The Avengers Movie Review. My Nerdspective.
“The Avengers”, Marvel Studios big budget gamble, tying 5 other tent pole films, has finally arrived, and the geekometer for this film is off the charts.
When Marvel announced several years back that they were starting their own studio to have more creative control over their characters, it was a major gamble, but it’s paid off handsomely. “Iron Man” was a blockbuster hit with a succesful sequel, and “Thor” and “Captain America” were solid if not record-breaking flicks. The only film that performed below expectations was “The Incredible Hulk” but it still broke even.
Marvel has been at the Superhero film apex for over 13 years now, with very few commercial duds. Creatively, it’s been more mixed. For every film that’s great (“X-2- X-Men United”, “X-Men 1st class”, “Spider Man” 1 and 2″, and “Iron Man”), and good (“Thor”, “Captain America”), there’s the meh (“Iron Man 2”, both “Hulks”, “The Punisher”),and awful (both “Fantastic 4’s”, “X-Men 3”, “Spider-Man 3” & “Daredevil”).
But none would prove a bigger gamble than ‘The Avengers’. Comic book junkie expectations were high, but also fraught with anxiety. Anything juggling so many plates and moving parts could be destined for failure, and Joss Whedon, while a fanboy favorite, hadn’t tackled anything so herculean in size and scope in his career.
So how did it pan out?
What the film gets right, it really gets right, and that’s the textbook Marvel comics plot point; Superheroes meet for the 1st time, intensely dislike and fight amongst each other, but finally put aside their differences and gel as a team against a threatening force. Whedon seems as adept as Bryan Singer (director of “X-men” and X-2″) at juggling multiple characters without things feeling overstuffed or rushed. That’s no mean feat, and he deserves great credit.
I can only imagine seeing ‘The Avengers’ when I was at the height of my comic book immersion in my grade school years. My grandmother worked at a book store and when she came to visit she brought huge boxes filled with as many comic books as she could carry. She fed my addiction and oh how I loved her for that, among countless other reasons.
I was 6 years old when ‘Star Wars’ came out. It was the touchstone for my generation, opening our imagination with the combination of mythology and technology. But for whatever reason Hollywood couldn’t do the same for super-hero films, with the exception of “Superman”. They couldn’t work out all the technical bugs, so instead we got shows like “The Incredible Hulk” and made for tv films like “Spider Man” and “Captain America”. I still have fondness for the Hulk series, but the rest was pretty wretched in retrospect. So a film like ‘The Avengers’ is the ultimate in wish-fulfillment. A bunch of major superheroes sharing the screen.
The casting really helps cement the chemistry, Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johanson and Jeremy Renner make what could be a terribly cheesy exercise (okay there’s still a bit of cheese, but it’s palatable) believable, and Mark Ruffalo is a good choice for Bruce Banner. After 2 failed films, they finally give the Hulk his time to shine and he steals the show. Whether fighting his teammates, or the alien hordes, they let him rip in all his glory in a very satisfying way. “Hulk Smash” indeed.
On the minus side, the biggest fault with the Avengers lies with the villain; Loki, for my money, has never been a threatening force (no blame on Tom Middleton, he gives a fine performance with what he’s given) either cinematically or in the comics. I’d prefer to see a arch-nemesis like Ultron, or the villain they have lined up for part 2 (he’s in the 1st of 2 hidden scenes after the credits, I’m not telling). And the alien army, while interesting to look at, don’t have much personality. How they aligned and formed their battle strategy seemed a little hokey to me.
I also want to put my foot down on a conceit used in so many super-hero films that makes me cringe every time, and that’s any scene of the huddled masses either recoiling in fear from super-villains or gushing over their super-hero saviors. I can’t pinpoint why, but it’s off-putting and The Avengers has a bit too much of it. (Although “Spider-Man” remains the worst offender; remember “When you mess with Spidey you mess with New York!”? Blechh). And when Loki commands humankind to kneel, it seems a little General Zod-lite for my tastes.
But boy oh boy, does this film have some great set-pieces. The huge fight on the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier, replete with explosions, Thor plummeting to his doom, a Hulk rage-a-thon and more, is a particular standout, along with the big throw down at the series climax which has played prominently in the trailers.
Whedon’s other accomplishment and one that makes ‘The Avengers” most memorable, is his use of humor. When Iron Man refers to Thor as “Point Break” or “Shakespeare in the park” he’s doing the great art of mocking what makes super-heroes cheesy thereby helping give them legitimacy. There’s a ton of great one-liners in this film, and Downey Jr. is of course naturally adept for delivering the majority. Thor and Iron Man’s first meetup is another standout moment. You can tell they were having fun giving each other a hard time.
Captain America is always the hardest character to modernize. He is an anachronism from another era, where things were far more clear cut in politics and warfare, but he’s used here to good effect, and minimum embarrassment. I have to say I don’t like his new costume too much; I really loved the textured worn version from his earlier film.
Samuel L. Jackson gives a typically phoned in performance while still being badass. How can he get away with that? He just does.
And even side characters like Scarlett Johanson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye have good scenes which help define them and give them purpose, and doesn’t feel like filler.
All in all I found this film very enjoyable and consider it a successful comics to film translation. If they keep the same creative team, I think part 2 could go even farther, and hopefully introduce some more Avengers characters like “The Vision” , my personal favorite.
What remains to be seen, is how this bodes for the future of Marvel films and comic-book movies in general. Will audiences still line up for “Iron Man 3” and “Thor 2” when they can save their $ for seeing all the superheroes again for the price of one ticket? Can there be anywhere to go from here to keep this genre fresh, or is this the ultimate geek orgasm and it’s all downhill from here?
And I find it weird that there’s still the annoying Marvel Comics vs DC Comics fan debates about who has the better film. Look at Harry Knowles film review where he takes this dig at the Dark Knight Rises:
“Watching the latest DARK KNIGHT RISES trailer after having seen THE AVENGERS… it makes DARK KNIGHT RISES almost seem like a serious parody of the superhero film’s potential. Angsty, over-wrought and a profound lack of color. You couldn’t have two more different Comic Book franchises than Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and this Joss Whedon explosion of pure comic joy!”
I dont’ see what one has to do with the other. Marvel has made it clear they’re in the business of more upbeat, non-confrontational filmmaking (except for ‘The Punisher’), and DC (minus the stink fest that was “Green Lantern”) has been about the darker and more contemplative end of the spectrum with Nolan’s films and with “Watchmen”. Nolan is trying something new by giving us a super-hero as close to reality as possible. While I miss the more fantastical flourishes of Batman’s comic-book environment, this is a far more successful and satisfying film series than any of Burton or Schumacher’s massive misfires.
And as you can see by the comments on their message board, there’s a bunch of dorks engaging in the massive time waste of “My Superhero can beat up your Superhero”.
We shall see how this pans out commercially and critically between the 2 films when “Dark Knight Rises” comes out in July. Again, I’m not sure why this is worthy of debate, especially when “Prometheus” may own them both.
Stay tuned around then for future entries here about the best and worst comic book films of all time (I need to see TDKR before I can make an accurate list), as well as some other comic book related goodness.
But for now, go see the Avengers, and geek out. Don’t take it too seriously and you’ll have a great time….
Here’s some of the comic book movies highlighted in my review. Feel free to add to your collection by clicking on he image, which will take you over to Amazon.