The Avengers: A Summer Blockbuster With Heart, Laughs and ‘Hell, Yeahs!’

3 05 2012

Marvel’s The Avengers is the culmination of years of filmmaking and storytelling. With two Hulk movies, two Iron Man movies, a Thor movie and a Captain America movie already released, audiences finally get to see the payoff on the big screen. The plot has been set into motion, the characters have been established…all that’s left is a rip-roaring good time. And that’s exactly what director Joss Whedon and crew deliver. Here’s the breakdown:

Thor’s half-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), has a thirst for power (not to mention a grudge) and has set his sights on Earth, threatening the planet with an alien army. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of the secret organization S.H.I.E.L.D., must bring a disparate group of superheros together to combat this evil and save the world. But can Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) put aside their differences to save the day?

The Monkey: Joss Whedon fans rejoice. The Avengers is finally the vehicle that will get him the credit he has so long deserved. Whedonites have known, for years, that he’s a visionary artist who handles storytelling and character brilliantly. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and the less popular, but no less inventive, Firefly and Dollhouse have been made privy to Joss’ unique brand of entertainment for a while now. And with the current success of The Cabin in the Woods (which Whedon co-wrote and produced) and with the sure-fire smash hit that is The Avengers, expect Whedon to be handling some very big projects in the future. This is his year, and The Avengers is clearly his movie. It was a gamble on Marvel’s part to hand the reins of this massive undertaking to a relative big screen newcomer (up until now, Whedon’s major big screen credit was 2005’s Serenity, based on his Firefly TV show); but the decision was a stroke of genius, and positive reviews and word-of-mouth will lead The Avengers to box office platinum in no time.

Everything about this movie works. The special effects are breathtaking; the stakes are high and believable (in context); the acting is dead on; the emotional moments are there (and they’re surprisingly visceral); the humor is there; the “hell, yeah!” moments are there. The Avengers has it all and then some. Marvel’s move to release the solo hero films in anticipation of this grand team-up was ambitious at best, crazy at worst. How was a single film going to contain all these personalities, all these stories, that warranted stand-alone (not to mention sequel) films? Whedon has always excelled with ensemble casts, and his deft style was perfect for the job. The Avengers pays equal tribute to the various characters represented, even working to flesh them out still further, while uniting them. Everything from choice bits of dialogue to purposeful camera work helps achieve this sense of cohesion and solidity. The Avengers could have easily turned into a hack-and-slash job, with characters popping on and off camera, strung together with nothing more than flashy explosions and quipped one-liners. But Whedon elevates the whole concept and delivers a final product that goes beyond expectations. Not only is The Avengers a phenomenal movie-going experience, it far surpasses even the best of Marvel’s predecessor films. That in itself is a feat.

This is the perfect summer blockbuster. Not just explosions and fancy ad campaigns, but a genuine, well-plotted, well-written, well-executed story. These are characters that audiences have come to love and care about, and now they are brought together. They experience hilarious highs and depressing lows – and Whedon makes the audience feel it all, right alongside them. And yes, the explosions are impressive, arguably some of the best effects work seen to date. On a side note, the movie was converted to 3D, which usually results in sub-par viewing; however, the 3D was well done and was a lot of fun.

While many are saying the Hulk stole the show (and don’t get me wrong, he was a definite highlight), I’d have to say this is very much Iron Man’s movie. Downey, Jr. was made for this role and his third return to Tony Stark/Iron Man only solidifies that perception. His character goes through the most change, the biggest arc, and it’s clear Whedon has a soft spot for the character. He spends a lot of time setting Stark up – scenes with Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are pitch-perfect. And despite his often ridiculous get-up, Hiddleston’s Loki is impressive. He stands his ground against the Avengers easily and makes for a quite scary and seemingly insurmountable foe.

The Weasel: It was only 142 minutes? It’s hard to think of a major flaw with the film. There were small plot points that seemed pointless (needing to steal a special mineral to help stabilize the alien power source, The Tesseract), but nothing felt forced or mis-paced. The newly introduced Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) seemed underutilized, a mere throwback to Whedon’s love of kick-ass female characters (Black Widow, apparently, just wasn’t enough for him).

With solid character development, a healthy dose of humor, dazzling special effects and so much more, The Avengers is the movie of summer, and maybe even the movie of the year. And stay during the credits for a mid-credit teaser scene (there reportedly is even a second scene after the credits); clearly this is not the last of the Avengers and a sequel is in the works. Let’s just hope this isn’t the last of Whedon’s involvement either.

5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did The Avengers live up to the hype? Did Whedon do an acceptable job tying the Marvel properties together? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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The Hurt Locker: A Heart-Pounding Adrenaline Rush

18 02 2010

It seems Avatar‘s biggest competition this Oscar season is The Hurt Locker. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (which everyone is keen to point out, is 1) a woman directing a gritty military drama, and 2) James Cameron’s ex-wife), The Hurt Locker is tied with Avatar for a total of 9 Oscar nominations, most notably for Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture. Here’s the breakdown:

An elite Army bomb squad in Iraq must put themselves in harm’s way every day, disarming bombs and hostile situations in an effort to keep civilians and military personnel safe.

The Monkey: Due in large part to its documentary-style directing, The Hurt Locker is one of the most tense, suspenseful, adrenaline-infused movies I’ve ever seen. There were several moments in the film that not only gets your heart racing, but afterward, you’ll realize you were even sweating! Without using cheap tricks, or cliche film gimmicks, The Hurt Locker delivers on suspense while maintaining its originality.

Jeremy Renner’s performance was definitely Oscar-worthy; in fact, I almost didn’t even believe he was an actor. His subtle and realistic performance of a hardened bomb sergeant added to the documentary-feel of the movie and it will be exciting to see how his career takes off after all the recent recognition.

The Weasel: The lack of plot in the film, while contributing to the realism and grit of the movie, kept me from fully engaging with the characters. It was more of a “life in the day of a bomb squad” than a movie about a bomb squad. It’s even hard to explain what the movie is about; it’s about a bomb squad in Iraq…and, um…they diffuse bombs. But what else? Sure, we get brief glimpses into the characters’ personal lives, some truly heart-felt moments (in particular a scene where Renner’s character showers completely clothed in his army gear as blood and dirt swirl down the drain and a scene where a fellow squad mate shares his desire to start a family), but without a clear story arc, the viewer is left floundering.

Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes appear in the film, but their roles are surprisingly small and short-lived. While not necessarily a negative comment about the film, it took me by surprise that such big-name actors were used so sparingly.

A masterfully created film that delivers original suspense, eliciting visceral reactions in the viewer. Definitely worthy of its Oscar success; however, I find it surprising that critics consider The Hurt Locker to be Avatar‘s #1 competitor. I guess we’ll wait and see what happens March 7th.

3.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Is The Hurt Locker Avatar‘s biggest competition at the Oscars? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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