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Review: 'The Avengers'

The Avengers is as good a reason as any to go to the movies, filling the big screen with enough action, humor and good acting to make it worthy of your time and attention. Plus, the Hulk kicks ass, finally.

He's baaaaaccccckkkkkkk! TM & © 2012 Marvel & Subs. www.marvel.com.

The Avengers hits US theatres today, surely set to obliterate box office metrics on its way to blockbuster gold, financial nirvana, accolades for the actors and kudos for the studio.  Millions of people will watch it and be thoroughly entertained.  A small group will watch it and be thoroughly underwhelmed.  An even smaller group still will watch it and bemoan the continued decline of everything – society at large, superhero genre filmmaking, democracy as we know it, the ozone layer. These people are always annoyed at something.  Their sentences often begin, “When I was a kid…” as if the world was any less a shithole when they were 10.  Not surprising, most are grandparents.

I’m not here to judge or compare the film’s designs, the visual effects or the cinematography, as intrinsically, they don’t particularly interest me at first blush, as they probably should.  I don’t study films that way.  Mind you though, I like a good death ray as much as the next person. And when someone who really knows film explains the great use of lighting in a particular scene, I just nod my head in agreement and try not to fall asleep standing up.

What I am prepared to discuss, however, is whether or not I enjoyed the film, on what grounds, for what reasons, and whether or not I think you should go see it. On those fronts, I’d have to say The Avengers is as good a reason as any to go to the movies, filling the big screen with enough action, humor and good acting to make it worthy of your time and attention. Plus, the Hulk kicks ass, finally. 

Whedon's take on the Hulk is a huge win for the film, as is Ruffalo's performance. He must have worked with a trainer for centuries to get fit for the role.

Some random thoughts:

  • My single greatest concernleading up to the film’s release was just how well the filmmakers couldget the various Avenger characters to play nice with each other and nottrample each other onscreen.  Moreto the point, how would characters entertaining enough to command theirown feature films find the right amount of quality screen time as anensemble without smothering each other in the process. 
  • To its credit, the film’sgreatest achievement is the patience and care it shows in giving eachsuperhero the time, the space and the opportunity to develop in front ofthe audience. They hold their own against and in concert with each other, sharingsomething intimate about themselves with the audience, showing believablevulnerabilities in ways that make the circumstances and specifics of theirbattles almost secondary.  Welearned something compelling about all of them as they became much more humanin their super-humanity.  Even TonyStark, all smug and good looking and wealthy and brilliant and IronMannish.  That glimpse of realism givesthe audience something to grab onto. Yes, it’s called characterdevelopment.  It’s done so abysmallyin so many movies, movies where the director inherently distrusts his ownmaterial as well as the audience’s ability to discern a sensible story, movieswhere the director resorts to careless and unnecessary visual mayhem tomask the lack of anything sensible to grab onto or root for except a swiftend to the film.   
  • By the end of the movie, Iwas happy the action finally letup. I’d had enough.  However, Icould have sat for much more of the Avengers themselves, a dysfunctionalbuddy movie set of characters where no one is really that friendly, butultimately, all become friends. Which is how things really are. Best buds are boring and trite. Grumpy and egomaniacal geniuses, preening Norse gods, silentassassins and a one eyed man with contempt for authority, forced bycircumstance to work together against a greater peril, given lots ofweapons and high-tech gizmos, much more interesting.  I could have watched another hour of theinterplay between the characters. People can handle a good story. In this context, TheTransformer movies are mere anomalies in their lack of coherentstorytelling.
  • The humor was welltimed.  Not too campy or childish,not too overwhelming.  Like theinjection of needed laughs in the recent Mission Impossible movie, the ample use of well written humorwas a central reason everything came together in The Avengers as well as it did. 
  • Tony Stark’s Iron Man didnot overwhelm the proceedings. He’s the asshole with the mostest and heput on a much better show here than in Iron Man 2.  Without boundaries, his character islike a beautiful bright light – you’re mesmerized, but you can only watchit for so long before you have to turn away.  Joss Whedon put the brakes on him a bitand the film was better off for it.
  • The Hulk stole the show,by design.  Finally, Marvel got itright.  Mark Ruffalo was a brilliantcasting choice, though honestly, Edward Norton and Eric Bana before himwere fine choices as well. Ruffalo’s Hulk is so much more than a big greenmonster.  Though as a big greenmonster, he handles himself quite well. This is the first time the Hulk was portrayed as more than acartoon character.  A showdownbetween the Hulk and Loki late in the film takes your breath away, it’s sofunny.
  • An early interrogationscene with Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow chews up the screen, as good asit gets in this genre. Sexy, smart, lightning fast.  Brilliantly done.  
  • Much like the hours Mr.Anderson and Agent Smith spent bashing each other (it seemed like hours) inthe Matrix films, I’m amazedwhen movies devote so much time to fisticuffs between immortals.  Surely, the characters know they can’tkill each other. Surely, more could be made of the angst, the anger, thefrustration, the real reason such creatures take each other on.  It seems like a waste of energy, screentime and audience focus. After a minute or so, I find it boring. Yes, you’reboth badasses.  Now do somethinginteresting.
  • Faceless hordes of aliens?The sheer terror of the idea that aliens have invaded the Earth, done withsuch meaning and so skillfully in films like War of the Worlds, is non-existent here. It’s a shame. A reallost opportunity.
  • The wanton destruction ofan entire city, building by building, glass splintering into a thousandmillion pieces, as a means to cinematic and visual effects bliss, shouldsoon be a thing of the past, and good riddance.  The ship has sailed.  It’s boring, it’s unrealistic, it’s lazywriting and it serves no purpose.  Servedup to audiences, as films do these days, as spectacles of visual overload,they aren’t frightening, they aren’t suspenseful and they serve no purpose.Without any real consequences, no population in peril, no actual death orfear of death, there is nothing at stake. With nothing at stake, why fight? With nothing at stake, there’s no drama and ultimately, nothing ofinterest.  Trying to put an audience-friendlyface on the imminent death of several million people is absurd. Sofilmmakers opt for the opposite, turning the destruction of a city intothe equivalent of a barroom brawl.  Frankly,it was the weakest part of the film and the least interesting to me.
  • Without deliberatelytrying to spoil the third act, I kept telling myself, wait, I’ve seen thisbefore.  That’s right – in the last Transformers film.  Not sure what to say that I haven’t saidalready – a wasted opportunity to use mayhem as a harbinger of real dreadand doom.

A ginger Mata Hari armed with more than just curves and an alluring smile. Sweet.

A ginger Mata Hari armed with more than just curves and an alluring smile.  Sweet.

The Avengers is a fun movie.  A real fun movie.  It’s quite funny at times, quite unbelievable at times, quite a bit much at times. Much of the acting is solid, much of it better than solid. If you’re looking for a film to get you off your couch, this should not disappoint.