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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Avengers Review - The Film That Saved The Superhero Film

Superhero films have always been comparable to fast food.  They are easy to consume, they have little nourishment and once you are done consuming it you are usually not satisfied, often regretting the whole experience.  Well let me tell you straight out, The Avengers IS fast food; amazing fast food, the In-N-Out Burger of superhero films, the best of the best.  Not all fast foot experiences are created equal, for every "The Dark Knight" and "Spider-Man 2" (the Five Guys level of films) there are a handful of "The Fantastic Four" or "Spider-Man 3" caliber films (Burger King) or even worse "The Green Lantern" and "Batman and Robin" (the lowly Jack in the Box.) 

The basics of the story are going to be quite familiar for those of you that have seen the list of related films that have preceded it (Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, etc.)  If you have not seen them let me explain.  After each of the superhero film concluded there was an extra scene that played post-credits showing each of the heroes being courted by Nick Fury to join a project called The Avenger Initiative.  Fast forward to the start of this film.  We meet Loki, the evil brother of Thor, as he steals the the Tesseract; an all powerful glowing cube of energy.  He plans, to harness its power, opening a portal for his armies to assist him in the taking over of earth - to crush man.  It is the kind of plot line you expect from a superhero film; a big bad baddie uses something with super power to take over (the city, earth, galaxy.)  How can anyone stop such evil power?  Call in the heroes to save the day.  And that, is just what they do - The Avengers arrive to save us all.

The group consists of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth),  The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo),  Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) - quite an impressive line up of heroes and actors.  The best cast in the world is not worth a thing if they do not have chemistry and I am glad to say they have plenty of it.  This is where I have to tip my hat to Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel.)  He obviously had a clear vision of who each character is; playing the role of not only the writer/director, but also fan.  His understanding comic books, appreciation of the characters and their universe makes him the perfect person to bring these character together.  He knows what fans want to see and gives it to them, and not in a way where we are bogged down by back story or exposition.  Somehow he is able to balance not only the story lines of each of the major players, but also their personalities to deliver a satisfying ensemble.  Many directors have failed to find the correct balance with a single superhero let alone a team of them.

For example, how many renditions of The Hulk did we see before someone nailed the character making him interesting and likeable?  After decades of horrible takes on the green guy, it looked as interest in him was fading.  From the joke of the 80's TV series to the two film misfires this decade - no one could capture the spirit of The Hulk.  They failed, making him one-dimensional and uninteresting.  (Sorry, Lou Forigno's version is a nostalgia piece, not a version you would watch for more than 10 minutes of today if you seriously entertained.)  That is until Whedon took over.  I am sure one of the first obstacles he wanted to was tackle The Hulk; to transform him from a thoughtless creature whose sole purpose was smash things and look angry to a creature with some personality in both human and monster form.  Not only did Whedon succeed, but he probably single-handedly revived the character of The Hulk, transforming him into an audience favorite.  During a few sight gags involving The Hulk (they are too good to spoil for you, see them for yourself) the audience was not only laughing, but hooting, hollering and clapping... a far better reception than all previous Hulks combined.  This is mastery of Joss Whedon.  He knows and loves the characters and at the same time respects the audience enough to deliver to them what they want.  And boy, does he deliver.  It is not just The Hulk, each character is handled with TLC.  He balances each member of the team to provide maximum impact (besides Hawkeye who kind of gets the short end of the stick.)  The characters do not exist to simply perform a task and sell merchandise,  they also fleshed enough to provide much more to the experience  - we connect with them; we cheer for them, we laugh with them and we worry about them.  Being able to accomplish this with just one superhero in a film is a difficult feat; to do this with six is the work of a genius. 

Another nice surprise are the action scenes.  I was expecting a blurred mess of CGI action as found in so many films these days.  Instead the action revolves around the characters - we see their faces, hear their thoughts and able to follow the fight.  Thank goodness we are spared the big swooshing camera moves that often makes following the action so difficult  That is not to say there are limited effects, actually quite the opposite.  Each scene is stuffed full of some of the best CGI I have seen.  The best thing is, it never becomes a distraction - it improves the experience and never detracts.

