Whedon's "Marvel's The Avengers" Sets Bar for 2012 Films
Movie Review: Marvel's The Avengers
by Jeff Ritter
Published: May 4, 2012
When it comes to turning comic books into movies, some folks get it and some folks don't. Sylvester Stallone will readily admit that he didn't get it when he made the disastrous "Judge Dredd." He wasn't familiar with the source material, and it showed in the final product and the poor box office figures. "Marvel's The Avengers" is clear and indisputable evidence that director Joss Whedon gets it. He's assembled a superhero epic for the ages and provided me with two-plus hours of action and laughs that made me feel like a kid again.
"The Avengers" (do I really need to say "Marvel's" every time -- you weren't really expecting to read about John Steed and Emma Peel from the BBC's The Avengers series, were you?) is the culmination of several years worth of high-grossing films centered around some of Marvel's most cherished characters. The build-up began with "Iron Man" (starring Robert Downey, Jr.), and continued through "The Incredible Hulk" (originally starring Ed Norton, now Mark Ruffalo -- the Eric Bana movie never happened), "Iron Man 2" (Downey with Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow), "Thor" (Chris Hemsworth with Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye) and "Captain America" (Chris Evans). They were all connected via Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and resourceful agents like Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) enticing lead-ins for the next film in the series. The Avengers is to the Marvel film franchise what "The Deathly Hollows Part 2" was for the Harry Potter film series, except that this isn't the end of the story. This is just the beginning.
I don't want to give away much of the plot here, but I can tell you that Gwenyth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgärd and Tom Hiddleston are back to reprise their roles as Pepper Pots, Dr. Erik Selvig and the Norse God of Mischief, Loki, respectively. Cobie Smulders is a new addition as Fury's right hand, Agent Maria Hill. I can tell you that Loki has joined forces with the Chitauri, an alien race seeking to rule the galaxy, led by The Other (Angel alumni Alexis Denisof). The alien invasion leads to the most satisfying on-screen superhero battle I've ever seen and I've seen them all.
One of Whedon's best traits as a director is that he gives his actors room to be actors. This approach allows the actors to portray their characters with much more conviction. Captain America's feeling of being out of place in the modern world comes across in what Chris Evans doesn't say. Robert Downey Jr. makes Tony Stark an arrogant jerk and yet inescapably watchable. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston both seem to be comfortable in their roles now. Mark Ruffalo brings a different take on Bruce Banner to the screen, in some ways more personable yet in other ways more aloof. It's an interesting portrayal my Ruffalo, much different than the more earnestly heroic character Ed Norton portrayed before him. The CGI Hulk even has some scene-stealing moments of its own. Scarlett Johansson brings more than her physical gifts to the party, particularly in a scene where the Black Widow faces off with Loki in a game of deceit and manipulation. Samuel L. Jackson comes off as more fully realized than his brief cameos in the previous films allowed. Even Agent Coulson is given room to develop. I'm not a diehard disciple of all things Joss Whedon, but the man knows a thing or two about character development. Even though Marvel laid the foundation with five feature films before assembling The Avengers, Whedon still took time to add more layers to each character, and the end result is as spectacular as the special effects -- and the effects are indeed spectacular.
Ordinarily I'd take a few points off for being subjected to another show with tacked on 3D that truly offers nothing more than slightly enhanced depth perception and a killer headache on the drive home. I'm going to make an exception for "The Avengers." Marvel has set the bar extremely high for what should be a banner year for superhero movies. If "The Avengers" doesn't smash some records this summer I'd be very surprised. It's already raked in nearly $200 million internationally and the U.S. release will see that number rocket skyward. The film critic for my local paper apparently snoozed through his screening or had an unimaginative childhood, because he wrote a review that made me wonder if we'd seen the same movie. Is it any wonder newspaper readership continues to plummet? Look, no movie is going to be universally loved, I get that. Nobody should be going to a superhero movie expecting the director to reinvent the wheel or looking for dramatic analysis of the human condition. You go because you want to see gigantic monsterous aliens, ancient gods, green monsters, super soldiers, high-tech armor and weapons, gorgeous women in tight costumes, eye-popping explosions, and jaw-dropping hints at the next incredible installment during the credits (that's a hint, folks). It's OK to want this sort of escapism. It's what we go to the movies for. If that critic expects a higher level of intellectual stimulation he should start reviewing novels. It's clear he doesn't read comics. Like I said, some folks get it, some folks don't. As you can tell, what I got out of it was easily one of the most fun and exciting movie experiences of my life.
"Marvel's The Avengers" opens May 4, 2012.