"You and I remember Budapest very differently." ~ Hawkeye
"Doctor Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green monster." ~ Tony Stark
Well, it seems that The Avengers is burning up the box office and turning into quite the smashing success. A number of bloggers I follow have already done reviews, and before I get started with mine, I thought I'd pass along some links for their reviews.
At Windchaser's Journey, Norma has done her own favourable review of the film. If you haven't read it yet, get a look at it.
Our alter egos Scarlett and James have done a review at Basking In The Afterglow in their typically frisky fashion. Obviously not to be read with kids around. Just saying.
Mark Hunter has also done his own review of the film at his blog, Mark R. Hunter.
Lastly, E.J. Wesley has reviewed the film and gives us his thoughts at The Open Vein.
There might be others in the next day or two, so check back here, and I'll put up additional links as warranted. Now, onto my own thoughts of the film....
For the last few years, there have been a number of Marvel comics characters adapted to the big screen. Some of them have had their film rights taken up by other studios, so despite the fondest wishes of some comics fanboys, there will never be massive crossovers. Since 2008, however, there has been a concerted effort to create a shared cinematic universe among several characters. Two Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger have shared common links, characters, and references, which have all led to this summer’s blockbuster event The Avengers. It’s been awhile, but Marvel Studios chose the right directors for the earlier projects, and carefully brought all of these together under just the right director to bring the team to life for the first time on the big screen. And it’s paid off beautifully.
|Nick Fury. Don't call him Patch.|
|Agents Maria Hill and Phil Coulson|
The film starts with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of SHIELD, an intelligence and special ops agency with a near unlimited budget, coming to a secure facility where trouble is brewing. Fury and his right hand agents, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, returning again to the films) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, making her debut in the franchise) learn that the Tesseract, a cubed energy source last seen in The First Avenger, is behaving erratically. The scientist in charge, Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, reprising his role from Thor) barely has time to brief Fury when the Tesseract opens a wormhole, and out comes the treacherous Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who was last seen falling into the void in Thor).
|Loki, on a bad day|
Loki uses mind control on Selvig and SHIELD agent Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, who did a cameo as the character in last year’s Thor), escaping from the facility with the Tesseract. Fury, whose plans to start a team of superhumans have stalled, must assemble the group. Captain America (Chris Evans) is only just starting to get used to life in the current day after being in stasis for decades. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is opening up a new Stark Tower in New York City and spending time with his assistant turned partner turned girlfriend Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow, making a cameo this time out). The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is called in from an interrogation overseas to bring in another potential team member. She tracks down Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, taking over the role from Edward Norton and thus becoming the third Banner in three films- the Ang Lee film doesn’t count as canon in this franchise by the way- and the most suitable for the role) in India. Banner, aside from being a genius who’s the definitive expert in gamma radiation, also happens to turn into a rampaging green sledgehammer of sheer power called the Hulk when he gets mad.
|Hawkeye. On his worst day and Green Arrow's best day, that DC twit doesn't stand a chance|
|The Black Widow, the most dangerous woman alive.|
Loki’s brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) arrives from Asgard, clashing briefly with Iron Man and Captain America before joining in with the group. He also brings the news that Loki seeks to bring an alien army to Earth for a full invasion, to subjugate humanity once and for all. As Loki works to make that happen, the team must bridge the differences between them, get past their dysfunction, and work together to save the world.
|"You're going to pay me for the armor polishing I'll have to do, right?"|
The movie succeeds on the basis of several elements. First, the dynamics between the characters is just right, fitting both the comic and cinematic versions of each team member. Their personalities and histories are conveyed well through the screenplay and the performances, both in the way they butt heads and work together. I liked the way Tony and Bruce- two intellectual geniuses- sparred with each other in the lab and bickered, for example, and Steve Rogers, as a man completely out of his own time, feels once again true to form. Each of these characters are strong, alpha personalities who have to find a way to work cohesively. At first, they’re at odds (in fact, through the film, pretty much every member of the team gets into a fight with at least someone else on the team). After a pivotal moment, they become united in a common cause.
