Monday, May 7, 2012

FILM REVIEW: The Avengers

The Avengers, directed by nerd-king Joss Whedon, is something of a coup for Marvel. Not only is it the biggest in a long line of well-received films based on their classic characters, it's also the culmination of a rather ambitious effort that aims to have the lucrative Marvel movies better reflect the comic book universe that spawned them. Though it may seem commonplace now, one of the company's most forward thinking contributions to the medium was their development of a cohesive, consistent world, a mirror of our own, which all of their creations share. It lends the fantastic adventures of colorful heroes a sense of reality, and pulls individual story lines and series into one grand, sprawling narrative. Of course, that's the intellectual appeal; it also provides an excuse for characters, who normally wouldn't meet, to come together and beat the crap out of each other.

So starting with 2008's Iron Man and continuing in Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel has been setting the stage to bring earth's mightiest heroes together, teasing audiences with cameos by Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury. Comic book movies are always forced to walk something of a tightrope, to strike a balance between geeky fanboy expectations and mainstream accessibility, and here the sheer number of beloved superheroes involved just multiplies those pitfalls. Thankfully though, Whedon and company have pulled it all off, creating an ideal summer blockbuster by sticking to what already made the characters iconic and relatable, and by avoiding needless reinvention.

Like many of the big-budget action flicks from the past few years, The Avengers is long, but even though it stretches to nearly two-and-a-half hours, it never feels bloated or poorly paced. Between bringing all the main players together and forging them into a team before sending them into action to fend off an alien invasion led by the conniving Loki, there's a lot of ground to cover, and the film clicks through it at a snappy pace. Despite its busyness, it doesn't sacrifice characterization, nailing the somewhat thorny philosophical differences represented by the individualist Iron Man (played once again to smarmy perfection by Robert Downey, Jr.) and Chris Evan's duty-bound Captain America, and also by introducing a Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who may or may not be learning how to coexist with his violent alter-ego, The Hulk.

The only character who remains disappointingly two-dimensional is Hawkeye, who plays a rather large part in the action (including the climactic battle through the streets of New York), but is never given much of a personality or even a cool looking suit. They could have given him more of a back story, or indeed any back story at all, especially since much of his teammates' exposition was already fleshed out in previous films, but as it stands his presence feels like a bit of an afterthought.  It's a minor disappointment, one that will hopefully be rectified in future films, which, thanks to The Avengers now have the possibility of including any number of awesome Marvel Team-Up scenarios (personally, I want a Spiderman/X-Men or maybe a Ghost Rider/Punisher crossover). If that wasn't enough to get you excited about the future, stick around through the main credits for a glimpse of the next major villain. I don't want to ruin the surprise, but if you're geeky enough to know who it is, you will be very psyched to see him.

You could probably save yourself a few bucks and skip the 3-D version, but you'll want to see this one on the big screen. Marvel has been on an impressive streak over the last decade (which DC, even with the groundbreaking new Batman franchise, simply hasn't kept up with), releasing the kind of fun, universally appealing films we all look for as warm weather sets in. The Avengers doesn't break that trend. In fact, it takes it to a whole new level.

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