Monday, May 07, 2012

The Avengers (2012)

(Image from IMP Awards)

The Avengers (2012)

Joss Whedon has gone and done it. He has cracked the barrier that existed between the insanely OTT superhero comic and the silver screen. Whedon, who wrote and directed 'The Avengers', has made what feels like the first near perfect superhero comic adaptation, one that perfectly encapsulates the tone and spirit of 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes'. His film has demolished box office records and good for him - having done his time in TV land and gotten screwed over time and again by studios, mainstream success is a long overdue just desert.

The story boils down to this - the evil demigod Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is setting out to take over the Earth with an alien army at his command. The threat is so great that Agent Nick Fury (Sam Jackson) is forced to set the Avengers Initiative into action, which involves bringing the greatest of Earth's heroes together. These are Iron Man / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Hulk / Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and they are supported by Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). The problem - they all each have their own baggage and aren't exactly keen on working together. There's more to the plot than that of course, but that's the gist of it.

Marvel laid the foundation for this movie with the five individual outings of the main heroes, so in a sense this movie is the culmination of those early adventures; indeed it doesn't work on its own without at least some passing knowledge of those earlier films, which were admittedly of varying quality and never quite attained greatness. Still, it's worth watching those in order to experience this, and I'm actually keen to revisit all of them with the foreknowledge of what they lead up to. And while they weren't perfect, they each (bar The Incredible Hulk) did one major thing right - they achieved near perfect casting.

Robert Downey Jr is the biggest name, and he continues his limelight hogging, charismatic turn as Tony Stark. Hemsworth is imposing, regal and cocky as the 'godlike' Thor. Evans is stoic and noble as Captain America, donning the star spangled tights without a hint of irony. Renner made a brief and uninspiring appearance in Thor, but he's incredibly badass here as Hawkeye, and I can fully understand how he was chosen to headline the Bourne Franchise. There are two surprise packages as well - Johansson is terrific as Black Widow - cool and crafty but with guilt bubbling under the surface, she's more than just eye candy (though she does that well too). The biggest surprise though is Mark Ruffalo, who almost steals the show as the nerdy but oddly charismatic Bruce Banner, struggling to keep his dark passenger under control. Also deserving of praise is Hiddleston who, improbably, comes across as an effective and menacing villain despite being a whiny pawn in a grander scheme. Sam Jackson is, well, Sam Jackson; he could do this in his sleep, but he does it well.

Great actors need great words to work with, and the Whedon touch truly comes to the fore here. Despite being marginally Stark-centric, the script balances the characters perfectly and gives all of them their moment to shine while imbuing them with depth and personality. It's full of humour through both dialogue and action, and there are loads of laugh out loud moments. The interplay between the protagonists is fast and witty and conveys familial bickering to a T. There is a lull in the action in the middle, but this is more than made up for by all the banter!

Which brings me to the action, which is the one area where Whedon hasn't exactly established his expertise. Well, consider him established now as the action is, to put it mildly, spectacular! It helps that there is a great deal of variety in terms of the characters and their powers, but to envisage scenes utilising them in ways that make sense, with each hero fighting according to their abilities without giving anyone the short shrift is no small achievement. It's all coherent and flows without resorting to insane close ups and quick cuts, and everyone gets their moment of glory. It's truly epic in a way that no other superhero movie has achieved, and it's also unabashedly comic book like with wave after wave of aliens being dispatched by our heroes in imaginative ways. It helps that the special effects are nearly flawless - not once was I taken out of the film by a dodgy effect. The Hulk steals the whole show during the climactic battle with some of the funniest and most memorable moments.

Recommended? Hell yeah! I loved this movie and will almost certainly catch it again on the big screen (in 2D). It's the second Whedon film this year that I can say that of - the man's on fire! Avengers is a near perfect superhero comic book film and a bloody good action/adventure film to boot. It is a shame that you need to do some prep work before watching it, but that's a small price to pay in this instance. The Avengers 2 has a lot to live up to!

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