Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Avengers / ***½ (PG-13)

Tony Stark/Iron Man: Robert Downey, Jr.
Steve Rogers/Captain America: Chris Evans
Bruce Banner/The Hulk: Mark Ruffalo
Thor: Chris Hemsworth
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow: Scarlett Johansson
Clint Barton/Hawkeye: Jeremy Renner
Loki: Tom Hiddleston
Nick Fury: Samuel L. Jackson
Agent Phil Coulson: Clark Gregg
Agent Maria Hill: Cobie Smulders
Selvig: Stellan Skarsgård
Pepper Potts: Gwyneth Paltrow
Jarvis: Paul Bettany (voice)

Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures present a film written and directed by Joss Whedon. Story by Zak Penn and Whedon. Based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Running time: 142 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference).

I read somewhere recently that the word “awesome” was becoming overused and losing some of its power in the English language. Therefore, it is not without careful consideration that I report here the one word reviews of both of my boys upon witnessing the new phenomenon that is Marvel’s “The Avengers”. “Awesome” was the word they used. It’s the word I’ve heard used by hundreds of people that saw the movie this past weekend. And, not without coincidence, I think, I would call this movie, “Awesome.”

Awesome it is. This is as close to fact as a collective opinion can get. But why? How did Marvel mix just the right ingredients in just the right way to create this blockbuster phenomenon?  Well, first of all they took five films over a period of the same amount of years to build up to it. Luckily, they allowed those movies to tell stories of their own, but they were essential to building the proper lead in to “The Avengers”, which depicts the creation of a team of superheroes coming together to save the planet from an intergalactic threat.

As far as plotting goes, “The Avengers” is pretty standard blockbuster fare. You’ve got a very bad man…. well, a god, Loki. He was last seen in last summer’s “Thor”. Once again British actor Tom Hiddleston plays him to evil perfection. He’s involved in a mysterious plot with an alien race to invade Earth. He must have the Tesseract cube, from “Captain America: The First Avenger”, to pull off his plan. He steals this McGuffin from a secret government facility, right out of the hands of its director, Nick Fury, with the help Dr. Selvig and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Hawkeye, whom Loki possesses.

I don’t want to focus too heavily on the plotting, as anything that happens in “The Avengers” could just as easily occur in far less appealing movies. I do wonder how well people who haven’t seen the previous five Marvel movies were able to follow this one, however. Many of the plot points reference the previous films and most of the character introductions are skipped here because they were already covered in those films.

So if the plotting doesn’t really make the difference in the success of “The Avengers” what sets it apart from so many other special effects laden action blockbusters? Simply put — attitude. “The Avengers” is all about attitude. Why else would Samuel L. Jackson be cast as the architect of this notion of forming a superhero team? Attitude!

Attitude has defined most of the movies leading up to “The Avengers”. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man brought a new superhero attitude to the game with his public embracing of his super identity. Chris Evans revitalized a lost patriotic American attitude with his take on Captain America. Chris Hemsworth sold the high spoken attitude of a god with his interpretation of the Asgardian Thor. Only The Incredible Hulk seemed to lack real attitude in his previous incarnation. Recasting the role with the unlikely Mark Ruffalo as the mild-mannered Bruce Banner to the raging Hulk seems to have redefined the brute for “The Avengers”, however. It also helps that Hulk is used sparingly. Somehow, even Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner, as the non-super powered heroes Black Widow and Hawkeye, manage to keep up with the others in the attitude department.

Actually, I must confess I was somewhat disappointed that Hawkeye spends most of the movie under Loki’s spell. He’s one of my personal favorites; the character who got me started reading “The Avengers” when I was a kid. Renner is somewhat restricted in his role as the expert archer. Since he had so little screen time in “Thor”, I would’ve liked much more of him here.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is a specialty of writer/director Joss Whedon’s. He has a great ability for inserting humor into serious situations often coming from severe characters in unexpected yet seamlessly natural ways. For example, when Thor finally comes to fetch his wayward brother Loki from Earth, the two start in on a very serious conversation about Loki’s indiscretions against Earth and their home of Asgard. Iron Man, who is unaware that Thor is a good guy, tackles Thor in mid sentence. Loki quite unexpectedly continues his conversation with his brother as if he didn’t just see him get leveled by Iron Man. It grabs a big laugh. I greatly enjoyed Thor’s response to learning just how bad his brother has been during his brief stint on Earth. However, it is Hulk who gets the two biggest laughs of the movie.

There is little to complain about with “The Avengers”. It plays as the event movie it is intended to be. Although it doesn’t transcend the superhero genre thematically, it is expertly made and overall an incredibly enjoyable summer blockbuster experience. Whedon brings attitude and great humor to the superhero action team that is unprecedented by any other cinematic superhero treatment. In doing so, he proves—as he has with his television projects like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly”—that geek core is the new hardcore.

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