Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Marvel's The Avengers Review

There is a new superhero in town and you won't see him until the credits roll. Of course, I'm talking about none other than director Joss Whedon. What an awe-inspiring spectacle he has created here! This movie is the stuff only the most gifted storyteller could pull off. Sure, he has fans, thanks to his successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly television shows, as well as the movie follow-up to Firefly, Serenity. Cult favorites, but hardly any motion picture industry recognition has been garnered from this writer/director. He certainly has never had this kind of budget or worked on a scale of this magnitude... but then who has? Well, he did produce last month's Cabin in the Woods, which also stared Chris Hemsworth (Thor), but that wasn't his story, per say. Marvel's The Avengers is a property (well, a multitude of properties) that could have gone horribly wrong or worse, could have been a mediocre big budget Hollywood machine project designed to have a huge opening weekend and bring in kids, who eat these kinds of movies up because they love to see their heroes on the screen, regardless of quality. Instead, Marvel has once again taken the high road, amounting to a duly deserved success. They hired the right director to make a movie for kids, comic book fans, and everyday people alike. This is the stuff we go to the movies for!

What really makes Marvel's The Avengers work most is the writing. Sure, there is a lot of intense action set-pieces, but there is so much clever dialog here that it gives you a sense of grounding in these characters. I like to say that well written characters are the glue that holds any story together. This was actually my biggest gripe about Cabin in the Woods: They found a clever way to write around flimsy characters, when I believe it should be the other way around. What Whedon was able to do here is take material from the actual comic book source and make that dialog understandable for the average moviegoer. Instead of dumbing it down like usual writers do, he put in elements of real humanity and humor to make the viewer relate to the source material. I haven't seen anything done quite like it since The Lord of the Rings movies. This movie though, had the audience on the edge of their seats through nearly the entire movie. You could feel the tension many times and there were moments where everyone erupted in laughter. It has true comic relief, the way it should always be. They took something that could be seen as corny, like a superhero and multiplied that times six. This movie was a risky proposition, but somehow Whedon made it feel more natural that these superheros actually exist than all of the other origin movies that these characters made up from. Again, it's because these are living, breathing characters. Even Stark's lady, Pepper Potts is much better here. They also had the heroes at odds with each other for the first two acts, with Tony Stark having beef with pretty much everyone but Bruce Banner, due to his ego and Banner's em, alter-ego. It was also a wise choice to make the threat level so severe that you would actually need all these guys together to save humanity.

The acting is also top-notch here. Robert Downey Jr steals the show as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and that should probably go without saying. As extremely well written as the characters are, I feel that Downey himself even topped his previous efforts as Stark. Maybe it was the result of competition in real life by the actors fighting for their moments to shine, but everybody in it is really good, besting their performances before, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Chris Evans (Cpt. America) included. Mark Ruffalo is so good as Bruce banner that you have to wish he were cast before. Jeremy Renner has relatively little screen time as Hawkeye, but he owns those moments. There are just too many to even list, even the returning cameo character of Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) fleshed out and is very well acted. Everybody except, um... well Scarlett Johansson is really nice to look at. I wouldn't go much farther than that except that she handled her action scenes very well. Sam Jackson is always best being Sam Jackson, and here he does it like only he can. As Nick Fury, it just works.

What is there to say about the action sequences but they are some of the best ever put on film, er digital data storage device, er whatever. There is a pacing and an editing rhythm that is so tight that you could bounce a quarter off of it. This is not something the average viewer will notice, but it is what keeps them interested and from getting bored during some over-explaining dialog scene that we have all seen before where you tend to zone out. I decided to see The Avengers in 3D and at the theater I saw it in, the 3D was rather amazing. The quality I got from my 3D showing was easily on par with the best so far, having elements of subtle depth in still camera interior shots that reminded me of Hugo, and action scenes that easily rivaled or bested even those in Avatar. Nice work! If you have reservations about 3D most of the time but still have decent depth perception, well this one is more worth it than 99% of other movies presented in 3D.

 Overall, this is a movie that fires on all cylinders. The Avengers is a movie that has everything going against it but manages to do everything it tries to accomplish with excellence. Although some would say that having all of these actors and characters together should be a win/win anyway, I would say that its potential for failure is greater than any movie ever made, especially combining all of these properties and their owners, and given the way that most studio suits make decisions that shouldn't get made. Probability says that this movie shouldn't have even been good, let alone great. There is almost too much for any mortal director to pull off, but out of nowhere comes a true superhero and his name is Joss Whedon. 

Overall: 10 (out of 10)

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