Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Avengers Movie Review

Since the age of eight I’ve been borderline-obsessed with Marvel’s comic book series ‘The Avengers’, as can be seen here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. I’ve always liked the concept even when the stories sucked; a club of heroes kinda hanging out and taking on evil schemers and such. Naturally then I headed down to the first session on the first day of release to see the new Joss Whedon-directed flick – so what’s the verdict?  

Well the first thing to note is that it’s not really that much like ‘The Avengers’ comic book at all. It’s more reminiscent of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s ‘The Ultimates’, a 2002 series that basically re-imagined the Avengers as a big-budget blockbuster. So like that series Nick Fury is black, Captain America uses a gun, Hawkeye and the Black Widow are black-ops agents, the Hulk is on the team, and the heroes are battling some alien race called the Chitauri. Given that ‘The Ultimates’ was arguably one of the best ‘Avengers’ stories ever though that’s not necessarily a bad move. Having said that there are some typically ‘Avengers’-like traits on show. The heroes don’t get along, the main villain is Thor’s brother Loki (who long-time Avengers fans will know was the very first villain the comic book version of the team faced), and it all ends in a huge battle in the middle of Manhattan, that perennial backdrop for destructive superhero fights.

The best Marvel movies to date – ‘Spider-Man’, ‘X-Men’ and ‘Iron Man’ – have taken the best elements out of the original comic books and tweaked them slightly to create their own modern style. ‘The Avengers’ movie does that to some extent, using the S.H.I.E.L.D. organisation to re-create the clubhouse feel, but also to inject some conspiracy and espionage – those tried and true tropes of modern TV and cinema – into the franchise. Frankly, having the heroes hang around in a mansion being served by a butler probably wasn’t going to cut it in 2012. It also makes the heroes – Captain America excepted, but that ends up being part of his charm – seem more worldly and less like Saturday morning animation figures.

Of the players Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark is the obvious standout, and his presence helps to give the film some credibility and clout. Mark Ruffalo though is the best of the many Hulks to date, adding some wit and panache to Bruce Banner’s otherwise brooding existence. A scene with Ruffalo and Downey Jr. bonding over S.H.I.E.L.D’s highly-advanced technological toys is one of the movie’s understated highlights. Tom Hiddleston reprises his role from ‘Thor’ as Loki, but goes from regal pest to full-on chaos-bringer, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Still he remains the strongest of the Avengers-related villains to date (although the villain foreshadowed for the sequel after the credits roll gave me a goosebump or two). The other Avengers are all at least serviceable and do have their moments. Chris Evans portrays Cap as a sort of clueless jock who nevertheless knows how to take charge in an emergency, Chris Hemsworth is epically ham-irific as Thor and has a couple of nice interactions, and Scarlett Johansson holds her own alongside her more noticeably ‘super’ teammates. Only Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye kind of gets the short shrift, spending about half the flick as Loki’s mindless automaton.

Which is not to say it’s a complete home run however. For a two-and-a-half-hour long movie remarkably little seems to happen. There is character conflict, but as Ms Wheatley noted it doesn’t go too far beyond the ‘Biff! I’m tougher than you!’ variety. Still Joss Whedon does a decent job of balancing his cast, and I doubt there will be many viewers coming out feeling like they’ve been cheated. Although, now that I think of it, I don’t remember getting to hear the cry of ‘Avengers Assemble!’ at any point.   

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