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Monday, May 14, 2012

The Avengers – The Sum Is Greater Than The Parts (Movie Review)

After seeing The Avengers twice, it seems like the entire concept of combining the Iron Man, Thor, and the Captain America franchises along with all of their supporting characters into one massive movie seems like a kick-ass idea with no chance of failure. But back in the late nineties that concept represented some pretty audacious thinking considering that Marvel had up to that point only licensed their characters such as Spiderman, Daredevil, Punisher, and the Fantastic Four to other studios with mixed results.  While I’m sure that they regret that decision now, it was a necessary one for them to raise the capital to make their own movies which they did starting with Iron Man to great success.  The first Iron Man movie showed that Marvel meant to do business differently with their surprising and yet inspired choices, as they hired  Jon Favreau to direct the film and in their most brilliant bit of casting to date, hired Robert Downey Jr. to play Tony Stark/Iron Man.  That tradition continued through hiring Kenneth Branagh to direct Thor and Joe Johnston for Captain America.  Marvel continued to surprise fans by casting Chris Evans as Captain America even though he was already playing another Marvel hero – Johnny Storm.  All of those unpredictable and brilliant choices have led up to The Avengers, which represents the biggest roll of the dice for Marvel and yet it’s also the one most guaranteed to succeed.  Can all of these disparate universes and characters fuse together to become the biggest superhero movie of all time?  Two words…Hell yes!!!

Film (5 out of 5 stars) 