|Bruce Banner and his cranky other half|
The casting is essential as well. With the exception of Ruffalo, all of the leads have appeared in the earlier films, and have fit their characters very well. Evans, the soldier out of time, becomes the natural leader again, decisive and courageous despite the odds. Downey, playing Stark for the third time now, once again gets some of the great lines (not all of them!) with his funny, acerbic take on the character, pretty much irritating everyone else in the cast to some degree. Johansson, as the Widow, gives us a character whose backstory is fleshed out, who can use truth and subterfuge in the very same moment, and who-despite being a mere human- is credible as the most dangerous woman alive. Renner spends the first part of the movie as a bit of a ghost until he gets freed from Loki’s control, but afterwards becomes the solid marksman, absolutely cool under pressure, with history with the Widow. I liked their interaction.
|Thor, the biggest cause of women getting flustered since 2011|
Hemsworth’s return as Thor is more than welcome; he was perfectly cast as the character in last year’s film, and he seems as if he never stepped out of the role. I liked that there are moments in the film where he’s the voice of reason, both with the Hulk and with his brother Loki. Hiddleston, as Loki, once again is a compelling villain, and making him the reason the Avengers come together is a good nod to the comics history as well. A broken and utterly desolate soul since his exile, it’s not that much of a leap for such a man to end up becoming capable of terrible acts. Hiddleston conveys that quality very well indeed.
|"Did I mention I've met your old man?"|
Ruffalo, as the newcomer to the franchise, fits the role of Banner perfectly. The character has been played before by Eric Bana (too whiny in the Ang Lee film, but the blame for that debacle can be laid at the director’s feet) and Edward Norton, who just seemed off in the role. Ruffalo gives us a brilliant, troubled man who’s all too aware of the danger his other side presents- his revelation that he’s tried to commit suicide is perfectly suited to who he is- and yet he's a very sympathetic character, both as himself and as the big green walking temper tantrum.
|"What do you mean, there's no Scarlet Witch in this movie? What the hell are film rights?"|
The production values of the film help things along. Alan Silvestri, who scored The First Avenger, returns to compose the music for this film, and he gives us powerful, commanding music that perfectly suits the themes of the film. The CGI, makeup, set design, and costuming involved is very well done, and it really shows. The Avengers quinjet and the SHIELD helicarrier are rendered well, just as I'd imagine them to be. The invading army (largely cannon fodder, and never before used in the comics version) mostly use gliders as their invasion kicks off the final act of the film, and look decidedly ugly. Their flight scenes have a frantic, chaotic feel that looks real, and their leviathans- giant armoured flying creatures- look gigantic and terrifying, and very much in the scene, as opposed to completely fake. The battle between the Avengers and these invaders feels very much immediate and real, and that’s a credit to the live action and how seamlessly it blends with the CGI elements.
|"About that whole thing last year, can we just let bygones be bygones?"|
The CGI is probably best expressed in the look of the Hulk. In the Ang Lee film, the CGI for the character was inconsistent at best, and the Hulk often seemed over or undersized, not in the picture with other characters, and just generally muddled. That improved greatly in The Incredible Hulk, and is certainly well done here. The Hulk has consistency whenever he appears on the screen, and feels very much like he’s sharing space with the rest of the cast. Much attention to detail has been paid to getting him right, and it paid off.
|"We're going to need a bigger boat."|
It’s director Joss Whedon who brings it all together, and he was the ideal choice for helming the project. Whedon knows the source material very well indeed, and his background suits the demands of the film. This is the creative force behind Firefly, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Angel, after all (one of his cast members from the latter two series in fact has a cameo in the film, though Alexis Denisof is completely unrecognizable from his days as an erstwhile British Watcher). Whedon gets group dynamics, how to mold together the complex relationships and personalities into a unified whole. He also has a good sense of humor, and that plays itself out well throughout the film. He gets the best out of his cast and crew, and in the end, the film is a grand slam out of the ballpark. As the proverbial coach of the team, Whedon can take a well deserved bow.
|"Last one still fighting when we win buys the pizza."|
In closing, the film succeeds wildly in bringing these characters together. The Marvel universe has always had much more interesting characters then their DC counterparts, after all (sorry, Superman, but you’ll always be a boring Boy Scout). The film tells a story of coming together in a common cause, to fight back against impossible odds, to stand as one. There are some extraordinary jaw dropping moments throughout the film, but I think the best moments of the film are the ways that the characters interact with each other. Sometimes that’s through dialogue. Other times it’s just a look. Or the way a god of mischief winds up getting six heroes really, really mad at him.
Go see this movie. You’ll have a great time. Trust me.