Monday, May 7, 2012

"The Avengers" review: despite a few too-fantastically over-the-top elements, the movie is wonderfully funny and action packed!



Well here we are. "The Avengers".

I've well documented my distaste for where all of the current stand alone Marvel movies were headed. Each having it's own wonderfully grounded origin story with just the right amount of comic book fantasy...well, except in the case of "Thor" for obvious reasons. The first "Iron Man" being the best of them. But how could all of these characters possibly co-exist in one movie? Bottom line: they just could not! In the comics, yes. On the big screen, not without pushing the bounds of believability or even credibility. And yet the entire fan community was waiting, movie after movie, with bated breathe and unwavering loyalty for this ultimate team up.

So I went back an forth as to whether or not I was actually going to go see "The Avengers" in the theater or if I'd just wait for DVD. I was too afraid that the great ride we were all sharing through "Iron Man", "The Incredible Hulk", "Thor" and "Captain America" was going to be burned by an invasion from outer space. Ultimately it was scorched just a tab, but in the end, a surprisingly fun ride!

There are some SPOILERS AHEAD so if you haven't seen the movie yet, BEWARE!

Director Joss Whedon has crafted a (mostly) fine tuned action movie and I only shook my head in plausible disbelief two and half times. Far less than I originally envisioned which is good!

Right off the top I have to say one of the secret weapons of this movie is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and The Hulk. I'd been reading about how he's so much better than Eric Bana (I don't even count him now) and Edward Norton (loved his take!) in the duel role. Even though I felt like a change of actors, at this point anyway, might seem too much like coming out of left field.

That aspect was quickly brushed (or rather smashed) aside the minute Ruffalo appeared on screen. He's thoughtful and brings a great amount of depth to Banner as well as being powerfully amazing when The Hulk is finally unleashed. The first scene where he changes is backed by a wonderfully edge-of-your-seat, anticipatory ramp up. Not to mention the fact that The Hulk can be really funny. Which is one of the things that keeps the story and movie from becoming what might have been very laughable...and I mean laughable in a bad way.

This is absolutely The Hulk's best movie outing yet and I hope to see more of the big green guy and Ruffalo's Banner in the near future. Particularly since he just signed a six picture deal with Marvel. BTW, if he ends up in "Iron Man 3" I'd be thrilled.

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man is definitely the man to watch and follow in "Avengers". He has some of the best comedic lines in the whole picture, and Stark's friendship with Banner is one of the more interesting high points outside of the action, which is plentiful. Certainly "Iron Man" is the best comic panel to screen adaptation of the bunch for this assemblage and Tony's heart still belongs to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has two brief scenes and whose connection adds to the human angle ever present throughout the film. An important element that lifts the story above mere "Transformers" fare as the climax approaches.

OK, let's get the problems out of the way now.

My biggest issue has all along been the alien invasion. I get that there needed to be a large enough threat that it would take all the heroes bonding together to defeat it. But this aspect really pushes the envelope of the grounding so well established in the previous run-up movies. In a Thor outing alone it would have been perfectly suited. But after introducing us to Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Steve Rogers so fittingly.....this otherworldly angle is kind of forced. Like right after the powerfully emotional "X2" having the team fight space invaders. Or Toby Maguire's pitch perfect Peter Parker / Spider-Man going from Doc Ock to....bug creatures from the Planet Rylos! What?!!

Another over-the-top element is the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier. I completely understand that this has been a part of that organization's comic history and possibly needed to be included this first go-around from the studio viewpoint. The movie version is a perfectly updated rendering of that incredible vessel....if the story were set in the 22nd or 23rd Century. The X-Men can have the X-Jet in Bryan Singer's versions, but that still had a 'real' sense to it. Like something modified from an already existing aircraft. You 'bought it' in the here and now. The Heli-carrier just seems better matched for an outer space, warp drive adventure. Way too high tech and overly futuristic.

The only scene that really had me shaking my head was when Loki pushes Tony Stark out a window of the Stark Tower in New York. Tony falls, but is able to summon Jarvis to send his new Mark VI suit. It crashes through a storage doorway behind Loki to jump out the window after Stark, surrounding his body and activating, saving his life and bringing the now Iron Man back up to confront Loki. A well placed cringe went over my face as I tried to shake that off and continue enjoying the movie.

BTW, Iron Man's chest triangle is gone, the circle is back.....YES!! Was never a fan of the triangle, even though I know that's how the suit progressed in the comics. The circle always represented classic Iron Man and I'm so glad to see it re-instated by director Whedon himself. He even mentioned recently in a press junket interview that the triangle was 'ass' and he never liked it either. Thank you, Joss!

