Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Warlock's Review: "Marvel's The Avengers"

Let me put this out there:  I've been waiting for this movie for almost the entirety of my adult life.  I started reading comics back when I was in 3rd grade, after I'd picked up the late-Silver and early-Bronze Age comics left behind at my grandparents by my Uncle Ron.  I threw myself into them anytime I was there, reading about Spider-Man's adventures in trying to find the true identity of his parents, of T.O. Morrow's victory over the Justice League, and of the Fantastic Four's journey into the Negative Zone to save Sue Storm's life while she was in childbirth.

But out of Uncle Ron's stacks, he only ever had one issue of Marvel's iconic team:  The Avengers.  Reading that book was like reading a tantalizing preview of all the things that could be--the idea of a group of conflicted, bickering heroes coming together for a greater good, to face those foes that no hero could face alone.  It was unfathomable!  It was amazing!  It was...a teaser for all those things that could be out there.  And, truly, there was!  I started watching the "Marvel Action Hour" on CBS, and the spectacular Spider-Man and X-Men series which aired on Fox.

Marvel's greatest gamble:
The Avengers
When Iron Man came out in 2008, the world of geekdom nearly imploded with a few simple words.  An eye-patch clad Samuel L. Jackson ignited our imaginations, telling Tony Stark that he'd "come to talk about the Avengers Initiative."  Since then, Marvel Studios had begun preparing for something totally unprecedented:  a gestalt universe of films which would eventually combine into a crossover that would shake the fundamental concept of what it meant to be a "superhero movie".  It was ambitious, it was foolhardy...and it was unheard of.

Needless to say, I was nervous.  While Jon Favreau's Iron Man films were spectacular and Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk were all quality films, blending their various idiosyncracies would prove a monumental task, despite the scaffolding made throughout each film.  When geek-icon Joss Whedon was brought aboard as writer-director, I grew apprehensive.  While Whedon was well versed in comics, having spent quite a bit of time on "Astonishing X-Men". 

And that's where we emerged this week.  The build-up for Avengers was one for the ages and, of course, one we couldn't resist, as the JourneymanGM, FridayNightWill, Chris2, GeoMike, the PlatinumChick and I headed off to Fairborn for a 3D showing.

In a word?  Brilliant!  (And, at this point, the spoilers begin--turn away, if you fear!)

The storyline of Avengers is simple enough:  Tom Hiddleston's Loki has emerged from Asgard with the help of some mysterious benefactors (who are spoiled brilliantly in the credits!) in search of the Tesseract--the Cosmic Cube used by the Red Skull during Captain America: The First Avenger.  Loki seeks dominion over the Earth and Nick Fury's SHIELD command stands in his way.

The film opens with a literal bang, as Loki's theft leaves the SHIELD facility crumbling and the action split between Nick Fury's escape and Maria Hill's pursuit of Loki through a series of underground tunnels.  Cobie Smulders (of How I Met Your Mother fame) brings the right attitude to the role of the all-business Maria Hill, but outside of this opening action scene, she doesn't have much to do.  Word is that just under an hour of footage was cut for the final version of The Avengers, so hopefully she'll see more screen time in the DVD/BluRay cut.

From there, the titular Avengers begin assembling.  Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) heads to India to collect Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Nick Fury pulls Captain America (Chris Evans) out of proverbial mothballs, and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to Stark Tower to recruit Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).  However, the bonds bringing these heroes together begin cracking in the second act, providing internal conflict that must be conquered before the external threat of invasion.

What really struck me was the level of characterization given to each of the Avengers.  Whedon somehow manages to find time for unique pairings and groupings of the heroes to act together, using their natural charisma to fuel the conflict and charm that makes the film work on so many levels.  While I had no doubts about Robert Downey Jr.'s ability to bring Tony Stark's snark and self-obsession to the table, real surprises emerged from Ruffalo and Johanson.  Black Widow really didn't have much to work with in Iron Man 2, so seeing her really come into her own as a deadly martial artist and manipulative spy was really a treat.  Similarly, Mark Ruffalo's treatment of Bruce Banner brought a lot of humor and humanity to a role that typically reeks of melodrama and inhuman rage.  Plus, the script really calls upon Banner's ability as a scientist, which gives him some great scenes with Stark and with Steve Rogers.

