me, not really. Coulson’s demise is built from a non-shock formula. There is a narrative need to sacrifice a character to heighten the stakes of a story. But in this case, Coulson is the EXACT person to go, so there’s little surprise to it. Maria Hill is a newcomer, and her death would have zero impact on the audience. All other Avengers are too important to be sacrificed. So, Coulson is just right. He’s a main character, but has just enough expendability to get the red-shirt. The best part of his death is the motivational trick Fury pulls with a deck of Captain America trading cards to boost morale. But it only half gets the job done of its original intent, which was an eventful and emotional loss and shock. Or at least that’s what I felt they were going for. Peace out.
I'm not familiar with Mark Ruffulo’s work, but felt immediately that he didn’t look the part. Then they said they were going to make the HULK look like this guy; hairy chest, five –o-clock shadow, stocky build and all. I think what makes the Banner/HULK duality work poetically is when Banner is portrayed as a timid and small guy. Ruffalo looks capable of holding onto his lunch money.
This version of Banner is a bit more sure of himself than previous movie versions- cocky even, yet still maintaining a level of meekness. But once I saw Ruffalo’s Banner in conjunction with the Ruffalo HULK, I saw that the formula worked. Instead of it feeling like two completely different characters, the HULK and Banner are now one. It’s a new approach on a few accounts but the essence of comic HULK is intact. Most noteworthy to the newness is his ability to HULK out on the spot. Convenient, I know.
This version is apparently a more hero-oriented version of HULK which is a refreshing change of pace from the pursued monster angle that has been presented previously. He doesn’t look as scary as the The Incredible HULK design (which works better here), but once he’s hot on the heels of Black Widow, you’re fearing for her life and shuddering at the thought of being in that situation. Not surprisingly, he is rendered with the best CGI we have seen since his big screen debut in Ang Lee’s boring “HULK” and 2008’s MARVEL studios Incredible Hulk.
There are hints, sparks, of Cap's strong jawed leadership persona. But ultimately (no pun intended), he never reaches the point of a standout and dominate presence. This may be for two reasons or a combination of both. 1: The film doesn't openly push a leader figure further than Nick Fury, although Cap is obviously positioned as the guy you'd pick if asked. 2: Cap is still new and the Avengers movie is an extension of his origin story. He's still an everyman searching for his place and strengths in all of this. Either way, Evan's Captain America is likable, even if he's not exactly the fierce figure with the cold stare we see in the comics. Likable is always the next best thing to any deviation.
I'm not sure if Cap will continue to be in this state of learning and self discovery, but I think the next time we see him he should be solidified in a more confident and commanding state. Some of the highlights of the film consist of Cap giving directives and we WANT to see him step up. So, I hope to see him finally become Captain America in his next film. At the moment, he's still portrayed as an origin character that’s still coming into his own.
At some point during Iron Man 2, about the time Stark says "Taste like coconut and metal", I started to wonder how far they would push Stark as a clown. I'm fully aware that the character is a smartass playboy, but I was hoping the character would mature into a more responsible and serious hero with sharper quips. Less clown more badass.
I was prepared for Stark to be the Avengers JarJar Binks (More prequel refs on the way). Then came the IRON MAN IN THE FRONT WITH NO HELMET marketing that raised the question of the film being the Tony Stark show. But I'm happy to report that I don't remember Iron Man doing too much without his helmet or being an overbearing figure in the film. Stark is not the clown here. He has jokes, but better jokes and a more subtle delivery. He's more focused and at one point, seemed genuinely fierce when getting heated during a conversation with Loki. Iron Man in this film has reignited my interest in RDJ playing the character and seeing something new from him.
I am a big fan of Hemsworth’s THOR. And here, the handling of characters continues to be good. Well acted, consistent with his solo film and awesome fight scenes with Iron Man, HULK and Loki. And while THOR bouncing off Cap’s shield is visually stunning, it raises a few geek questions- none of which the casual viewer will care about.
I appreciate continuity and there’s a nice visual reference to Jane Foster which displays Natalie Portman still in the role. But it seems like a small consolation when you consider the way THOR’s return was handled; with a throwaway explanation to what was a major plot point in the THOR film. At the end of THOR, it appears almost hopeless or at least taking great measure to get him back to Earth. He shows up with little signs of great effort in the Avenegers. But when you get passed that, you can focus on the awesomeness of his introduction. I clapped like a groupie.
Hiddleston is consistent as the God of Mischief. But he's not as good as he was in THOR. Far from it. Here, he lacks the passion, motivation and depth of the THOR installment. By I don't think Whedon was going for drama in this certified Popcorn Flick.
Aided by mysterious associates, bringing an army upon Earth is Loki's plan. And at one moment, it almost looks like he’s going to pull it off. That is until, Tony Stark performs his most heroic act since the saga started and sacrifices himself to destroy the invaders mother-ship- which, once blown up comes with the cliché of killing the foot soldiers. You could say the premise is similar to Independence Day, but it’s all Phantom Menace. Couple this loss with a violent beat down and Loki is ready to submit. But it’s a decent ride along the way. Hiddleston looks to be having fun.
The Avengers is a fun film, an entertaining film. There is humor, comicbook style action and a small bit of drama. The story is simple and it’s pretty much a basic foundation to pour action and spectacle over. I’m not sure if I think Avengers is MARVEL studios best film, but it’s definitely the biggest. I’m going to see it again today.
Iron Man calls Hawkeye Legolas. =)
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