Monday, May 7, 2012

That little indie film called The Avengers

For those who stuck it out until after the credits of Iron Man, many of us shat a brick when a one-eyed Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury presented himself to Tony Stark to talk about a little program called the Avengers Initiative.  Four years and four movies later (Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America), every comic book fanboy's wet dream has come and it's time for the heroes to unite in the most epically-scaled movie possibly ever.  Really, just the fact that this movie exists is an accomplishment. As far as I know, no other movie series has done this - taking a bunch of characters from their own universes and bringing them together for one superhero supergroup.  The fact that Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy) was at the helm really made me less weary about this; if anyone would be able to pull of this ridiculously difficult balancing act of integrating all of these heroes together it would be him.

So how did it turn out?  The consensus from everybody on the planet seems to be that it "kicked ass."  Now, I would agree with that in some aspects, but I truly felt a little disappointed in the film.  I know I'm in the extreme minority on this one.  First off what I liked: the action and how it was handled.  With maybe 7 characters that needed their moments (including Iron Man, Hulk, Cap', Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the villain Loki) I think all of them have at least one great scene.  Some are given more time than others, but what do you expect?  Considering what he had to do, I don't think Whedon could have done much better.  I loved the fact that these wildly different characters are interacting, and in interesting ways.  The action is extremely well handled, and the way the camera moves from hero to hero in the 20-30 minute battle scene at the end (spoiled endlessly in the trailer) is top notch.
The Avengers - Hulk
Of all the heroes in the movie, and I was not expecting this, the Hulk is probably the best.  Mark Ruffalo plays it really well and in a subdued performance as Bruce Banner.  The Hulk actually resembles Ruffalo as well, and is by far the most fun to watch during the final New York battle scene.  As opposed to her non-character in Iron Man 2, Black Widow is also given a lot of cool moments in the film, and really is more fleshed out.  I thought Tom Hiddleston as Thor's brother Loki was a great villain, and he should given an honorary award at the Oscars for Best Evil Grin.  The only two major parts lacking I thought were Jeremy Renner as the bow-and-arrow wielding Hawkeye and Sam Jackson as the aforementioned Nick Fury.  Although he is smushed into the main team of the Avengers, Hawkeye was the only character that didn't have much personality other than being BA (that's "bad ass" in hip teen lingo).  And even though Samuel L. Jackson is an amazing actor (Pulp Fiction is one of my all-time favorite films), as soon as he enters a "big" role like Nick Fury or Mace Windu from Star Wars, for whatever reason he's just not the Sam Jackson.

For all it had going for it though, I just couldn't dig it, sorry.  The characters all work and their interactions are awesome, but what they are fighting for I couldn't give a rat's ass about.  Much like a lot of recent summer blockbusters, the plot is almost an excuse for the action.  The beginning of the film is a real slog.  It takes a while for things to pick up.  Basically Loki steals a glowing blue cube of destruction known as the Terreract and there is a brief escape scene involving Loki.  When he manages to skirt away, Sam Jackson says some line and THE AVENGERS plays on the screen.  That opening title moment should have given me goosebumps, but I just felt let down - I just thought 'This is the beginning of the movie?' The entire plot boils down to the heroes trying to stop Loki and get back the cube.  I love movies like Spider-Man and Batman because I genuinely care about what happens and feel a personal connection to the story, but chasing after a cosmic cube is so disinteresting to me I kind of got bored at parts of this.

Everyone keeps toting on about how great Whedon's dialogue is and how funny the film is.  I don't know what it is, but I just didn't find this as funny as everyone else (maybe I'm just a stickler or something).  I honestly thought the almost universally-hated Iron Man 2 was much funnier than this.  I found the same problem with The Cabin in the Woods, maybe me and Whedon just have different sensibilities.  Everyone seemed to laugh at this one line Thor makes about his brother being adopted...I for the life of me can't see how that deserves anything more than a chuckle, but when people hear it's Whedon, all hands on deck, we've got a genius here.

I hope I'm not sounding contradictory here, but my feelings about The Avengers are pulling at me both ways.  On one hand it was a logical culmination of four radically different-toned films and it pretty much covered all bases in terms of incorporating big action set pieces, individual character moments and interactions, but when it comes down to it, I couldn't care.  I think The Avengers would have worked better as a TV series; that way all of the interconnections could be given a proper amount of time and more interesting themes could pop up.  As it stands, it's solid enough popcorn entertainment that's sure to entertain nearly everyone in the theater, and given the challenges this movie faced before it even started, that's a minor miracle compared to the clusterfuck that could have been (DC, take note if a Justice League movie ever arises).  It still suffers from the genre, the mythology, and the previous films that laid the groundwork, but for superhero/Whedon/action fans I think this is a must-see anyway.

Rating: B-

I was originally going to give this a C+, but after having some time to let the movie simmer in my head (and after thinking about me being massacred for giving it such a low grade), I actually really want to see it again and have since had a sudden surge in interest in comic books and want to get into them more.

Also, come on Dark Knight Rises...I know this Avengers thing has made a lot of money, but we can beat it.

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