***** (out of 5)
May 4, 2012
Robert Downey Jr. as TONY STARK
Chris Evans as STEVE ROGERS
Mark Ruffalo as BRUCE BANNER
Chris Hemsworth as THOR
Scarlett Johansson as NATASHA ROMANOFF
Jeremy Renner as CLINT BARTON
Tom Hiddleston as LOKI
Clark Gregg as AGENT PHIL COULSON
Cobie Smulders as AGENT MARIA HILL
Stellan Skarsgård as SELVIG
Samuel L. Jackson as NICK FURY
Directed by: Joss Whedon
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Do you really need me to tell you that “The Avengers” is a whole roast of awesome wrapped up in bacony awesomeness? Probably not. The earth-shattering overseas box office, insane fanboy buzz and near-unanimous pre-screening buzz should tell you that.
Or you could just watch the trailer.
Or not. In fact, don’t watch the trailers. Go into this movie as cold as you can, so the action set pieces and tongue-in-cheek humor can hit you for the first time during the film itself. You’ll thank yourself later.
“The Avengers” is the culmination of five previous films: “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Bringing these four title superheroes together along with the Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), “The Avengers” follows the team trying to stop the disgraced Asgard Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from waging an intergalactic war on Earth.
Typical comic book stuff.
That’s a good thing, by the way, and not a criticism. It’s exactly the kind of story that makes comic books awesome pop culture mythology. It’s a big enough problem that all the characters have something to do, and no one is the lead. This isn’t “Iron Man and the rest” or “Captain America and his sidekicks.” This is a true ensemble piece in which everyone is important.
It’s everything a superhero movie should be, and it’s something I’ve been waiting my whole life to see. (Though I will admit that “The Dark Knight” and “The Watchmen” both managed to capture the essence of comic book action as well.)
I was a DC boy growing up. I just couldn’t afford the time (and more importantly, the money) to keep up with two different universes. In the end, Superman and Batman beat out Spider-Man and the X-Men. Not being an expert in the Marvel superhero mythology pre-disposed me to not be so critical of Marvel movies: I didn’t know the original stories so well.
This is why I actually enjoyed “X-Men: The Last Stand” (because I had never read the Dark Phoenix saga) as well as the “Fantastic Four” films (because all I knew of Doctor Doom was that he had a metal mask, and changing his origin was okay by me). In fact, I even preferred the biological web slingers in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” series because it just made sense to me, instead of knowing that Peter Parker’s own version of Kryptonite was him running out of web fluid.
Of course, I flirted with Marvel over the years. You can’t grow up in the 1970s and not have done that, with “The Incredible Hulk” TV series and Spider-Man showing up not just in his own show but in sketches during “The Electric Company.”
In this sense, the last five years has been an interesting journey for me because I found the pre-Avengers films to be a huge step up in quality and consistency from the rocky road that proceeded it. Most will agree that both the “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” series were for the most part good, but there were bizarre diversions, like “Daredevil,” “Ghost Rider” and the odious and nonsensical “Hulk” by Ang Lee.
Even as someone who never read the Marvel books, I recognized something different in the five Marvel Studios films, beginning with “Iron Man.” The studio wasn’t just handing out a single franchise – or a single film – to some random director who wants to put his sticky, artistic fingerprints all over it. There is oversight to this series. There is a connectedness to it. The great Marvel Studios experiment has worked, and I couldn’t be happier.
And this should really mean something coming from me because I have never been a fan of Joss Whedon’s work. I never got into “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which also meant I never got into “Angel.” I flat-out hated “Firefly” and its subsequent feature film “Serenity.” In fact, the only thing of his that I’ve remotely liked has been “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” though I had some problems with that, too.
But I am familiar with Whedon, and it’s clear why he was perfect for this film. First, he’s a good writer. He’s script-doctored for years, and his television experience has taught him to work with other people’s characters. He’s also not only familiar with comic books, but he’s fiercely committed to them. He knows how they work, and he knows how to capture the spirit of the heroes and translate them to the big screen.
Marvel Studios set forth to do with this series was to adopt the formula that comic book publishers perfected years ago and apply it to movies. It’s really quite simple; it’s just something Hollywood has ignored for most of its existence. But “The Avengers” proves that it works. it proves it is possible to have a overall story arc that goes through seemingly independent films. As long as there’s a certain amount of oversight, which Marvel Studios has provided over the past four years, these films can support each other and work as chapters in a much longer story.
But back to the actual film. It’s good. It’s damn good. It’s two and a half hours of action and humor, all appropriately placed. The pacing is impressive for the size of the film. Each character has his or her own voice, often transplanted from their previous film, and it all fits together fine. Thor’s archaic cadence fits perfectly with Bruce Banner’s 21st century cynicism. Captain America’s 1940s idealism balances against Tony Stark’s fast-talking quips.
Whether you’re a fan of the earlier films, an avid comic book reader or just someone interested in a good, old fashioned action flick, “The Avengers” is a must-see. More over, I hope every executive, story editor, writer and development employee at Warner Bros. and DC Comics sees this movie so they can ask themselves why they can’t get their shit together and make a “Justice League” film that is just as good.