The Avengers

The summer movie season has officially arrived, heralded proudly by the amazingly awesome film that is The Avengers.

Joss Whedon has a special place in my heart as one of the most under-appreciated directors in Hollywood. Although there’s some of his work that I could pass on, most of it is tolerable to a level equal of any other TV faire, or in several cases, some of the best work I’ve seen come out of Hollywood in years. His other work includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and my all-time favorites Firefly and Serenity. So when I heard that they were tapping Whedon to helm Marvel’s 5-year endeavor of bringing all their heroes into one unifying film, I was thrilled.  Whedon is a master at character-driven pieces, and with a strong potential for a film like The Avengers to become the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat visual effects buffet (where you know the food isn’t all that amazing, but there’s just so much variety and so much to try that you keep going back, even though you know you’ll feel awful for it later) that’s just what this film needed to keep it grounded.

To sum my thoughts up: this is the best experience I’ve had at the movies since seeing Serenity in 2005. Although I’m sure the film had its fair share of flaws, I was completely unaware of them because I was simply having too good of a time. It was filled with humor, action, and heart and even managed to bring me close to tears at one point. Never once did I consciously think about the 2.5 hour run time, which is an excellent sign.

For those that aren’t familiar with The Avengers, here’s a brief recap. A top secret government organization called S.H.I.E.L.D., under the guidance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is given the task of protecting the world from threats beyond the capabilities of normal men. In preparing for this task, they recruit the world’s greatest heroes (each of which joins the group from a pre-existing stand-alone film) – Iron Man, a.k.a Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and the Hulk, a.k.a. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). They’re also joined by secondary characters Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson). Together, this team must defeat Loki (Tom Hiddleston), brother of Thor, as he attempts to invade earth with an alien army and rule over mankind.  Sound action-packed? It is!

They even manage to represent all of the primary colors in their outfit choices!

Here’s where I think Whedon succeeded the most. Each of these characters is amazing in and of themselves. You have Captain America -a super solider, the perfect specimen of man, Iron Man – a genius, billionaire playboy with a high tech suit of armor, Thor – a demi-god from another realm, and the Hulk – a scientist who becomes an unstoppable wrecking ball when he gets angry — and none of them get along. Ultimately, despite all their super-human abilities, they all suffer from such basic human flaws, and THIS is the genius of Whedon (who not only directed, but rewrote the script). Whedon gives us a reason for all these people to not only come together, but work past their differences for the greater good.

The unstoppable cloud from Green Lantern, which killed the strongest Green Lantern, and fought off droves of the galaxies best defenders... but was then defeated by Ryan Reynolds because he wanted it bad enough.

The film also succeeds in finding a villain which is not too easily defeated, but also not overwhelmingly powerful and still somehow easily defeated to conveniently wrap up the storyline (see Green Lantern). This is no small feat seeing as how the combined power of the Avengers would decimate just about any opponent.

On an acting level, Downey Jr. delivers that classic wit and charm we’ve all come to love from the Iron Man films, Evans plays the out-of-his-element good soul that won us over in Captain America: The First Avenger, and Hemsworth does a great job at helping the audience take the somewhat out-of-place absurdity of a demi-god seriously.

Finally a Hulk we can cheer for, as he smashes his way into our hearts with pure, unbridled anger.

But perhaps the most noteworthy performance is that of Ruffalo, who replaced Edward Norton as Bruce Banner after the studio and Norton had a bit of a disagreement following The Incredible Hulk movie. Part of it is the writing, part of it is the effects team, but FINALLY we get to see the Hulk as we’ve always wanted to see him. Not part of some artsy “soul-behind-those-eyes” interpretation by Ang Lee, but as a man with some control over the beast, that ultimately enjoys smashing things. It’s refreshing, and at times, quite hilarious. (Two specific moments come to mind, but I won’t spoil them.)

Agent Coulson was apparently brought on board for his super human adorableness.

If I had to choose a specific favorite character of the film, I actually think I’d choose Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg. Coulson has appeared in several of the other Marvel films, acting as a sort of character glue to bring all of the films and their characters together.  His role is much more pivotal in this film than in the others. He almost becomes a representative of the audience – an everyman amongst super-humans, with many of the same reactions we ourselves would have. I won’t spoil anything else, just expect good things from Gregg’s performance.

Again, this film was so wonderfully executed, and although it probably won’t be an Oscar contender outside of the technical categories, it is a great little piece of escapism at the movies, and an enjoyable thrill ride. Marvel did it right with their plan to establish a universe for their films to co-exist in, and with Iron Man 3 starting production this summer, Thor 2 in the fall, Captain America 2 next winter, and The Avengers 2 after that, we can expect great things in the coming years. Now if only they can work out a deal with Sony to get Spiderman in the next Avengers film. Time will tell!

My opinion, well worth the trip to the theatre to see this film as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen. Although IMAX and 3D are not necessary. (I saw it in 2D and loved it.) And be sure to stay until the end of the entire credits. Marvel sticks in their usual stinger about a minute in which sets up some element of the next film, but this time they also gave an added bonus at the very end.  In fact, the cast shot the scene immediately after the Hollywood premiere. (If you look closely you’ll notice that Evans had to wear a prosthetic piece on his face to hide the beard he’d grown out for another role.) This added bonus doesn’t really add anything pivotal, but it’s sure to leave you laughing at its pure, simple randomness.