Black Widow flees from
the rampaging Hulk!
Whedon strikes a great balance between scenes of characterization and utter action, and isn't afraid to keep his foot on the gas in either case.  A scene between Loki and Black Widow in the second act brings back echoes of Silence of the Lambs, while the Hulk's rampage through the SHIELD Helicarrier brings with it real echoes of fear from Johanson and even Chris Hemworth's Thor. 

It's because of this that my favorite scene in the movie isn't one of the action scenes, or even a conversation.  The second of two post-credits scenes--the first, setting up a cosmic-level sequel!--has our heroes, exhausted and battered, sitting down at a meal together in a shwarma joint, referenced earlier in the movie.  This scene of camaraderie, of togetherness despite differences, despite toil, despite conflict, really shows all the things that makes The Avengers great.  And what's better?  It's wordless.  No dialogue, no witty repartee necessary.  It's just a matter of cinematographic perfection.

The Avengers, assembled!
A payoff for 60 years of comics
and 5 long years of incredible films!
The third act of The Avengers provides a beyond-suitable climax, with action scenes streaming from character to character in a free-flowing melee.  Iron Man bounces repulsors off of Captain America's shield, while Thor calls down streams of lightning and Hawkeye snipes at Chitauri warriors from the rooftops.  Reminiscent of recent issues of Bendis' Mighty Avengers, the film looks like a comic-book brought to life, more than any other film in history.  Depicting the medium as it is, The Avengers scores on all fronts.

Really, I have but few nitpicks about this movie.  Early on, Hawkeye is mind-controlled by Loki, which stunts his depth of character in the second and third acts, in comparison to the depth provided by his foil, Black Widow.  Thor suffers from the same issue, though not to the same degree, as the development built in his own movie provides relationships for Hemworth's ability.  We never really get a good look at the Chitauri, though they're meant to be faceless, alien troops, led only by the charismatic Hiddleston. 

But, all these are minor quibbles.  The Avengers provides the greatest, most true-to-the-medium comic-book movie experience ever seen in a theater.  After 5 years of build-up and anticipation, Marvel Studios has pulled off the impossible:  a gestalt film linking their films together in a manner never before seen.  See this movie.  See it multiple times, even.  This one changes everything. 

See it, revel in it, and enjoy it!


  1. WoWSonya7:03 PM

    I only have one real nitpick about the movie, and it really has more to do with the casting than anything else. I would have really liked to have seen Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. Other than that, the movie was brilliant.

    Now I'm going to have to start reading comic books. My hobby time is quickly filling up. Between Warhammer 40K, WoW, and starting up a 4th ed. D&D game with my local pals (Tiefling Warlord), I'm not sure when I'm going to find time to sleep!

    1. WoWSonya7:06 PM

      And of course I mean that I would like to have seen Edward Norton as Bruce Banner..again. I know he played the character in the good Hulk movie (not that god awful one by Ang Lee).

  2. Y'know, I really didn't care for Norton's version of Banner. I found it hard to take him seriously as a scientist or as someone who was on the verge of losing control. Truth be told--every time I saw him, I kept seeing his character from "Death to Smoochy".

    Conversely, I really liked the wit that Mark Ruffalo brought to the part. His scenes with RDJ were just golden, and he really brought the gravitas as a man who's "THAT close" to losing control and ripping up everything.

  3. WoWSonya9:52 PM

    Oh, I'm not saying that Ruffalo didn't do a great job. I'm just kinda particular about actors reprising roles. To this day one of my biggest disappointments with the Queen of the Damned follow-up to The Interview with the Vampire (other than Anne Rice NOT writing the script), is that they weren't able to get Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt back for the roles of Lestat and Louie. That just kills it for me a little.

    That and Mark Ruffalo looked a little too much like Jeff Goldblum to me. I don't know why. >.>

  4. From what I understand, Norton had major issues with the Marvel creative team during "The Incredible Hulk", and asked for a significantly larger fee than the rest of the Avengers cast, after his movie did the poorest of the 5 lead-in films.

    With all that, it's really no surprise that he was replaced.