Thursday, May 10, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers

Movie Review: The Avengers

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron Man
Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Capt. America
Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow
Samuel L. Jackson as Samuel L. Jackson with an Eyepatch
(And many others)

It’s been a while since I posted one of these. Back when I went down this path, I swore to myself I would only review those movies I really liked, or perhaps those movies that possessed such a high degree of SUCK that I needed to do everything in my part to ensure they were seen by as few folks as possible.

Fortunately, this movie falls into the first category. And how.

As the movie begins, the fictional Superspy agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Look it up yourself—I ain’t your damn search engine!) has been studying, mostly without success, a mystical object called the Tesseract (which moviegoers were first introduced to in last year’s Captain America), a source of seemingly boundless, other-worldly energy that promises to solve the world’s energy problems, but also can be very dangerous. This last point is brought home quickly, as the Tesseract suddenly brings to earth the fallen Norse God Loki (Tom Hiddleston), last seen plummeting into the cosmic void in last year’s Thor. Loki, banished from Asgaard for trying to kill his brother and usurp his father’s throne (and for generally being a dick), is in search of a new world to rule. And he has decided Earth will be that world, with the help of an alien army known as the Chitauri, which he plans to bring to Earth using the Tesseract.

Long story short, Loki steals the Tesseract, corrupts some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and escapes with it, leaving behind nothing but a giant crater in the Southwest desert and a very pissed off Colonel Nick Fury (Jackson). Fury, realizing Earth’s military forces have no chance against Loki and his army, recruits a team of superheroes, many of whom we have already met in four previous movies. The idea is that this team, which includes Loki’s brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, and Dr. David Banner (Mark Ruffalo)—a.k.a. The Hulk—will be able to battle Loki and his minions on a more level playing field.

Of course, problems ensue when the team members actually meet each other, as each of them discovers that not only do some of the members have their own personal demons and agendas, but that the S.H.I.E.L.D. council itself is pursuing its own nefarious goals. Added into this volatile mixture is Loki, who has allowed himself to be captured by the team, and is also working to undermine the team by playing them off of each other with his own brand of mind games.

This is, by my count, the fifth movie in Marvel’s “Avengers” series, and believe me, it was well worth the wait. Marvel studios did two things right for this movie. First, they hired Joss Whedon to both write and direct. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, he created the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, as well as its spinoff series “Angel”. To give you an example of how talented a writer he is, he once received an Emmy nomination for writing an episode of “Buffy” wherein not one of the main characters had a single line of dialogue for nearly 30 minutes.

The writing in this movie reflects his skill as well, with dozens of witty one-liners and numerous hilarious sight gags. There are poignant moments as well. In fact, one of the best moments comes as Loki is forcing a large crowd in Germany to kneel before him as he belittles them. One older man, however, refuses to kneel, saying he will never kneel to a man like Loki. Loki chides him, stating, “There are no men like me.” The elderly man responds, “There are ALWAYS men like you!”

The second thing they did right was focus on the characters instead of the special effects. This movie’s strength is not its special effects, or its star power--although both serve to compliment the movie well instead of taking it over. The writing and direction of Whedon, and the chemistry of the actors involved, combine to create a greatly entertaining movie. Nearly the entire middle third of the movie is devoted to the exploration of the developing relationship between the protagonists and the way that they slowly learn to work together as a team. Such a dialogue-heavy section can easily bog down a movie mid-stream (Tron: Legacy, I’m looking in your direction!) but the sharp banter between the characters keeps the movie humming along.

It’s not without a few flaws, of course, which is why I can’t give it a full 5. My biggest problem is Iron Man, for the same reason I've had a problem with the previous Iron Man movies. I mean, yes, his armor is super strong, and nearly impervious to external attacks, but unless it has some kind of space-age microscopic super shock-absorbent air bag system inside what appears to be a fairly form-fitting suit, I don’t know how the man inside survives the shock of the impacts he suffers (can anyone say “blunt-force trauma”?)

Also, the character of Hawkeye is somewhat weak. I mean, the Earth is being invaded by an enormous alien army, and his solution is—to shoot at them with a bow and arrow. Yes, they are explosive-tipped arrows, but seriously, my friend—there’s a reason the Indians lost. Also, the character spends almost 3/4ths of the movie under Loki’s mind control, and has little screen time.

But those are minor flaws. The final climactic battle scene is spectacular without being overwhelmed by CGI, and it the characters manage to battle while effortlessly tossing off one-liners which had the audience alternately cheering and roaring with laughter. And at the end, the audience stood up and applauded. That’s when you know people enjoyed themselves.

I look forward to the sequel, especially if they get Whedon to do a repeat performance.

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