Saturday, May 5, 2012
Marvel's "The Avengers" gives us much, much more of the same we've come to expect from all the Marvel movies of years past. It has basically become its own genre even outside of the superhero genre. What keeps this from becoming a clustered onslaught of big personalities all coming together into a bloated mess is the real hero of the party: writer/director Joss Whedon. He brings a fanboy enthusiasm to the massive blockbuster and gives audiences exactly what they want.
Much in the way he helped write "The Cabin in the Woods," which turned the horror genre on its head, here he does something similar. He thwarts our expectations while winking at us all the way with his tongue firmly placed in cheek. "The Avengers," believe it or not, is in many instances hilarious. The humor Whedon brings to the table is a quirky surprise and really makes the movie. The one-liners are countless with a unique self-knowing comic book brand of wit and snark. With this, Whedon very well may have given the Marvel movies their own new flavor. It's like the playful polar opposite of the wealth of emotional pathos Christopher Nolan achieves with his "Dark Knight" franchise.
With six superheros gracing the screen, it's never too much with each one getting his or her own time to shine. Remember, though, there is lots of homework before diving in. You'll have to have already seen "Thor," "Captain America" and "Iron Man 2" to get the idea of what's going on. There are the familiar faces: Chris Hemsworth as Thor from the mystical realm of Asgard swinging his mighty hammer; Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, who's a genius millionaire with an amazing suit of armor; and Chris Evans as the first avenger Captain America who was frozen over time and has recently thawed to join a new decade.
Then there are the less familiar faces -- those who either received only cameos or haven't even been introduced yet. First there's the new Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo. Simply forget Ang Lee's "Hulk" or that newer one with Edward Norton, "The Incredible Hulk," ever existed because this newest iteration from Ruffalo is the real deal. Two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents finish the team, including Natasha, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsson), and the powerful arrow-wielding Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They all report to the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). This is an organization whose purpose is vague -- perhaps just to protect the planet, or something.
The Avengers are assembled because of a new threat from Thor's villainous adopted brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who controls the Tesseract, a cube of energy that can open a hole in the universe. With it, Loki plans on unleashing his horde of flying reptilian-machine monsters on Earth. The duration between the introduction of this evil plan and the Avengers actually going out to stop it is a lot within the two-and-a-half hour running time. Within this gap, though, is plenty of opportunities to watch as the six heroes banter, bicker and form camaraderie. These interactions between our Avengers is when Whedon works to surprise us. The only problem is that he goes for the heavier stuff, too, which falls flat. In between the jokes he gives his characters existential crises to chew on, but it feels like dramatic fodder for the sake of dramatic fodder. Do we honestly care about Loki's threat? Nah. We just want to watch the Hulk playfully sock Thor in the face again.
The twiddling of your thumbs becomes worth it, however, once the final climactic battle set in Manhattan gets set up. This 45-minute barrage of swift, thrilling, exuberant action and CGI is an absolute knockout. And it looks phenomenal, too. The colors are bright, the effects are big and brassy, and it's a concluding set piece that is worth the price of admission alone -- and perhaps even worth the 3D.
For all the hype and anticipation surrounding this whiz-bang superhero conglomerate, Joss Whedon delivers the goods. In a sense, this massive Marvel outing is the beginning all over again. Just when we thought this might be the big finish for Marvel, instead it acts as a kickstarter to a whole new strain of Marvel movies. And quite honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about that.