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Captain America

With all of the superheros making it to the big screen these days, there seem to be just as many misses as there are hits. The challenge seems to be translating the fantastical element of the comic universe into real-world existence these characters have to endure in a live-action film — while still appealing to the hardcore fanbase — while reaching out to the casual moviegoer — all without making the film and its characters seem downright ridiculous. Nolan found notable success with Batman, Singer found some luck with the X-men, Favreau did admirably with Iron Man, and Raimi did a decent job with Spider-man (before they decided to scratch the whole thing and do a reboot). Some less successful attempts to bridge the fantasy and reality include Ang Lee’s Hulk (which I didn’t actually mind), Singer’s Superman (which suffered more from a skewed story arc than anything else) and Schumacher’s Batman films (rubber nipples). So where does Captain America fall in all this? Definitely one of the most successful attempts to date.

Captain America continues Marvel’s very successful approach of creating a cohesive cinematic world in which all its characters can live and interact with one another – culminating in the eagerly anticipated Avengers film next May.  With subtle nods to its other characters and intertwining story elements, fans who have seen the other Marvel films will feel like they’re on the inside track (even if you’re not an avid comic reader) and those who are only stopping in for the one film won’t feel left out. It’s like the zen balance of reaching the mass movie-going audience. Ultimately this film succeeds at establishing itself in reality because it succeeds as a period film set in WWII, which brings with it great costumes, sets, and overall ambiance. The film is filled with comedic relief, provides the required amount of action sequences, and most importantly characters with substance so the audience can feel invested. It should also be noted that each of these elements are balanced admirably so that it never feels too heavy-handed in any one area.

Neither Ackles or Krasinski made the cut, although both were considered. Apparently in early scripts Captain hunted demons and worked in a paper factory.

When the first names were tossed around for who would don the red, white, and blue, several well-known actors were suggested. Originally my vote was for Jensen Ackles, known best for his work on the show Supernatural. He had the wit they were looking for, the look, and genuinely I’d be interested in seeing him get some work outside the world of the CW. But sadly, due to scheduling conflicts, he was removed from the running. Meanwhile Marvel went a totally different direction by throwing out their original shortlist, and calling up Chris Evans, who already existed in the Marvel universe as Johnny Storm a.k.a. the Human Torch in Fantastic Four. (Don’t worry, they’re rebooting that too, so this continuity error will be remedied.) I thought Evans was the best part about Fantastic Four (he and Chiklis were perfectly cast in my opinion) but I was wary about him as Captain America. After seeing this film, my worries were put to rest.

The serum added volume to his body AND his hair. P.S. look for me this Halloween in my spot-on pre-serum Steve Rogers costume.

Evans embodies (pun intended?) everything the character needs. He exudes the likable, genuine and witty qualities of a scrawny but big-hearted guy placed in an artificially huge body. Even though his pre-super body is doubled in via CGI, the meshing of the two performances creates a believable character because Evans conveys those qualities so effortlessly. (It should also be noted that the CGI is so well done that it takes a conscious eye to notice the work.) Joss Whedon has some great character mixing to do between the do-good nobility of Steve Rogers with the smarminess of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in The Avengers. Should create quite the… *ahem* stark contrast. (Had to do it.)

Oh no! Megatron got the energon cube!

Other notable performances include Tommy Lee Jones as a military general (some great comedic moments here), Stanley Tucci as the scientist who creates the super-serum, and even Hugo Weaving as the key villain, Red Skull.  I have to admit, ever since The Matrix, Weaving has always carried an Agent Smith vibe into his other work, which made Lord of the Rings a bit weird for me. At least in Transformers he was just a voice actor. But in this role Weaving’s character found a different feel that gave him the villainous quality, without that cool, calculating calm of Smith.

Can you imagine the entire movie with this? If you're still having trouble, go watch the 1990 version. I'll wait here while you do..... See!

One of the greatest things about this film is that it actually single-handedly addresses the whining demands of the hardcore fans with a cold, hard dose of reality. This doesn’t spoil much, but if you really hate all spoilers, hop over this paragraph. For part of the film, the Captain is used for war propaganda, and tours with a USO show in a ridiculous costume that is a direct translation of the old spandex suit of yore. You watch that section and can practically hear the producers saying “See, that’s why you can’t do things exactly as they are in the comics – they don’t translate to real life in a non-humorous manner.” So kudos for the respectful nod and somewhat subtle education by the filmmaker.

The film is not flawless by any means. Although all the elements are balanced throughout the film, it does seem like the action and resolution of the crisis are a bit hasty and lackluster. In terms of the story arc, it’s a very slow build in the initial rising action (not uncommon with an origin story, and necessary for good character development) with sort of a plateau leading up to the climax and not so much a resolution as a quick setup for future Captain films. However, this doesn’t dilute the enjoyment of the film, it merely left me wanting a bit more. At the same time, I’m not sure how much one can watch of a guy running around punching people, dodging bullets/lasers, and occasionally throwing a shield without getting bored. So they at least avoided that pitfall.

Overall I would highly recommend Captain America as part of your summer movie-going experience. I won’t go as far to say it’s the best super hero film ever, but it definitely stands on par with the original Iron Man in terms of action blended with comic-relief. Also be sure to stay until the very end of the credits for a highly worthwhile bonus.

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Rating: 4.0/5 (5 votes cast)
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