The films greatest strength is not the plot, the characters nor the effects, it is its humor.  I laughed out loud several times and I am not a laugh out loud type of guy.  Actually, there were more quality laughs during this film than most comedies I have seen this past decade.  The humor is not the only reason to see it, but it is like the unexpected toy surprise in the Happy Meal, it doesn't hurt.

There are so many good qualities to this film, it seems pointless to mention them all.  This is a movie for people that want to enjoy themselves... and you WILL enjoy yourself.  As always, there are going to be haters out there that will try to tear this film down, acting as if they are above it.  I am sure you will hear comparisons to The Dark Knight, how The Avengers' plot was not as well developed.  I agree, it was not.  You win smarty pants.  But (and it is a big green Hulk BUT,) this movie's intentions were not to be The Dark Knight, it was to be The Avengers.  It created a unique and completely enjoyable film experience.  TDK was a rare occurrence, instead of being a superhero film with a crime element, it was a crime film with a superhero.  Not every film tries or intends to pull that off.  We came for the fast food and that is what we got, wonderful, delicious fast food.  Not finding caviar and pâté on the menu is not a letdown, it is exactly what we expected.  The great thing is, Whedon and company delivered on those expectations over and over.

Like after eating a good meal at a quality restaurant, I left completely satisfied.  And, as I walked out the door to leave I did so hoping to return again soon.  My advice for the haters, eat somewhere else.

9 out of 10 stars


Norm said...

As a Marvel fan boy, I was extremely delighted to see that Whedon stuck so close to the mythos that I left very happy with little to be upset about. In one version of the Avengers it is Loki who is responsible for bringing "Earths Mightiest Heros" together. And in another incarnation (Ultimate Universe) it was the Chitari. But as stated here, I LOVE how The Hulk was represented in this film. For the first time I felt like he was an actual hero and not just some random destructive thing. I guess Joss Whedon learned a lot about comic books while he was writing for Marvel (Astonishing X-Men). Great film... for fast food ;)

BuddhaMan said...

Loved the Hulk in this. Was pleasantly surprised by Black Widow. Could have gotten rid of Hawk Eye though. Who was the guy at the end? Are there more Avengers coming in the next film?

Chris Foley said...

I see what you are saying, but with this weak of a plot, I'm never going to go higher than an 8 or a B/B+. Yes, it was often fun and funny, but the plot - especially Loki - was so super silly, that I could never really get on board 100%. And, I did not see a great deal of difference in this CGI melee and the CGI melee's so many other places... You say the battle made sense, but it really didn't. 1 example - Hulk is smashing Loki to bits. Then, then next time we see the characters, they are in different parts of the city doing different things. B-

FilmSnork said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FilmSnork said...

I think what we have here is a difference of opinion more on how we review rather than how we felt about the movie.

Some films can be excused for not having strong plots. In fact I feel some genres can get away with it IF THE FILM CAN ACCOMPLISH ITS GOAL. (Excuse the caps - it is not yelling, just the theme of this comment.) Comedy and horror are the two genres that stand out. Can it make you laugh (comedy) or can it scare the crap out of you(horror) If they can, then they are successful. For example, "Halloween" (the original) is one of my favorite films of all time - it does what it intended to do very well, scare you. The plot on the other hand, paper thin. Still I give it an extremely high review. "Halloween Resurrected" a much lower grade - thin plot, not scary - FAIL.

Being a superhero film is not an excuse for not having a strong plot, but it does allow you a certain level of leeway that other film genres do not get. I can overlook the flimsy plotlines simply looking at its source material. This film was not made to start deep discussions it is a comic book... it is meant to be cool and fun. In the end, if you are rooting for someone to win and having a great time doing so. Mission accomplished.

As I said, this is fast food. My 9 star rating is based on a different set of requirements than other films. Not all films or film reviews are created equal (I have a whole article about this which I want to post, but it is such a vast discussion I fear I will not be able to contain it and end up writing pages rather than paragraphs.

I know you are not a fan of the genre, so what you are looking for may not be what the intentions of the film are. Does that make it a bad film? I don't think so. Just not the perfect fit for you.

I appreciate the comments, as always. I can accept your B-.

As for the action, there are films that are just head-spinning messes when it comes to the battles and others where you can see what is going - this seemed much easier to for me to follow and enjoy rather than just visual garbage.

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