Monday, May 07, 2012

Movie Review - The Avengers

Well, in case you hadn't heard yet or have been living under a rock off the grid, The Avengers officially opened in theaters this past weekend. This movie has been at least 3-4 or more years in the planning/making with plenty of anticipation built through little teasers at the end of the various Marvel films released over the past few years.

If you're unfamiliar with the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" over the past few years or where The Avengers takes us, here's a quick sum-up. Look back at the last few years of superhero movies: Iron Man (1 and 2), The Incredible Hulk (apparently they're ignoring the previous "Hulk" movie from 2003), Captain America, and Thor. Take each of the films in this universe and overlap them to see where they have common ground and then bring them together for the ultimate superhero mashup.

First let me admit that I have not seen all of the films leading up to this movie. Specifically I haven't seen the Incredible Hulk or Captain America movies. That said, it is a testament to the writing and direction of this film to say that I was not lost at all in the plot nor did I feel like I missed out on anything major by not having seen them (though I do now have a desire to go back and watch them). This is one of many places where I felt like this film really worked well.

Knowing that this is essentially a sequel to 5 movies, they had to decide how much backstory and exposition they would include to bring people up to speed. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they did very little exposition or lengthy narrations of backstory. Rather, they assumed the audience was smart enough to follow along and connect the dots delivered through very quick dialog snippets, plot points, or minuscule flashbacks or news reels.

Each major character received his own solo introduction segment that didn't act as an "origin" or "history" lesson but rather showed us "real world" situations for each character that brought us quickly up to speed on their history, characteristics, mannerisms and motivations. I think the one whose history is important and is made least clear would be the villain Loki…but they give enough of his current actions to help you quickly determine what kind of character he is without having to understand exactly what happened in Thor.

Individual characterizations and origin/history stories aside, this movie is very much an origin story of a different kind. While we don't need to spend time learning how each character became a super hero, we spend most of the movie learning how the Avengers become a team.

The main threat of the film comes from Loki wielding a mysterious form of power and plotting to bring an alien army across the universe to destroy the Earth. While that problem is looming from the very beginning of the movie, in many ways it stays in the background…Loki and his team create brief skirmishes throughout the film but they're not the source of much large action until the end. Instead we are thrown into the conflict of trying to get this very diverse (and headstrong) group of people to work together in a cohesive manner.

As I said, we're given individual introductions to each character as a solo player. But the real fun comes as the heroes are brought together. The interactions between them is well written and superbly played. Tony Stark's egotism and snarky attitude are wonderfully paired against Steve Rogers (Captain America) and his selfless patriotic respectful attitude. Tony Stark really just played it up against all of the characters…his interactions with Bruce Banner, with Thor, with Hawkeye…they're all just witty and fun.

In spite of the fact that the main antagonist crew of Loki isn't constantly in contact with the heroes, there is plenty of action and tension throughout the film. There are great battle sequences as we have infighting among the heroes. There are smaller scale action sequences when Loki and his team are setting small elements of their plan in motion. I really enjoyed these multiple smaller scale action-adventure moments. They continued to add depth to each of the characters while still advancing the plot in interesting ways.

Don't worry though, if you're in it for the big sustained heavy action sequences, the "final" battle of the movie is a lengthy multi-faceted war fought in the streets, skies and buildings of New York City. The effects are over the top and intense. There is just so much going on and we are almost constantly shifting between different points of interest as we follow the actions of each of the various heroes and the current foes they're facing. I loved the small little elements that happen so briefly without any additional commentary or focus (such as Iron Man using Captain America's shield to help with an attack…watch for it). These small little nods didn't need to happen and are easy to gloss over, but when you get a bunch of these little things put together it makes the entire experience all the more enjoyable.

Overall, this film is amazing. I'm not a die-hard comic reader, so I can't speak to the comic fanatics and whether or not they'll enjoy or hate this interpretation. But for a fan of super hero movies, I dare say it's impossible not to enjoy this film. If you don't lean towards super hero films but enjoy action and adventure, I'd wager that this will appeal to you as well. While it's definitely got the "super hero" vibe dripping from it, the production, writing and direction are solid and help make the universe feel "real" at least within itself.

The over-the-top elements are done in a fun and realistic way and never came off as cheesy or ridiculous. Even though our heroes are "super", they are not invincible and it should be refreshing to general action-adventure fans to see the heroes pausing for breathers or grimacing after an intense fight. I think the "chick flick" or "sedate drama" crowd will have the hardest time with this film…while there are dramatic elements of tension and intrigue as well as brief moments of romantic interplay, these are few and far between. So if you absolutely don't go in for a romping adventure, then this film might fall short for you…even then, there are quite a few clever and witty lines that may keep you interested.

This is definitely an escapist film that brings back that childhood nostalgia of moviegoing for me. It drives the adrenaline rush…the laughter…the tension…and the overall fun that I loved about movies as a kid. It takes itself as serious as it needs to in order to stay credible and still pokes enough fun at itself to keep the audience laughing. It includes plenty of nods to fans of super-heroes and especially the Marvel films of the past few years. It has tons of great smash-em-up and blow-em-up battles and enough tension to leave you a little concerned about whether our heroes can really pull this off.

My only worry is whether or not the studios will be able to maintain the quality as they move forward with future films. I believe there are Iron Man, Thor and Captain America sequels already planned. I certainly hope we'll see more full Avengers films and I'd love to see more team members come in (though I would really hate to see us lose any of the current crew).

In short, this is probably the best Super Hero movie I've ever experienced and it's definitely up there in terms of the great action-adventure movies of all time.

5 out of 5 stars

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1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

dude...avengers frickin rocked...fav scene was hulk beating up loki...the extra scenes at the end were cool...great movie...