Friday, May 4, 2012

Marvel Movie Project SPECIAL EVENT: The Avengers

That's right.  Nerds that we are, the Lovely Wife and I made the midnight showing of The Avengers last night.  Chances are good if you are a reader of this blog, then you did as well.  However, in the event you are on the fence about seeing it, haven't had a good chance, or just want to see if you share the sentiments of your favorite bloggers, we are going to give you our take on Marvel's most ambitious movie project ever!  We will try very hard not to spoil too much along the way, but if you are sensitive to knowing too much, proceed with caution.

What Stan says:

This movie defines and then redefines the term blockbuster.  Grandiose in every way, The Avengers is truly the culmination of a body of work that began with Iron Man in 2008.  And yet despite all of the explosions, alien invasions, and super-hero squabbles, the film manages to have some heart and take loving care of its characters.

When you have a film like The Avengers, you have a rare opportunity.  Just like Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back the Future III, or other films of the sort, we already know the characters, we already know their back story and we already like them (at least for the most part), so we can dispense with all of the exposition and get straight to the meat of the beast.  The Avengers does this exceptionally well.  While I think you could still see this movie cold and get enough to figure out what is what, your experience is definitely enhanced by seeing the previous 4 movies leading up to this (I discount Iron Man 2 with good reason, and you'll find out more about that in the coming weeks).  So instead of boring us to death with a lot of needs explanations, the movie puts us into the action very quickly.  SPOILERS AHEAD! Loki is up to no good again and this time means to enslave the Earth under his rule, not only to pump up his own ego, but to rub it in his brother's face.  This is set up right away when he steal the Tesseract (read Cosmic Cube), last seen at the end of the Captain America movie.  This theft puts SHEILD on full alert and they call in all of the super-heroes they have contacted in order to combat the threat.  Despite some personality conflicts, the team bands together to combat Loki and his extra-terrestrial invasion force. SPOILERS OVER.

It is a simple Avengers story and that is exactly what this film needs to be: simple.  With so many characters and personalities in play, if you attempt too ambitious of a tale, you are going to lose everyone in the process and end up with a mess (I call this the Iron Man 2 problem).  Keeping the story simple gives some great characters a chance to play off one another and really shine in the process.  I would love to give one example, but I think pretty much every character is at their very best in this film.  Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark is in full form, snarky and irreverent and NOT a team player.  Evan's Captain America (although I like him better as Johnny Storm) is a duty driven and true soldier and plays the "man out of time" smartly without over doing it.  While Ed Norton should have returned as Bruce Banner, Mark Ruffalo's portrayal is as good with plenty of nuance and substance. Ruffalo manages to continue the character work Norton had so brilliantly began in Incredible Hulk. Thor is freaking Thor.  Just as awesome here as he was in his own film, his entrance into this movie was for me the "shit's about to get real moment" that turned the intensity of the film up a notch.  "Minor" characters like Black Widow (far better here than in IM2), Nick Fury, Hawkeye, and Agent Colson get plenty of attention and development as well.  With the tendency for Sam Jackson to steal every second of screen time he gets, it was nice to see him playing a less overt character and being more of a member of the ensemble than the show stopper that we have become accustomed to.  I don't mean to downplay the importance of these four characters, they are every bit as instrumental in the success of the film as any of the heavy hitters, but without major motion pictures to support them it would be all too easy to over or under emphasize their part in the film.  There is a real tendency for any given character here to steal the show, but thankfully it never happens.

And that is another reason why this film works so well.  Joss Whedon knows character chemistry.  He knows it well and his credentials on Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Astonishing X-men more than speak for his talents.  The Avengers only succeeds if the character chemistry is just right.  To see this fail spectacularly, got watch either Fantastic Four movie.  This doesn't mean that the characters have to get along, as a matter of fact it is better if they don't from time to time, but it does mean that their interactions have to feel organic and real.  They have to feel like real people in real situations acting and reacting based on what the other characters are giving them to work with.  This is quite literally Acting 101.  Whedon seems to have a natural affinity for this and gets the absolute best work out of his actors.  To put it plainly, it is fun to watch these characters hanging out with each other, fighting with and against each other, and you get the feeling they are having fun too.

