Monday, May 7, 2012

Disassembling The Avengers


Nick Furry sums up what a new generation of moviegoers will be saying for a long long time, "I still believe in heroes."  

Avengers directed by Joss Whedon and written by Whedon and Zak Penn is a magnificent triumph in fun.

The film focuses on the established cast of heroes that has appeared in the well orchestrated series of lead up films, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

In addition to Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America, the Avengers team is filled out by Black Widow ( Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

By now unless you were living under a rock or collapsed secret S.H.I.E.L.D. installation then you have heard how good a job the cast and crew did with this film. Avengers ranks right up there is the recent Batman films and X-Men: First Class in terms of quality and in my opinion surpasses these other comic book based films.

As awesome as the movie was, there was some interesting choices in terms how characters were used and which supporting characters were used.  Let's take a character by character look at the film.

Iron Man/Tony Stark:

Robert Downey Jr. is one of the best actors of his generation and inhabits the character of Tony Stark perfectly.  In this film Downey had the lion share of best one-liners filled with sarcastic pop-culture references.  But we also got a very interesting character progression as Stark's selfish tendencies are tempered by Pepper Potts and his growth as a team player.

Tony Stark: "Your work is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster."

Hulk/Bruce Banner:

I am a hug Edward Norton fan, but I actually preferred the way that Mark Ruffalo portrayed Bruce Banner in this film.  Its was an interesting and sedate performance for a character that contrasts very strongly with the "Other Guy."  In his angry form, the Hulk stole the movie with the best action and one of the funniest and most comic book panel like scenes between Hulk and Thor.

Tony Stark: [to Thor] No hard feelings Point Break, you've got a mean swing.


Thor:

The Norse god has the benefit of having the most impressive visual superpowers, lightning bolts, big weapon, flying all work well in the superhero genre.  On the whole though, even though this film featured Thor's brother Loki, Thor felt much more like a supporting character then one of the leads of this ensemble cast.  I did enjoy the Loki-Thor scene before the forest fight amongst the heroes.

Steve Rogers: Ma'am, there's only one God, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't look like that. 

Captain America/Steve Rogers:

The boyscout of the Marvel universe served as a good contrast to the more modern and cynical attitudes of most of the cast.  The loss of faith scene where Cap learns that S.H.I.E.L.D. is keeping some secrets was a nice moment that helped push Cap closer to his fellow Avengers and less beholden to the chain of command.  I kind of miss the WWII era Cap outfit though as they went with the more traditional comic looking costume in this one.  Cap's shield was used really effectively, especially as the ricochet shot while they were fighting in the streets of NYC.

Tony Stark: [to Captain America] You might have missed a couple things, y'know, doing time as a Capsicle.

Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff:

Is a lot of Scarlett Johansson ever a bad thing? No not really, but there seems to be a lot of unanswered questions with this character.  For non-comic readers, I think we needed more back story to understand who she was and what her "abilities" are and how they were developed.  Fighting space aliens with a couple pistols doesn't seem to lend itself to a high probability of survival.

There was also the rather weird shell-shocked/traumatized performance that Johansson gave once the Hulk was unleashed.  It seems like there was a back story here that we were missing to make that performance make sense.

Hawkeye/Clint Barton:  

Hawkeye worked as the turncoat good guy, you don't want to really do that with one of the core four, but it seemed like overall, Hawkeye probably got more screen time then necessary.  I thought Renner's performance was solid, but the character itself doesn't do much for me.

Nick Furry:

Jackson was best in small doses in the film and while he had his moments, I thought he was better in the small doses we saw of the character in the other Marvel films cameo scenes and post-credit scenes.


Thor: He's my brother 
Natasha Romanoff: He killed 80 people in 2 days 
Thor: ...He's adopted 


Loki:

Tom Hiddleston plays a very good villain and I had lots of fun watching Loki go all General Zod on the theatre crowd.

Supporting Cast:  

Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Prof Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård),  and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) were the most prominent supporting characters, unless you count a picture of Padme.

Of these I thought Selvig was a useful character, didn't get in the way and served a good purpose.  Potts was played very well in her very brief scenes lending some humanity and likability to Tony Stark.

Phil Coulson is probably my favorite character in the recent Marvel films, I just enjoyed the heck out Gregg's performances. Predictably Coulson got the full Whedon treatment, damn you Joss!

The only character that really bothered me in the entire film was Agent Hill.  I am sorry but she felt like a Red Shirt, I didn't care about the character, half expected her to be blown to pieces and was mildly shocked at how much screen time she received.

In addition to the interesting characters the visuals in this film were over the top fun.  While the Chitauri were an interesting villain in the way they fought on their flying chariots, I feel like most modern sci-fi/fantasy/Superhero films often give alien bad guys similar looks.

The S.H.I.E.L.D. carrier was awesome and the use of weapons and special effects that tied in elements of the earlier films makes a nice visual cohesiveness to the franchises.

The biggest laugh of the film was a close tie between the earlier Hulk/Thor scene and the amazing Hulk/Loki scene.


Loki: [Hulk and Loki fighting. Everything stops] I am a God! I am not going to be bullied by a... 
The Hulk: [Hulk grabs him by the legs and throws him around] Puny God! 


Overall, Avengers is a must see movie and the perfect kind of escapist story telling that works best on the big screen.   I look forward to more.

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