Apr 30, 2012

[Movies] The Avengers (2012)

We "all know" that superhero movies are quite the mixed bag in terms of quality. Given how Hollywood has latched onto the notion that trying to cater a bit more to geek culture through movie adaptations of comic book superheroes is more of a sure bet in these troubled economic times, a lot of the movies that come out just don't make sense.

I'm looking at you Ghost Rider franchise.

But as much as we've seen individual heroes and comic book titles get their time in the spotlight on the silver screen, we have yet to see serious collaborations between the various movies. Case in point, we know that both Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four are both based in New York City, and yet they never bump into one another despite all facing threats that rusk the safety of the city and sometimes the world.

It's sort of like how so many radioactive monsters attack Japan as depicted in various movies, and yet never at the same time.

So this movie promised to finally presented a united movie franchise universe that may in some ways correspond to the comic book universe, which is no small feat given the many movies, licenses and whatever legal jargon lingering in the background. And yet Marvel managed to push through with this particular idea and set the bar pretty high for other comic book companies that may choose to go down this same road.

The Avengers is the 2012 action movie adaptation of the Marvel Comics title of the same name. The movie was written and directed by THE Joss Whedon of Buffy and Dr. Horrible fame and thankfully was not somehow cancelled mid-movie.

The movie begins at a S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility where an artifact known as the Tesseract is being stored. For some reason it has become active and threatens to take the facility with it and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of S.H.I.E.L.D. has arrived on the scene to assess the situation and ensure the evacuation of key resources and personnel together with the help of Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). The Tesseract then opens a portal, allowing Loki (Tom Hiddleston), a Norse god who had been lost at the end of the Thor movie, who then disables most of the agents in the area and takes control of a few others including Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Agent Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) - who we all know to be Hawkeye.

With the Tesseract now in Loki's control, Nick Fury decides to activate a plan known as the Avengers Initiative. This involves gathering several individuals with exceptional abilities to form a team to deal with threats of this magnitude. The list includes Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) a.k.a. The Black Widow, Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) a.k.a. The Hulk, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) a.k.a. Iron Man and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) a.k.a. Captain America. The group now need to figure out how to work together to track down Loki, retrieve the Tesseract and prevent him from bringing an invading alien army to Earth.

Joss Whedon at the 2009 Comic Con in San Diego.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
Now while I'm not exactly a hardcore Avengers fan (that honor goes to my friend Nik), I do have a decent enough appreciation of what the team is supposed to be like and I have read a good mix of old and new stories involving Earth's Mightiest Heroes. And I think I can fairly say that Joss Whedon did a pretty stellar job of bringing the characters to life along with his signature brand of humor that is sure to go well with audiences, regardless of whether you're a geek or not. And that is always a pretty neat trick that we can trust the likes of Whedon to pull off even with something of this scale.

It still blows my mind to have so many big name stars together in a single movie working as an ensemble. And this is especially significant given that most of them had dedicated feature films for their individual characters (poor Black Widow and Hawkeye) and thus to have them sort of step down from being lead actors to working with a group surely presented challenges of its own. But the cast managed to portray some pretty authentic on-screen chemistry that really helped us all believe that this was in fact a team-driven movie and now some happenstance mash-up for various popular actors in a single movie (think The Expendables or Valentine's Day to give weird alternate examples of this).

The story did have its seemingly slow moments, but these were still essential to the overall build-up of the big evil plan at the heart of things. I mean come on, with Loki as a central villain, we all expect some sort of an elaborate scheme that involves a lot of lies, mischief and trickery. And once you get past the hump of the first act of the story, you'll certainly get your pay-off in this regard.

Admittedly, I really enjoyed the action sequences, especially once they started introducing more team dynamics into the combat. The movie had a lot of seemingly campy moments - the likes of which I've only seen in some of the console games like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 and some others. But they were still a heck of a lot of fun and certainly made the movie more entertaining. And on this note, this movie really captured what it means to have the Hulk as a character. In the past it wasn't too consistent how strong they made him and such but this time around they really captured his essence as a raw force of gamma radiation. And yes, there's always going to be a part of all of us that enjoys a little wanton destruction.

I could quibble over minor details like Hawkeye's origins (and the fact he was never called Hawkeye) but those sorts of things are all beside the point. We've seen horribly more "liberal" interpretations of comic book heroes when they get turned into movies and this wasn't nearly as bad. If anything, Whedon clearly focused on capturing the core feel of the comic book team and made sure that was depicted on the screen ranging from Tony Stark's arrogance, Steve Roger's boy scout naïvity and Bruce Banner being such a troubled soul, all of that came through and more.

This isn't just a great example of how to make a super hero movie but this is an amazing example of how to marry various franchises together into a single title. It goes beyond just putting them onto a movie set together but making sure that the characters still have their movie histories intact an thus we don't have to pretend that all the prior films didn't happen. That was one of the key elements for success here.

The Avengers is a really fun super hero romp that everyone is sure to enjoy. It doesns't matter if you watch it in 3D or in standard digital format - you're sure to enjoy the movie for more than just a technical gimmick. So I rate this movie 5 fun one-on-one moments between the various characters out of a possible 5.

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  1. "thankfully was not somehow cancelled mid-movie." -> I laughed at this one! Hahaha!

    Re: quibble over minor details. It didn't even occur to me until after I watched it the second time that neither the Helicarrier nor the Quinjets were referred to as such and that the battlecry "Avengers Assemble" was never sounded (which I guess would be tacky or campy given the overall tone of the movie). It didn't occur to me until you pointed it out that, except by Dr. Selvig referring to him as "The Hawk", Clint wasn't called "Hawkeye" either.
    But none of it really bothered me at all!
    I'm still trying to figure out what, if ever, could be the film's flaws. Only thing I can think of is the lack of easter eggs for fanboys to find.

  2. I bawled at that scene when IM was giving Hawkeye a boost to the top of a building. I think he said: "Hold on tight Legolas" or something like that. LOL

  3. That moment was a tad too quick for me to catch the dialog, hehe

  4. Our geek brains tend to fill in the gaps for us, it seems.