The Avengers

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 143 mins
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Comic Book
Country: USA

We’ve come a long way since Ang Lee’s Hulk dogs, Nick Nolte looking like he’s just come off the business end of a week long bender and Matt Salinger as Captain America.  Jon Favreau’s 2008 Iron Man was the first legitimate step towards the comic book adaptation promised land that is The Avengers.  Since Stark traded in the rust bucket for his trademark colours we’ve had a second helping of Iron, Ed Norton diva-ing himself out of a job, Chris Hemsworth breathing life into a demigod and comic book old hand Chris Evans trading in the Fantastic franchise for the stars and stripes of Steve Rogers’ alterego.  The Avengers is the result of a carefully planned strategy to bring to life the biggest collection of dress ups since Bernie Ecclestone’s last birthday party.

Since we last saw Loki (Tom Hiddleston) he has been busy planning an invasion of Earth in order to retrieve the Tesseract (last seen in Captain America – The First Avenger) and becoming ruler.  Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) having been bested by Loki and a brainwashed Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye played by Jeremy Renner) has little choice but to reactivate the now defunct Avengers Initiative.  Calling upon the man out of time Steve Rogers and Nastasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow or Scarlett Johansson to her friends) SHIELD bring together the last great chance the planet has to keep the wolves from the door.

I recently wrote a blog called Another Marvellous Mess in which I laid down my reasons why The Avengers would fail to work as a film, how character-wise the story would be too top heavy and several of our heroes would fade into the background.  For the most part I’m very pleased to be able to say that I was wrong.  There are problems, and we’ll start with them as they’re outnumbered by points of praise.  Firstly the inevitable did occur, at least to an extent, narratively it was very much the Tony Stark show as Downey Jr showcased some of the finest one-liners you’ll see in the Marvel world.  A lot of the story is Starkcentric to the detriment of new boy Hawkeye who, without his own film, is extremely reliant on the screen time afforded to him by Whedon.  Fortunately Whedon’s craftsmanship is second to none; he understands the limitations of a new character at this stage of the game and establishes Hawkeye as a temporary antagonist to showcase his ultimate worth to SHIELD.  The physical limitations of Black Widow, Hawkeye and Captain America (in that they can’t fly or leap half a mile into the air) makes them almost redundant in several scenes and there are moments of humour to be found in how human they actually are.  Whedon does, however, turn this into a positive as it creates a level of tension that’s vacant without characters like these.

The story of The Avengers is an incredibly large one, one of an alien invasion which initially thanks to the modern trend of realistic comic book heroes you initially reject but the truth is it takes something this large to warrant the coming together of this many superheroes, a Post Graduate with a couple of extension hooks on his back isn’t going to cut it.  The narrative is one that typically jars with the narrative expectations of Iron Man or The Hulk.  Narratively these are men of science, stretched to the enth degree but science nonetheless and it’s a real credit to those involved in the making of The Avengers that we are able to accept them into this alien realm without too much disbelief.

Downey Jr (as Tony Stark) is dependable, having stepped into the role two times before (with an Iron Man 3 on the horizon) he knows the role inside out.  He knows when to be charming, childish, mouthy, smug and most of all knows how to play off the other characters.  He gives a lot also, some of the best scenes of other characters involve them bouncing off what he feeds them.  Hemsworth (Thor) continues the solid work he laid down in Branagh’s 2011 Shakespearian fable.  The old world richness of his tones are fantastic and sell the character.  Renner (as discussed) sinks into the background somewhat but what he delivers is a pitch for Hawkeye’s own stand alone film, whether that’s a prequel to The Avengers or a continuation of his story is yet to be seen.  Johansson is everything you want from a Romanoff, she’s highly sexualised but in a contained believable way that Whedon demonstrated well in Dollhouse with Eliza Dushku.  Her physicality is unlike any performance by a female lead in a Hollywood film, her fight sequences are heavy hitting and extremely athletic.  Her characters history is eluded to but never fully explored, whether that’s related to any potential projects or simply due to time restraints is entirely up to how you want to see it.  Chris Evans is the biggest casualty of the film as Captain America’s involvement felt like it flatlined halfway through and he was left to mop up the exposition.  The rest of the mammoth cast all give strong offerings including the steady hand of Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) and Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) who has pretty much guaranteed that life post sitcom for her will be pretty sweet.  As performances go the custom of leaving the best to last is one I’m happy to continue, Mark Ruffalo (in his first outing) as Dr. Bruce Banner and The Hulk is absolutely brilliant.  Ruffalo has for many years been one of my favourite underappreciated performers and here, though finally given the billing he deserves, delivers a performance that will most likely be overlooked for it’s subtly and intelligence.  His Banner is a complicated shattered man, one who can only refer to his condition as “the other guy”.  He’s a man who’s perpetually at odds with himself and with his place in the world, not even relocation can aid him so he eases his pain by helping others.  His two man science party scenes with Stark showcase the professional man, they say that he was lucky to survive the Gamma ray accident but the truth is the Doctor died that day, what Ruffalo shows is his sadness of understanding this fact.  He truly is remarkable.  Likewise as the Hulk he’s great pleasure to watch and his moments in the battle of New York are the most enjoyable.

The cinematography of the film is actually kind of remarkable, directors who have faltered with complex action sequences include Paul Greengrass, Christopher Nolan and Bryan Singer but The Avengers have more action set pieces, and complex set pieces at that, than most trilogies yet it’s Whedon vision and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s expertise that weaves the most elaborate pattern to create the most straight forward and easy to read scenes.  It’s not beautiful cinematography; we’re not looking at a Terrence Malick opus and to art it up would be failing on two fields, as Ang Lee demonstrated, but it is extremely well constructed and a masterclass in continuity editing.

Regardless of where you stand on the love-loathe scale in relation to comic book films you have to admire what it took to bring The Avengers to the big screen.  Post Batman and Robin Wolfgang Petersen looked to be the man to bring the long anticipated Batman vs. Superman film only for it to fail coming up to the first hurdle.  With Zack Snyder in charge of The Man of Steel and reportedly one of the favourites to take over behind the wheel of the Batmobile it’s a step closer but still a world away from actualisation.  Is The Avengers the best comic book film ever made?  Not for my money, it’s certainly the most ambitious and manages to live up to most of the hype that the Paramount/Marvel machine has been ramping up for the past four years.  This is not the kind of film that's going to change your life but based on what it tries to achieve it's a remarkable film.  It’s highly enjoyable, passes the two and a half hours easily and with two hundred million dollars in it’s opening weekend it won’t be the last time a one eyed Fury will be calling “Assemble!”

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Iron Man  -  Hulk  -  Thor  -  Captain America  -  Movie Bar presents HEROES!


Judka said...

I watched it yesterday!!! AWSOME!!!! :DDDD
I love Marvel and DC comic's story! I wasn't bored even for a minute!!!

John Baxter said...

It's a great start for the summer of comic book movies. The fact that I'd watch it again speaks volumes.

Chip Lary said...

Whedon exceeded even my high expectations with the story he brought to the screen. I loved it. I'm also seriously thinking about seeing it again, something I almost never do.

John Baxter said...

Completely know what you mean. I'm itching to go see it again. Just read about the 10 disc special edition that's apparently going to be the DVD to break my resolve and switch to Blu-Ray...finally.

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