REVIEW: The Avengers (Second Opinion)
Monday, May 07 2012 - Reviews - by: jared_cm
The Avengers is a game-changer. This phrase has been getting tossed around a lot the last few days...the last few weeks really...but it’s true. Not only in how superhero movies can be made, but in how studios can create worlds. Marvel Studios has shown us that prequels don’t have to come out after the fact. You can tell origin stories (and tell them well) and then not have to tell them again down the road when you want to do other things with these characters. The Avengers has also (at least for me) renewed faith in the summer blockbuster. Is it a perfect movie? Of course not, but it may very well be the perfect superhero movie.
I think the greatest strength of The Avengers is that it doesn’t waste time retelling everyone on the team’s origins. They assume (and probably correctly for the most part) that you’ve seen the lead-up movies. They assume you know these characters, so why rehash what we already know when we could just be moving forward? The first third or so of the movie does do a little bit of a recap of where the team members are now, but it’s all occuring after their original movies. So we get a little ‘where are they now?’ but then immediately jump into the meat of the story.
Basically the story is kind of a direct continuation of Thor (and on a longer timeline, Captain America) in that Loki, Thor’s half-brother, obtains the tesseract, a cube with seemingly unlimited unlimited potential energy, to allow an alien army to invade and destroy the Earth. Nick Fury, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., decides to put his ‘Avengers Initiative’ into action and calls on the heroes Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Captain America, and Bruce Banner to stop this from happening. The second act of the film is trying to wrangle all the egos and various hang-ups of the team members and trying to get them to work together, all while Loki is obviously trying to manipulate them and turn them against each other. If you’re a fan of writer/director Joss Whedon, then you know that angsty smart-ass arguing is his forte, so this dynamic of the team tossing quips back and forth at each other to rile each other up is just superbly done. Also if you’re a fan of Whedon’s, you know his propensity for abruptly killing fan-favorite characters. I’m not mean enough to spoil who I’m talking about here, but it provides the ‘shit just got real’ moment to push the team into finally working together.
The final third of the movie is the battle for Earth (of course taking place in New York), and to use a term that I hate, it is epic. It’s something we haven’t seen before. A huge, long action sequence on a massive scale, fought by a large number of characters, and it stays interesting. It’s SO easy for such a huge battle sequence to get tired, or just turn to visual mush (much like the end battles of the three Transformers movies), but everything is so well paced and so well choreographed, that it really keeps you on the edge of your seat for a good 40 minutes or so. There’s one brilliant sequence where the camera will be on, say, Hulk smashing some baddies, when Iron Man flies in to help and flies off, and the camera follows Iron Man until he gets to Black Widow and Hawkeye fighting when the camera stays on them until Captain America hops in and runs off, and we follow him. I’m paraphrasing the order of the shot obviously, but the point is that it all flows together so well, and you keep not only a better sense of geography that way, but a sense of teamwork. It’s incredible.
Another thing that was really impressive to me about the movie was that with most team-up type movies like this, it ends up being one character’s story, and the other team members are little more than cameos (look at the X-Men movies. The Avengers movie is about the Avengers as a whole, and follows them all equally as they struggle to work together and then finally make it click. That being said, the Hulk really does kind of steal the show. Not because the focus is on him, but just because they finally got him right. I was a little iffy on casting Mark Ruffalo, just because he hasn’t really impressed me much since Zodiac 5 years ago, but he was fantastic as Bruce Banner. And the decision to actually model the Hulk itself after him and have him do performance capture really made it come to life better than it has in previous movies.
It’s funny, while I personally enjoyed all the lead-up movies to this one and I figured this would obviously be pretty fun at the very least, I couldn’t have anticipated how great it would really be (and I’m not even really a Marvel guy). Nerds everywhere rejoiced when Joss Whedon was announced not only as writer for this undertaking, but also as director, and he absolutely delivered. He reined himself in at just the right places and didn’t get too overly clever (as he tends to do with his dialogue) and paced the action and drama and humor (there are parts that are downright hilarious) expertly. Of course there are a few cheesy moments, and maybe the motivations of a couple of the characters aren’t fully explained (mainly the incredibly vague Black Widow), but when you’re having that much fun, it’s easy to let that stuff go.
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