Like most guys my age, I grew up watching admittedly crappy animated shows like the “Super Friends” or “Spiderman and his Amazing Friends” just to see superheroes team up.  It didn’t matter if it was Marvel or DC, I just wanted to see the all-star superheroes join forces to defeat evil enough to put up with bad writing and terrible characters (remember the wonder twins and their stupid monkey?) just to see it. For the most part, if you wanted to see something like the Avengers or the Justice League to fight alongside each other, you needed to buy the crossover comics which were always better than any of the animated shows.  There’s been countless crossovers between the superheroes and even between Marvel and DC characters (which are my favorite), but there’s never been a high quality live action film to do so.  DC Comics came close once, when George Miller almost made a Justice Leaguemovie, but that movie fell apart at the last minute.  So at long last, Joss Whedon had the honor and the challenge of coming up with a movie that would not only meet the sky high expectations from fans, but also one that would be true to the characters and their prior individual journeys that occurred earlier.  I am ecstatic to report that Whedon has done just that.
With The Avengers, Whedon not only skillfully handled the directing duties, but he also wrote the script as well. Whoever made the decision to hire Whedon should be commended since he was the perfect choice for this movie. Not only does he have a lot of experience in writing and directing fun, humorous, and action-packed story-lines for his previous shows like “Firefly”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and “Angel”, but he’s also a well-regarded comic book writer who had a fantastic run on The Astonishing X-Men among others.  Whedon specializes in writing for a large cast of differing personalities and viewpoints, which was essential for The Avengers to be successful.  Whedon not only had to reintroduce the characters to an audience that may not have seen their origin movies beforehand, but he also had to continue their personal story-lines in addition to moving their combined experiences forward for this movie.  I don’t know how he pulled it off, but he did with admirable results.
The movie opens with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) being called into one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. bases because the Tesseract (or the Cosmic Cube) which had been discovered in the ocean near where Captain America was recovered is seemingly acting on its own free will.  Fury had tasked Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) with trying to harness the potential limitless energy to provide both a new source of energy and also to develop some new “Phase Two” weapons that could be used against non-human foes.  With the Tesseract emitting low level gamma radiation and getting worse, Fury orders that the base be evacuated but before that can happen, the Tesseract opens a portal to allow Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to arrive on Earth. Loki wastes no time and he begins killing S.H.I.E.L.D. agents left and right and even uses magic to covert Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Selvig to join him as he steals the Tesseract.  Knowing full well the consequences that would result from allowing a being as powerful and angry as Loki to have something as powerful as the Tesseract in his hands, Fury has no choice but to activate the dormant Avengers Initiative.
To make that happen, he instructs Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) to bring in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) respectively.  While Stark is still unhappy with being previously rejected by Fury as a candidate for the Avengers, he still is willing to listen and offer his expertise.  Banner on the other hand, has spent years avoiding the authorities and is currently hiding in Calcutta and trying to do some good by providing his medical skills to those that need it.  Banner has come a long way since the events in The Incredible Hulk (when he was played by Edward Norton) and he’s learned to cope with his alter ego better and has even learned to control him better.  It’s been a year since he last turned into the Hulk and in that time S.H.I.E.L.D. has kept an eye on him and helped keep others away from him.
Fury goes to talk with Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) himself and tries to convince him that his country, indeed the entire world needs him back.  Rogers is still adjusting to his new reality after being frozen for sixty years and he isn’t too happy with how things have changed. Being the dutiful soldier he is though, he agrees to return and he’s sent to confront Loki once the villain is spotted in Germany. Loki ends up being a lot tougher than he expected but Iron Man arrives to help out and Loki is captured and then transported by plane to be placed into custody. Thor arrives and removes his brother from the plane since he believes that Loki needs to face Asgardian justice instead of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s and Iron Man and Captain America follow in pursuit.
In one of his many genius ideas, by setting up this conflict between the heroes, Whedon gets to have his cake and eat it too.  Fans love seeing superheroes duke it out with each other and we get to see Iron Man take on Thor with spectacular results as well as seeing just what would happen if Thor’s hammer Mjolnir hit Captain America’s shield.  We also later get to see the Hulk vs. Black Widow, and the Black Widow against Hawkeye, but the real treat is seeing the Avengers fight as a team against Loki’s army of space aliens known as the Chitauri.  The cast does an amazing job bringing their characters to life (especially my favorite Robert Downey Jr.) and showing off their differences and flaws which makes them relatable and believable, especially when it affects their attempts to form a new group.
This film has so many iconic images and moments that I don’t want to spoil but I have to mention. Finally seeing all of these superheroes not only in the same frame but fighting alongside each other is a wonder to behold for those of us that have always dreamed of this happening. Whedon has captured the characters’ voices perfectly and has made an epic action packed movie, that is so full of humor and emotion that it will turn even non comic fans like my wife into true believers. Marvel gambled big and is poised to win big and they have definitely thrown down the gauntlet to DC Comics which other than Christopher Nolan’s amazing Batman movies and the recent Green Lanternmovie (which should have been better), they can’t seem to get their act together.  They have to be at least a decade behind Marvel at this point movie-wise since there can’t be a Justice League movie until they too establish their characters in stand alone movies first which is really depressing. It has to be doubly depressing for DC since at one point Whedon was going to make a Wonder Woman film for them until that fell apart. Seeing how well he executedThe Avengers has to have some WB executives feeling pretty low at this point.
I can only hope that Marvel is wise enough to hire Joss Whedon to write and direct the next installments in this new series.  What would be even better is if the success of this movie gives Whedon the clout to bring back Firefly/Serenityin some fashion.  Hint.  Hint.  Another hope I have is that after audiences see how the Hulk is portrayed in this, that he will get another shot at a solo movie with Mark Ruffalo.  But then again, I would like to see more solo movies of all these characters. The Avengers will be the movie to beat this year and the only other movie that I think has a chance is The Dark Knight Rises which will mark the end of the Nolan trilogy.  The fact that The Avengers started off this strong with their first movie will only make future sequels have almost impossibly high expectations and excitement which isn’t a terrible way to start a new franchise.  The Avengers is without a doubt, the best movie I have seen in a long, long time and one that not only met my impossible expectations, but actually exceeded them.  Run don’t walk to the theater and see this on the big screen right now!  Excelsior!
Free song download with Avengers tickets

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