Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Avengers

I wanted to see this movie but, despite all the buzz, I had a healthy reserve of doubt. There were a bunch of things that made wonder whether expectations might be too great for the movie to live up to.

First off, it's an ensemble piece. I figured it would be so easy for the story to lose its focus and its balance with all these different movie stars playing all these different superheroes.

Secondly, of the Marvel movies leading up to "The Avengers", "Iron Man" was the only one that really stood out. "Thor" was mediocre by critical accounts and the studio couldn't make a good "Hulk" in two tries. In spite of my angst over the casting of Chris Evans as "Captain America" (Johnny Storm, fer chrissakes!) I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed that movie.

Finally, from the moment the credit cookies rolled in "Thor", it was clear that Loki was to be the first super-villain for the Avengers and I confess to have thought, "Really? Loki?"

So, here we go. All these divergent parts of mixed quality get thrown into the Marvel blender and what do we get?

Well, what we get is a great movie.

I blame, in order, Joss Whedon, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. And Tom Hiddleston.

The movie builds like a great meal. Appetizers open with the "minor" characters, Nick Fury, a new babe (Cobie Smulders, Canadian!), Professor Selvig, whom we met in "Thor", and the new guy, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Now let's add Black Widow in a bit of a soup and let her show off for a bit. Hey, there's Bruce Banner, just hanging out and trying to be nice and you realize it might be fun just watching Mark Ruffalo eat dinner, he's that good. Speaking of eating, now comes the main course: Iron Man becomes Tony Stark who has a wonderful, playful scene with Pepper Potts and things could have gotten very interesting except for the sudden knock on the door, I'm sorry, it's the fate of the world calling. Downey and Paltrow could do this forever.

Thor's more tardy entrance to the story is magnificent. Dessert is served.

So now we have the whole set. Except at first, the pieces don't quite fit together. Well, of course they don't.

Robert Downey Jr. carried both of the Iron Man movies and one of my concerns was that the weight of all the Avengers might be too heavy for those shoulders. But the wit and repartee and the "voice" of Tony Stark are everything they ever were, unaffected by the addition of the rest of these super egos.

And Loki? Well, Tom Hiddleston has one of the purest, most wonderful smiles in the movies and when you put this smile on the baddest bad guy, what you get is one of the bestest evil villains of all time. Loki is having so much fun, you kind of get carried along with it. You can't help liking the guy a bit.

In fact, the movie's greatest strength is its sense of fun. Nick Fury's job is to paint the most dour prognosis for mankind, but, sorry Nick - this movie has laugh out loud funny moments, and a lot of them. Interplay between the characters is delightful, at first when they aren't really getting along (for crying out loud, Tony Stark intentionally zaps Bruce Banner because he figures it might be a kick to get a glimpse of the Hulk in the doctor's eyes) and then later when fate moves in its sad way, at last to mesh this dysfunctional set of super-divas into The Avengers.

My concern over all these stars and all these characters was handled beautifully through the story. No character got short shrift, everyone had their chance to rightly earn the mantle of "hero". And not from any of their past movies, from this one. And this Hulk has the advantage of finally looking like the actor who's playing him. For whatever that's worth.

I'm reminded of the best parts of Quentin Tarrantino's movies: those moments where characters take their great dialogue and just talk. Of course "The Avengers" has great fight scenes - Iron Man vs.Thor, Black Widow vs. Hulk, Thor vs. Hulk (twice, the second time to hilarious effect), Hawkeye vs. Everybody, Loki vs. ... well, everyone has a very good reason to be the one to finish off Loki. And the last licks are the best licks.

But yeah, while the fights are great, the moments when the characters just talk to each other are equally as entertaining. This is the element of writing that takes the movie from good to great. Banner and Stark show off their IQs, Romanoff and Loki each have a way with their words. As does Thor, who is openly mocked by Stark, and why not. Nick Fury has to shoulder a lot of the exposition, but is there a better actor to listen to than Samuel L. Jackson? And Tom Hiddleston is a constant entertainment; he has so many bad things to tell you, but there is just so much joy in his face as he says it.

The one weak link is Chris Evans who comes across as a little wooden, having to play Captain America as a one-dimensional, super squeaky clean boy scout. It's a tall task to have Captain America hold his own against those other powerhouses - no, not Iron Man and Bruce Banner , against Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. Chris Evans doesn't quite get there. Cap does come up a few levels for the last act, capably stepping in to take leadership of the Avengers, this is the guy we remember from "Captain America".

Marvel always throws in credit cookies and it's worth the wait to see the gang assembled at the absolute end of the movie. And before that, we're treated to a sense of who's up next for "Avengers 2". Will I have similar pessimisms leading up to the next outing? Probably. Will the Avengers deliver as good as this one? Here's hoping.

Three Straws.



The Avengers is a great fun film to watch if you know what I mean. There's a lot of action but also lots of humour to go with the movie. I think there is too much action in the Avengers and I'm wondering if it's a problem or not because there's probably about a minimum of 2 min between action sequences but it still has some funny jokes to heal all the action. That's most of the greatness and the weaknesses of the movie but all in all it's still a good movie.
                                                                                                                                       three straws