Sunday, May 06, 2012

Avengers, Assemble!

I'm a little bummed that I haven't had time to blog in a while, but I decide to make some time tonight to at least put up a quick review about a little movie that came out last week called The Avengers.

In case you've lived in a cave for a while, Marvel had this almost absurd plan that they were going to make individual films about each of the superheroes that are part of the team in the Marvel Universe known as Avengers who assemble in the comic book world when there's a really big threat. They were created in response to DC's Justice League and had a rotating cast of heroes/heroines, but the movie sticks with the most popular ones. The only members to not get their own films were Black Widow and Hawkeye, though they received cameos in Iron Man and Thor, respectively. The premise of this film is that Thor's brother, Loki, is trying to enslave humanity with the help of an alien army that enters the planet via a portal created by an extremely powerful cube called the Tesseract. Naturally, the Avengers reluctantly assemble to stop the threat.

I decided to see the movie at midnight on opening night, which was actually a lot more comfortable than I imagined it'd be, and I was shocked that this movie wasn't awful. Joss Whedon being on board made it seem pretty likely that it'd be a great film, but to take so many larger-than-life characters that bring a lot of backstory baggage from their own movies and put them together just seemed exceedingly difficult. Especially considering that these were the same actors (except for Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton as Bruce Banner) from each superhero's own film - there was no guarantee that they'd work well together. This movie worked on many levels though, and I think the main reason is the fact that this movie didn't take itself too seriously. In modern superhero films, these's a pretty clear dichotomy between films that really strive to exist in a grounded, real world (like The Dark Knight or Chronicle) and those that fully embrace the comic world without going overboard (like X-Men or Spider-Man). The Avengers falls in the latter category, and I think we should all be glad for that because it manages to appeal to the comic book fans with lots of subtle, inside jokes while still being accessible to mainstream audiences and building a storyline that everyone can get on board with. It doesn't try to adhere too strictly to the comics aside from the characters themselves, but rather it's a very creative take on what happens when you throw all these different elements together.

If you're expecting a groundbreaking film here, you're going to be disappointed. At its core, it follows a very standard formula. I don't see anything wrong with that though - it executes on this formula very well with the added benefit that there's no need for a prolonged backstory on the characters. It doesn't bother re-hashing what's happened in previous movies except very briefly giving you just enough so that you can still follow along. Sure, it slightly penalizes the people who haven't see the previous four films, but not nearly enough to keep you from seeing this one. I didn't see Thor or Captain America: The First Avenger and yet I didn't feel lost at all. In effect, it was refreshing that the movie could move at such a brisk pace keeping the audience really engaged with loads of humor and fight scenarios that geeks normally have to put a lot of brain power into daydreaming about. The humor really is pretty impressive - subtle, dry, and timed very well.

The acting is as solid as you'd expect. Nick Fury is Sam Jackson, so it makes sense that he'd do the character justice and obviously plays a much bigger role in this film than any of the previous ones. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with Scarlett Johansson - I think the screenplay didn't really give us a clear picture of Black Widow. There were bits and pieces, and it was probably somewhat intentional that she be a bit of a mystique, but I don't think Johansson helped - the character just seemed a bit flat. She's still gorgeous though. The rest of the cast knocks it out of the park, especially Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey, Jr (for the third Tony Stark movie in a row - he's on fire). I didn't think I'd be happy with re-casting Edward Norton because I love him as an actor, but when you see Ruffalo it's clear that he should've been Bruce Banner all along.

The action sequences are grand and well done - with very minor exceptions that I won't get into so as to not spoil the film at all. The production quality is as top notch as you'd expect, and I was especially impressed by the sound editing. Maybe it was just the theater I was at, but the seats would literally rumble at the appropriate times and more so than any movie I've seen in a while I thought it was quite an immersive experience, despite being in a packed auditorium where every single geeky thing got lots of applause and/or laughter.

My score for this movie would probably be an A-. I loved it, would highly recommend, and would definitely see it again (it survives the test of me still reminiscing about the movie 3 days later), but there's nothing especially extraordinary about it. It's just a super fun action film that's well worth the ride if you're willing to tolerate being in an entirely geek driven universe and can suspend disbelief on a few things (e.g. there were definitely some anachronisms with Captain America).

P.S. There are not one but two post-credits bonus scenes. So don't let the janitor kick you out - stay in your seat until you see the second bonus scene. I only saw one, myself, because I didn't know there were two.

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