All right, here we go, I gotta say it.....I'm sorry but Captain America's uniform (to quote Joss Whedon's word for Iron Man's triangle) just looks like ass! His costume ROCKED in the stand alone movie! Certainly one of the best redesigns and explanation of a comic book character's outfit in film history. But unfortunately they decide to throw it away for something sleeker and more modern.

Understood, the previous one might have seemed a bit old fashioned. But unfortunately the new one looks like something out of "Kick-Ass", a movie where it might have worked much better. In a couple of scenes you almost expect people to say 'what the hell are you suppose to be, The Masked Flag Waver?!' I seriously wish we could go back to his World War II exploits with the follow-up film (things were left wide open for it with that mid-film montage) but they've already confirmed that Cap will stay in the modern world. Boo.

OK, on to the positive notes.

One of the best things about "The Avengers": the dialogue and humor are spot-on! Whedon's comedic timing hits at all the right moments and on all the right thrusters. Again, it's one of the elements that continues to carry everything through to that giant and satisfying 45 minute action set-piece. And in that action barrage we witness each hero having his own unique moment. Especially during an amazing tracking shot where we see each of them, one by one, kicking ass in succession.

Two especially funny and jaw-droppingly amazing sequences...

#1: The Hulk and Thor finish spectacularly taking out a group of aliens. As they stand back to take a breathe, The Hulk suddenly punches Thor completely out of frame. The entire audience enthusiastically roared with laughter!

Then came the coup de grace.

#2: Loki taunts The Hulk about how nothing on Earth can harm a god, not even some dim beast. The Hulk then proceeds to pick Loki up by his legs and slam him around the room. HOLY SHIT!!! OMG, we were SCREAMING with laughter and applause!!!

It was around the time of these two scenes that I said to myself 'OK I'm in, this is fun!'

In another chuckle worthy moment, everyone's assembled on a street in New York City to take on the alien threat when a motorcycle rolls up with Bruce Banner, having just made it there after he fell from the heli-carrier while taking out a jet. It's funny because everyone's geared up and here's Banner in some borrowed everyday clothes he probably found along the way sputtering along on a bike.

No one is given only minor scenes in what could have been a one dimensional take on the entire crew and situation because of the size of it all. Even Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow share a moment or two that hints at a deeper relationship.

And who knew Agent Coulson was a fanboy!! His admiration of Captain America is another humorous moment for a character whose been more than instrumental in bringing this team of 'lost souls' together. Right down to the Cap trading cards he's been keeping in mint condition before meeting one of his idols. However, it's an emotional moment involving Coulson that ultimately propels everyone to drop the constant bickering and join together.

And don't think Nick Fury escapes the humor either. He's given some very Samuel L. Jackson-type lines along the way. You damn right!

Alan Silvestri's music is stirring and fits the vibe of the movie perfectly. The effects are crazily fantastic and superb! The hero vs. hero battles are right out of the comics, definitely a fan's treat AND pretty cool at that. Even at 2 hours and 22 minutes, the movie never seems long. A few have balked at the talkiness in the middle but I think it's necessary for the story and character build, perfectly leading you into the gi-normous climax that's coming down the pike. All part of the 'big four' and not just Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth turn in great performances as well.

Of course let's not forget Tom Hiddleston's mesmerizing turn as Loki. Craving such immense power, Loki ultimately realizes during the big climactic battle that he's in over his head. Loki was actually The Avengers first foe in the original issue #1 so his appearance in the movie version tracks to that beginning as well. Hiddleston exudes part god, part Shakespearean rock star in his wonderfully evil portrayal and I certainly look forward to the return of the character in "Thor 2".

And when the credits begin to roll....STAY SEATED!! There are two, count them, TWO after credits sequences.

The first one was not my favorite and continues down the path of this space alien path I wish they would turn away from....but of course they're not since the movie is already a smash hit. Look for a comics villain to be revealed whom I only just recently heard of, even though he's been around for twenty years or so.

The second 'after, after credits' scene is PRICELESS!!! And apparently it's only playing with the movie in North America. Trust me, even without any dialogue, this 30 second clip is THE BEST!

And hey, get this. I definitely want to see this again in the theater. That's right! I enjoyed it that much.

So surprise(!) and for the most part....I was wrong (yes, I said it), this movie is pretty good.

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