Friday, May 4, 2012

The Avengers Movie Review

Ever since the post credits scene at the end of Iron Man (2008) where Nick Fury discusses “The Avengers Initiative”, Marvel fans have been anticipating an Avengers movie. There was a five-movie build up to this event, including two Iron Man movies (2008, 2010), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2010) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Having already built a fandom around these characters, we have high expectations for Joss Whedon’s Superhero mash-up, The Avengers (2012). Even with our expectations set so high, they are still exceeded by this movie.
S.H.I.E.L.D. is a global peacekeeping espionage organization, with  Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) as its director. Exiled Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D. and steals The Tesseract, and item of immense power that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been protecting. Loki has formed an alien army and will use the limitless power of the Tesseract to open a portal across the galaxy to bring them here and destroy Earth. Fury instigates The Avengers Initiative to gather the superheroes he has contacted over the past several years to help S.H.I.E.L.D.  protect Earth should the world stand in dire need. These heroes include Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who can transform into The Hulk; genius billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his mechanical battle suit he which dons to become Iron Man; Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who is the iconic World War II symbol Captain America; the Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Earth to aid in stopping his adoptive brother Loki; and two S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) codenamed Black Widow and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) codenamed Hawkeye.  But The Avengers are divided over how to approach Loki and the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to harness the Tesseract to develop weapons. The team of superpowers must overcome their differences and combine forces to stop the immanent global threat.
Traditionally, the term “Epic Film” meant that a movie had a large scale, huge cast, sweeping scope, high budget, and often a run time that exceeds two hours. Some examples include Schindler's List (1993), Ben-Hur (1959), and Saving Private Ryan (1998). Recently, movie studios decided that dividing up an Epic into multiple shorter films makes the franchise last longer and earns the studios more money. That’s part of the reason for The Lord of the Rings to have been divided up into three movies, and the whole reason Quentin Tarantino’s epic Kill Bill (2003, 2004) was divided into two films. The five movies leading up to The Avengers were overlapping stories culminating in this one movie. With the dramatic combination of superpowers and a huge scale, I think it’s arguable that The Avengers and its related films could be considered an Epic by the traditional meaning of the term.
There were a few things I was worried would happen with The Avengers. I was concerned that the movie would rely on the assumption that the viewer has seen the five movies leading up to it and throw our heroes at us without bothering to develop them as characters. I was worried each of these characters were simply going to accept each other and rush off to fight the villain without question. I was also worried that only one or two of our heroes were going to get a bulk of the screen time. That would have been some seriously sloppy writing. I am deliriously happy to say that none of that happened! Joss Whedon co-wrote and directed The Avengers, and he is well known for his multi-character driven stories.
Each of our heroes has dynamic personalities and values; they don’t always see eye to eye, and they don’t trust each other. There’s a three-way fight early on between Iron Man and Thor. Each one exhibits some amazing feats, and even when Captain America tries intervene, you can’t decide who to root for most. Seeing these superheroes fight and their personalities clash makes them all the more interesting. Each character is developed enough for us to be emotionally invested in them; we know what they are capable of, we know what their strengths and weaknesses are, and we want to see them pushed to their limits! We are not left disappointed.
Every good hero needs a good villain; the nastier and more devious the villain, the more interesting the conflict. Loki returns after his defeat in Thor. He wants revenge and he wants to strike Thor where it would hurt the most: by enslaving Earth which Thor has come to love. Once the manipulative Loki sets his plan in motion, you can’t imagine how he could possibly be stopped. He is an outstanding villain who uses power and leverage to get what he wants. When he kills, he makes it meaningful and personal. He lies, manipulates, and is positively cruel to others. You just love to hate this villain, and you want to see him get it in the end.
The Avengers doesn’t shy away from showing us the kind of high end superhero action we want to see. We’re given gorgeously clear action that is over the top and amazing. We are held at the edge of our seat for a lot of the movie. Every character gets some great dialogue and humorous lines. The visual effects are brilliant. There is one scene later on that has a long, sweeping shot where the camera snakes around and over buildings showing us our heroes smack down enemies in their own distinct style in one dynamic swoop. There is so much energy and excitement packed into the camera work, the script, and the characters you can’t help but get caught up in the movie.
To summarize this movie in one word, it is “satisfying.” It shows us what we were expecting to see, and then goes several steps beyond that. You will applaud and cheer for your favorite heroes. You will be captivated by the action. You will be highly satisfied with this movie. There are a couple of minor parts of the story that seemed a bit too easily resolved; but you can forgive it because it pales in comparison to the good qualities in the film. The Avengers is fun, funny, exciting, and so satisfying. You really must see this in the theaters if you’ve ever liked Marvel superheroes or superhero movies at all. It’s an epic movie that you really should be a part of. You don’t necessarily need to see the five movies that built up to The Avengers, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice by missing them. Go see it in theaters as soon as you can, and then buy a copy of it on Blu-ray when it’s available. You can bet I will.

If The Avengers were to assemble again for another movie, what Marvel villain would you love to see them pitted against? Comment below and tell me why!

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