Monday, May 07, 2012

Booksteve Reviews: The Avengers


I feel like I'm late to the party here what with trying to avoid so many AVENGERS reviews over the past week since it opened overseas. If anyone has yet to decide as to whether or not to see the film--and if anyone cares at all about my opinion--you're about to get it.

Readers  of my 1974 blog know that I saw more than 80 movies in theaters that year. For the past few years I have seen only one or two. The thing to remember is that in 1974 even a first run film could be seen for a dollar, at least at matinees. Nowadays, at ten dollars a ticket--and a family to take along--a movie is an investment. There have been very few new movies in any given year in the 21st Century in which I would care to invest that type of time and money.

Last year I saw THE GREEN HORNET and CAPTAIN AMERICA and that was it. This year there was very little doubt that we would see THE AVENGERS.

Let's get this out of the way right up front. I hate to be unoriginal but I have to add my voice to the many fans and reviewers who have called THE AVENGERS "the best superhero movie yet." Yes, even better than SUPERMAN...but not by much. 

Even at more than two hours, I found not a dull moment as the storyline built gradually through several set-piece scenes to an all-out action-filled finale. 

One of the best things about THE AVENGERS is that it is NOT an origin film. Well...in a way it's a team origin film but you know what I mean. As a comics fan, I didn't need in-depth recaps or flashbacks showing how the protagonists became special. I knew that and writer/director Joss Whedon, a fanboy himself, knew it, too. So when we meet Cap, he is already Cap, when we see Shellhead, he's already in Iron, etc...

By now used to the fact that Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury (who cameoed in most of the earlier Marvel movies in the Avengers sequence) is the cool black hero spy rather than the grizzled WWII veteran of the comics, we are thrust into a storyline without so much as a real opening credits sequence. It seems the Cosmic Cu...err...the "Tesseract" has been compromised by Loki, the trickster "God" seen previously in THOR. 

An obvious but not particularly interesting villain in the previous picture, Loki accidentally instigates the gathering of our little band of heroes. In the original comic book, he did the same albeit in a completely different way. Tom Hiddleston is much better here than in THOR, playing the role with a sometimes whiny, arrogant smugness.

One of the real tricks Whedon accomplishes well here is taking the large cast of characters and giving them an equitable amount of screen time. The plot itself is simplistic but that's okay. In any kind of action flick all you really need is a mcguffin. In this case, that's the Tesseract, stolen by the God of Deceit in the opening scene. 

Cap and Iron Man are brought together to help find it. The Black Widow brings in Bruce Banner and Thor eventually just shows up on his own. The last member of our intrepid band--and I may be wrong but I don't think he was referred to as anything other than Agent Barton and "The Hawk"--is mesmerized by Loki in the beginning and is a bad guy until near the end of the action.

As much as fans initially complained about Captain America's uniform in his own picture, the eventual consensus was that it worked. In this one, however, he's given what appears to be a lovely cosplay outfit which, in action, looks like it should have been shredded. 

It's one of the few missteps, though. Everyone else looks and carries themselves quite naturally, even Loki in a variation of his classic comics helmet long curved, overcompensating, horns. Speaking of Asgardians, Thor looks and acts more like the comic book Thunder God here than he did in his last outing, with Chris Hemsworth creating a much more ingratiating hero.

Chris Evans is stalwart and gets a number of good scenes, particularly one near the end that shows why Cap is a natural leader. Scarlet Johansson is much better than expected as the Black Widow and gets a truly fun introductory scene. Jeremy Renner, perhaps best known for playing cannibal killer Jeffrey Dahmer early in his career, is unceasingly intense as the archer/spy Hawkeye (whether or not he's called that). On the surface, the character seems pointless in a film of such heavy hitters and yet somehow, Renner won me over.

Mark Ruffalo is the best Bruce Banner yet, giving a nuanced performance in a film that really doesn't lend itself to that. His Hulk--the "Other Guy"--is a part of him and he knows it. The CGI Greenskin is fun in ways his own films never let him be. Again, one seemingly has to thank Whedon for at least part of that.

There's no doubt, though, that the star of this film is Robert Downey, Jr. Once proclaimed one of THE great actors of his generation and then a mere few years later all but written off as just another drug casualty, Downey has surprised all by not only pulling his act together but also by showing more of an effortless charisma than he ever had before. This is true in most of his recent films but his casting as Tony Stark/Iron Man is surprisingly apropos. The comic book Tony Stark had to deal with his personal demons, also, and came out as a real hero. Downey makes the guy inside the metal suit much more real and much more interesting than the hero. He also gets nearly all the best lines in a script filled with quotable lines.

THE AVENGERS is hardly a perfect movie but outside of CASABLANCA, what is? There are a  few plot holes and scenes that, if one thinks too hard about them, make no sense. The thing is, though, that the roller coaster ride gives you no time to think about these points until later. In a movie filled with speed and explosions, I cared about the script and I cared about the characters, comic booky though they were. After all, considering the source material, isn't that a good thing?

1 comment:

Martin Grams said...

I was wondering why they never referred to is as the Cosmic Cube. In CAPTAIN AMERICA, it was referred to as Odin's Cube.

I too am tired of origins repeating (Spiderman this year? Again???) but let's be honest. The mainstream audience that hasn't read comics like to see the origin. But this movie proves that origins are not needed.