Friday, May 4, 2012

The Avengers Review

(3 and ½ out of 5 Stars) TRADITIONALLY, THE SUMMER MOVIE SEASON DOESN’T START until the beginning of June, but according to The Avengers, it starts not even a whole week into May. The Avengers takes advantage of its early release date, staying out of the summer heat so as to make as much money as possible. Without the threat of Men in Black 3, The Bourne Legacy, and Snow White and the Huntsman or rival superhero epics The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman, the film, a la The Hunger Games, is bound to make money in a period starved of commercial hits. The movie has already been breaking records internationally- of course American fans are ticked off that they’re the very last to see the film, but international markets have been a tester for Marvel- not that they need it.

Domestic numbers are the biggest market for films, and the projections already track it to be the biggest domestic opening of all time with $170 million, which would beat the last Harry Potter film by less than one million dollars not even a full year after its theatrical release. The film has been receiving massive pre-release hype. The individual Marvel superhero installments, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and even the last Hulk installment- they’ve all been part of the studio’s plan to get as much of an audience as possible. Therefore is someone doesn’t like Captain America but likes Thor, they’ve got built in fanbases. The film is nothing but a cash cow, but does that mean it can’t be a good one?

The Avengers chronicles the efforts of the government project S.H.I.E.L.D’s efforts to successfully form a team of superhumans that would be able to save the world for superhuman evils shall those evils present themselves. One such crisis arises just as the one-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) begins to assemble The Avengers. Loki, the evil adoptive son of Odin, steals the Tesseract, a magical cube of another dimension containing unimaginable alien energy that is the key to multiple universes, making it, of course, the uber-desired object of the movie (FYI: Thor is pretty much the only one of the Marvel movies you need to see to understand the feature). Meanwhile, Fury and Black Widow scour the earth to find Genius/Narcissist/Scientist Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Christ Evans, who manages to have suddenly gone from The Human Torch to Captain America…), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth).

The group can’t stop the forces of the Tesseract yet- as conflict arises, Tony Stark/Iron Man is at constant odds with Captain America. He is also at odds with Thor, basically pissing off everyone present except Hulk, who being a brilliant doctor with anger management issues instantly gains Stark’s respect. The addition of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) presents a new challenge, being under the enemy’s mind control. After one battle after another leads up to the inevitable central confrontation in New York City, the group must learn to work together to save the mortal world has against the evils of the rest of the universe- and if they can’t save it, then they’ll at least have to avenger it. 

Let me just start by saying this: I think this movie is ridiculously overrated. I have seen more than one fanboy cry stating this is “The best superhero movie ever!” in addition to a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, 1% below The Dark Knight. Indeed, a grievous overstatement. Strip down the impressive special effects and A-List actors and your storyline is the basic plot for Disney’s Avengers Saturday morning cartoon. That said, I liked it. I don’t think it’ll go down in history with The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, or the Marlon Brando Superman films (at least not reputation-wise; you can bet it’ll be shattering some of those commercial records), but it’s still a fun, well-acted summer blockbuster that does justice to its characters’ comic book mythology while also pleasing the medium. Its greatest feat is arguably its surprisingly swift pace- it towers at nearly two and a half hours but capture’s the audience’s attention the whole time. I applaud director Joss Wheedon on this one. He covers all his bases in every way that can be expected, infusing the subplots of the central characters into the film and letting the character’s individual conflicts follow them the entire way. Thor’s conflict with his brother, Hulk’s with his anger- he makes this as much as a morality tale as it is an action flick and he does a great job of keeping it breezy while thoughtful. I was really excited to see Hawkeye be more prominent, but he barely gets two lines (“You remember Budapest a lot different than I do” being one of them).

I did have a few qualms. Joss Wheedon structures the film superbly, but I found the meat of it decidedly lacking. The problems that arise were inevitable; since there are so many characters in the story it’s impossible to give each hero the proper time they deserve. Audiences haven’t seen a Hulk movie in years, and as he’s the least present it makes us wish for him more. Wheedon searched for something to keep the audience’s attention amidst the action- I liked the idea of conflict between the characters, but their bickering gets tedious after a while. Their conflict never seemed to have a foundation solid enough that made it believable that that’s what was stopping them from saving humanity. My only problem with the script was that it sounds like some lines were written just to get included in the trailer- Stark’s wit is more annoying than appealing it was in the Iron Man films and some of the humor seems misplaced, some lines also sounding a tad pretentious. My favorite performances were from Ruffalo and Johansson, who made the dialogue more believable.

The special effects are, obviously, the most impressive thing in the film. The set pieces are spectacular, from the collapse of the training center in the first five minutes to the explosion of the plane to the demolition of New York City at the end. It’s action-packed with one battle after another, the fight scenes crisp and well-shot. Credit goes to production designer James Chinlund who elaborately sets the entire film.

The Avengers is definitely as good as anyone had the right to expect. It may lack the profundity, atmosphere, and edge that made the best superhero films, but it’s fun, action packed, solid popcorn- movie escapism that pays tribute to classic comic-book movies with modern cinematic flare. 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

My Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars Rating: 93% 68 out of 100 8.8 out of 10 Stars 
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense 
sequences of sci-fi violence and action
throughout, and a mild drug reference.

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