Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Avengers is just what you hoped it would be

The moment many people were waiting for happened yesterday when The Avengers was finally released worldwide. This can be seen by just how big the film has been for the box office. It's just busting on through, already hauling in $300 mill around the world (excluding the US). It's interesting though because while having Iron Man, Capt. America, Thor, and the Hulk in the same movie would draw in a wide amount of interest anyway, to make a bad film with all these characters would be unforgivable. Luckily, Marvel Studios knew this and brought someone in who can successfully write for characters with big personalities.

Joss Whedon, known primarily for his TV work, has quite the cult following. It's a rabid fanbase who defend Joss Whedon whenever they deem it necessary. I'm not quite as enamored with him primarily because he has never been involved with something that had really interested me before. I'm sorry but I could never get into the Firefly/Serenity thing. Still, my ears did perk up when I heard he was going to be writing and directing The Avengers movie. I knew he probably could do a good job writing the script, I was not expecting him to be able to handle the film from a cinematic perspective.

It's not that Joss Whedon has suddenly turned into a cinematic director, but he definitely can direct action. It's tough when you're dealing with a lot of things going on at once with big monsters and flying objects and everything's going haywire. It's easy to get lost in it all and everything could easily turn into one big clusterfuck. Kenneth Branagh, who directed the Thor movie, could not direct action. It just wasn't his strongsuit. Jon Favreau did ok with it, but I often found the big action finales in the Iron Man movies to be the weakest parts of those films.

The big action finale in The Avengers does not disappoint. Sure, it's set in midtown Manhattan and that's not exactly an original setting. I'm pretty sure the Chrysler Building has been blown up and/or taken apart in at least ten different movies in the past twenty years. Nevertheless, what was so exhilarating about the sequence was just how fluid it all felt. Joss Whedon was able to seamlessly switch from Iron Man to Thor to Capt. America to Hulk to Hawkeye... with no struggle whatsoever. He had total and complete grasp of every situation that was happening during the sequence and it made for a very thrilling watch.

Let's backtrack, however. Thor's brother Loki winds up on Earth, ready to enslave the human race and obtain possession of the Tesseract, which is a cube-shaped energy source with unknown potential. When Loki appears at SHIELD's facility and takes the Tesseract, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., decides he has no choice but to assemble the Avengers. Along with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), they ultimately manage to get every together relatively quickly.

The main highlight of the film, for me, was the interaction between these superheroes. The strength of all the Marvel movies has been how well-characterized each superhero has been (with the exception of Hawkeye who still really hasn't had a truly solo moment). Watching Tony Stark get into verbal spars with Steve Rogers, fighting with Thor, or bonding with Bruce Banner just made me smile.

In fact, I was smiling a lot throughout this movie, I couldn't help myself. Joss Whedon did such an excellent job with these characters that when they finally band together and fight together, it's completely satisfying. It also helped to see this movie with a large audience. How can you not cheer when Bruce Banner arrives in Manhattan to help the rest of the Avengers out, finally seeing him unleash the Hulk and use him for good. Each superhero gets their moment to shine.

What was most surprising to me was how good and fitting Loki was into all of this. While I still feel like he's a villain that can't quite hold his own, he was definitely way more menacing and badass than he was in Thor. I can do without his creepy smile, but his relentless bad behavior is exactly what the film needed. I still feel like it's a bit too obvious that Loki was outmatched compared to the Avengers. He definitely put up quite a fight and used a whole army to do so, but Loki simply isn't that clever of a villain. Brutal? Yes. But he was often outsmarted in the film, which you cannot blame him for, these are six brilliant superheroes. How can you really compete?

Tom Hiddleston definitely stepped his game up for this film and I have to commend him for how handled himself opposite such larger-than-life characters. Mark Ruffalo also did a great job filling in Edward Norton's shoes, maybe I'm a bit biased because I'm a Mark Ruffalo fan, but I thought he did just fine. Of course Downey, Hemsworth, and Chris Evans were just fine, feeling extremely comfortable in their roles. That's what has been so great about all these Marvel movies. Even though not all of them were slam dunks, you can definitely see the benefits of having nearly all the actors come back to reprise their roles. That Mark Ruffalo was able to fit right in with them was most impressive.

Lastly, Samuel L. Jackson was finally able to spread his wings a little bit as Nick Fury. After being stuck with bit parts and cameos in the other Marvel films, you got to really see who Nick Fury was. And while Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) were clearly at a disadvantage when it came to getting a lot of screen time, they definitely were able to hold their own when they were called upon.

Once again though, a lot of the credit has to go to Joss Whedon. A bad Avengers movie would've almost completely rendered all previous Marvel Universe movies completely useless. Everything that Marvel had been doing the past four years was leading to this and Whedon nailed it. While there is another big superhero movie this summer that's still to come, it's hard to imagine any other movie this year will be as purely fun to watch as The Avengers.

Grade: A

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