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!


Shutter Island: The Scorsese/DiCaprio Team Deliver An Original Thriller

23 02 2010

Like Steven Speilberg and Tom Hanks, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are a director/actor team that critics and fans enjoy. With joint credits including The Departed and The Aviator, Scorsese and Leo seem to have a great working relationship, one that has garnered both big box office numbers and many awards. Shutter Island marks the fourth Scorsese/Leo team-up, one that has already become their most financially successful yet (taking in $40 million in its opening weekend). But critics have been divided – is Shutter Island Scorsese’s latest masterpiece? Here’s the breakdown:

At the behest of Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) travels to the mysterious Shutter Island, an institute for the criminally insane. Once there, he starts investigating the disappearance of a female patient, Rachel Salando. With the help of his partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), Teddy begins to uncover Shutter Island’s dark secrets.

The Monkey: The film’s script was exceptional. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that wasn’t predictable, didn’t rely on cliches and didn’t have canned dialogue. Originality has become a lost art in Hollywood; Shutter Island was a breath of fresh air.

The actors carried this film artfully. DiCaprio has officially shed his “teen-star” status from his Titanic days and continues to prove himself as a serious actor, one that has a long and respected career ahead of him. Ben Kingsley was a delight; taking a break from his slew of straight-to-DVD flicks, Kingsley reminds audiences of his acting mettle. His portrayal of the mysterious Dr. Cawley is subdued, yet perfectly juxtaposed with DiCaprio’s forceful Teddy.

The film’s twists, while anticipated, are still surprising and creative. With snippets of information trickling in throughout the story, Shutter Island is not a mindless night out at the movies. While some viewers might find the complexities annoying, going to a movie that makes you think is something I’ve missed.

On a side note, the story weaves a World War II plot thread through the movie, a surprise, based on trailers and early plot synopses. The thread was eerie and, once again, original; gotta give Scorsese credit for having the balls to include such well-covered story material into a relatively unrelated thriller plot arc.

The Weasel: The film was much too long. The middle of the movie was filled with DiCaprio’s character traipsing across the island sufficiently bleary-eyed and furrow-browed. Much of this action, while trying to contribute to the overall building tension, added nothing to the film’s finale and could have easily been pared down.

While the ending was satisfying, there was so much tension built up throughout the movie that, comparatively, the ending seemed weak. Speaking of tension, Scorsese handled Shutter Island‘s tension with a heavy hand. The film’s opening sequence, complete with fog, creepy security guards and a ridiculously obnoxious soundtrack, set the tone for the kind of hit-you-over-the-head approach the movie espoused.

Definitely another great movie to add to the Scorsese/DiCaprio library. While not as safe and “filmic” as their past work, it was nice to see both director and actor step into a slightly different setting with similarly successful results. Shutter Island is certainly worth a second or third viewing.

3.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Was Shutter Island a successful Scorsese/DiCaprio pairing? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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