Of course, this isn't The Breakfast Club, so character chemistry alone isn't going to fill our action-hungry stomachs.  Thankfully, The Avengers fills our plate with giant chunks of sweet delicious action as well.  I honestly think at some point every super person in this movie fights every other super person at least once even if only briefly.  You want action, you are going to get it and thanks to the strong character foundation the action has meaning, it is not just gratuitous fighting for fighting sake. (like in Iron Man 2...)  SPOILERS AHEAD! The battles between Iron Man and Thor, Hulk and Loki, Hulk and Thor, Hawkeye and Black Widow are particularly incredible.  And when Hulk and Thor team up to take down the alien space whale (you tell me its not) you cannot help but cheer!  The final, climactic battle between the Avengers and Loki's army is huge, intense and surprisingly complex, keeping all of the characters in play, both in the air and on the ground.  It also manages to keep from being too over the top and does not lose itself in its own intensity  There isn't a terrible sense of dread, you know the Avengers are going to win the day, but that doesn't take away from the fun of watching them square off against the invading aliens, each in their own unique way.  There is one particularly compelling shot in the heat of the battle, where we look in on each Avenger as they battle the invaders.  For me, that shot, plus the very final scene at the end of the credits, sums of the greatness of this movie. SPOILERS OVER!

Finally, speaking of the end,  DO NOT LEAVE just because the end credits roll.  As you probably well know by now with these films, there is a little tidbit awaiting those whose bladders can hold their 32 oz. soda for a few more minutes.  This film has two such tidbits and the first one is a reveal that comic book fans absolutely cannot miss.  The second tidbit is pretty much a thank you to both the audience and the characters.  Both are great and worth the brief wait.

To sum up, The Avengers movie is superb!  A perfect summer action blockbuster in every possible connotation of the term.  Top shelf action, fun characters with strong chemistry, a simple plot knitted together with smart dialogue; this film has it all.  I won't say it is the ultimate super-hero film, but I will say that it delivers on every promise it makes and I cannot imagine anyone not having fun with this movie.  Go see The Avengers already!

What Aimee says:

I was very nervous about this movie. I'm not a card-carrying member of the Joss Whedon fan cult, and I'm not a particularly big Avengers fan, although I do enjoy many of the characters individually. I wasn't exactly in love with all of the movies leading up to this one, and the trailers looked silly and pandering. Like, Transformers 4 level stuff, seriously. Don't get me wrong, that can work fine--I like a mindless blockbuster--but this movie was being heralded as the second coming of Jesus.

I'm happy to say, my nervousness was completely unfounded! Avengers is a very nicely constructed homage to all the characters we love and some we didn't (Iron Man 2's Black Widow, I am looking at you!) and manages to make them all interesting. It's a lot of juggling to keep all these big names in the air but the pace never dulls and the fun never stops. You feel pretty satisfied that every character has enough weight to carry their part, and no one is slighted.

That being said, Thor is my favorite. Still swaggering and still a powerhouse, he shows up and lays down the law. Hulk is also a loveable addition to this film. You'll find out later how much I appreciated Ed Norton's portrayal of the big green guy, but I have to give credit where credit is due: Mark Ruffalo knocks it out.

The movie is light and funny and still manages to be fairly intense. My one problem is one that I have with a lot of modern movies. POSSIBLE SPOILER Loki is a compelling villain and I love every minute he's in. But the "alien/robot" army is faceless, cardboard and has NO weight whatsoever. I get aggravated when I see compelling heroes fighting bands of video game spawn--I never think there's going to be a real issue, because, clearly, only the "real" enemies would pose any danger. This is redeemed in the first "extra" scene after the credits roll. You will understand why. But within the confines of the main film...? Reads a little "Episode 1 droid army" to me. It gets better, though, I just wish I hadn't had to feel bad before I felt good. I can deal. END SPOILER.

Bottom line, if you love Marvel, you want to see this. If you don't love Marvel--the characters are easy enough to engage even without having seen the previous movies. That said, seeing at LEAST Captain America and Thor will help you understand finer plot points.

I'm not afraid to eat crow when I have to--and this movie is fantastic and belongs in the upper echelon of comic book movies. Is it the best? I don't know. I really don't believe so--too much happens and the character studies can't compete with the very top--but it is very, very good. The end-credit scenes managed to ratchet its standing up a few places... with me at least.

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