Thursday, May 3, 2012
Review: "The Avengers"
Critics are not supposed to be dispassionate – we are, after all, in the business of offering opinions – but there is an expectation of a certain level of restraint, of being the impartial observer as opposed to the slobbering fanboy. So I regret to inform you of my failing, a moment during “The Avengers” when my fist pumped the air jubilantly and I bellowed, “Oh, YEAH!!!”
Even worse: I do not regret my outburst.
The long-awaited superhero supergroup is finally assembled, and their film does not disappoint. It’s a smashmouth extravaganza of outsized proportions, six heroes reluctantly brought together to battle a deliciously hateful villain who’s got an army of hideous alien boogums in tow.
The fight scenes are frequent, frenetic and tremendously well-done. For once, the action is not sliced and diced into an incomprehensible flurry of edited morsels -- cinematic death by a thousand cuts. How wonderful it is to watch someone capable of doing things that are otherworldly, and yet it remains perfectly comprehensible.
In addition to battling the bad guys, the supes often tangle with each other. It’s a delicious carryover from the Marvel Comics universe, whose creators knew entire generations of kids grew up arguing over how a throw-down between Iron Man and Thor would play out.
Now we know. And it’s a helluva a lot of fun finding out.
Writer/director Joss Whedon does a yeoman’s job of balancing a sprawling cast of heroes, giving each of them enough scenes and character moments to make them register as more than CGI-assisted brawlers.
He’s helped by the fact that four of the six were previously featured in their own solo films. (Though the Hulk only partially counts, since two previous iterations of the green behemoth in the past decade – each starring a different actor than this movie – have been quasi-disowned.)
In case you weren’t up to speed already, here’s the roll call:
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is billionaire Tony Stark wrapped in a metal super-suit that allows him to fly and blow things up. A boozy rebel, Stark has a hard time playing well with others.
The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is brilliant scientist in self-imposed exile, because when angered he turns into a raging green beast of destruction. Ruffalo brings a brittle tension under the placid surface, forever worried about letting "the other guy" out.
Captain America (Chris Evans) is literally a bygone relic of long ago, a World War II Nazi-kicker who was frozen and revived. The sole successful result of the Super Soldier experiment, Captain represents the peak of human physical perfection, though he feels rootless in a strange new world.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is, literally, a god -- the Norse god of thunder. And he has the ego of a god, along with incredible strength, the weather at his command and a magic hammer made for smiting. He also views the Earth as his own private protectorate, and isn't terribly pleased when others start mussing it up.
The other two members of the team are, by definition, B-listers since they've only previously shown up as supporting characters in the other flicks. They're also regular humans with no special powers but their incredible skills: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a super-spy legend, pairing hand-to-hand combat skills with unparalleled subterfuge; Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is a master bowman whose quarrel always has some new tricks at the ready.
Loki, Thor's evil brother, returns from exile to seize the Tesseract, a mysterious object capable of limitless power. He plans to use it to open a portal to bring through the Chitauri, a chitinous alien race that ostensibly are his allies. Tom Hiddleston plays Loki with zest and glee, smiling and sneering.
Loki is also the reason for that "Oh, yeah!" moment -- you'll know it when you see it.
The movie is also surprisingly funny at times, with Stark providing most of the comic relief via snappy one-liners. After his fight with Thor: "No hard feelings, Point Break. You pack a mean swing."
What a way to kick off the summer. "The Avengers" is everything you've been hoping for, and more.
3.5 stars out of four