Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Movie Review: [Marvel's] The Avengers [Assemble] (2012)

The Avengers (2012) written and directed by Joss Whedon

Lots of words have already been written and said about The Avengers (known here in England as Marvel's Avengers Assemble, presumably to distinguish it from the old (and quite awesome) TV show called The Avengers). Certainly it is an amazingly entertaining movie. There's lots of comedy; there's lots of drama; there's lots of fight sequences matching up practically every major character against every other character, both good and bad guys. Even match-ups that seem quite ridiculous, like the Russian assassin Black Widow with no superpowers against the Hulk. And yet, it still works. The credit has to go to the director/writer Joss Whedon. He dodges all sorts of bullets with the deftness of Neo in The Matrix.

Whedon has helmed many large casts on TV shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Doll House) and managed to keep a good balance of developing the characters and making them interesting, individual, and real. Such an accomplishment is not so hard with one or more seasons of TV episodes. To achieve the same in a two and a half hour movie is rather amazing. How many superhero movies have foundered because they had too many villains? Whedon's deft direction and great dialogue keep the movie moving along while giving all the various characters chances to shine.

Another common problem in comic book movies is when the main villain completely upstages the hero (as in almost every Batman film). Here there's just one villain, Loki. He is Thor's adopted brother and has the typical ambition to rule the Earth. While the actor, Tom Hiddleston, probably gives the best performance in the movie, he does not outshine others by far. Robert Downey Jr. is hard to upstage. Mark Ruffalo gives a great performance as Bruce Banner, combining the tension, sadness, and weariness of a man with his own Mr. Hyde waiting to come out. The other actors give worthy performances; all are convincing in their roles. And they are all given enough motivation and interest to keep them engaged in the story and engaging to the viewer.

Yet another problem is taking the characters too seriously or not seriously enough. On the too serious side are Ang Lee's Hulk and Watchmen. In my opinion, Christopher Nolan's Batman movies come very close to collapsing under the weight of their heavy themes. On the other hand, Joel Schumacher's Batman films killed the franchise for almost ten years with their neon-colored nonsense and utter superficiality. Whedon gives the characters their due but also gives them a sense of humor. They are more like real people than like stand-ins for ideas or ideologies. Or like cardboard characters who deliver bad dialogue (mostly puns) or wear skimpy outfits.

Speaking of skimpy outfits, another common complaint against comic book movies (and the books themselves) is the treatment of women as merely love interests and/or sex objects. Whedon's record for empowering female characters is undebatable. Black Widow's role in this movie isn't to provide a scantily clad female. She is a fully developed character who is motivated by trying to ease or erase her past indiscretions as an assassin, not because she's got the hots for one or more of the male leads. She even gets an equal share of screen time with Iron Man and Captain America, with possibly more time than Thor. Even when physically outmatched by the Hulk, she still has the skill and brains to hold her own and live to fight in the big finale. It's a refreshing change from the typical female superhero and this movie convinces me that a Black Widow movie would be something worth seeing, if handled just as well.

The Avengers is a rip-roaring adventure, full of fun, action, and laughs. It's a movie that on paper looks like a disaster waiting to happen. But in the capable hands of Joss Whedon, the cast delivers fine performances and great dialogue with a joy and exuberance that few, if any, comic book films have ever had before. Big thumbs up and definitely worth seeing on the big screen.

Oh yeah, and if you are in America stay to the end of the credits for a great bonus scene. At least, I've heard it's a great bonus scene. It's not on the end of Marvel's Avengers Assemble here in England. Boo-hoo!

For other, more insightful and better written words on The Avengers, try these:
  • Interesting comment on how we are all like Loki here. The blogger has a couple of other articles about the movie seen in a Christian context.
  • My favorite critic, Steven Greydanus, gives an awesome review here.

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