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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Salt: Spicing Up The Summer Movie Season

23 07 2010

Edwin Salt was the original title for this film, with Tom Cruise attached to star. But after Cruise reviewed the script, he felt the character was too much like his role in 2002’s Minority Report and too close in tone to his Mission Impossible movies. So, he decided Knight and Day would be his next project instead. Oops. But, lucky for Angelina Jolie (and audiences), the sultry half of Brangelina rose to the occasion. And a satisfying summer blockbuster was born. Here’s the breakdown:

Two years after being rescued from a North Korean prison, CIA operative, Evelyn Salt meets with a Russian defector in Washington, D.C. When the defector claims Salt is a Russian spy, she must go on the run, searching for the missing clues to her past, all in an effort to clear her name…or so it seems…

The Monkey: Russian bad guys. Check. Nuclear threat. Check. Double, triple, even quadruple agents. Check. Kick ass action scenes. Check. Sounds like a classic 90’s action movie, a la James Bond or Tom Clancy, right? But throw in arguably one of the best action stars of today (male or female), a bit of updated tech and some expert action directing and you’ve got Salt. It’s this return to form that makes Salt so enjoyable. It’s a straightforward spy movie, the likes of which have all but disappeared. And the Clancy comparison will likely be made ad nauseam, I’m sure, and understandably so; after all, director Phillip Noyce helmed the Clancy-based Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994).

Jolie plays Salt with the perfect amount of emotion (or lack thereof, when appropriate) and delivers her unrelenting bad assery full force. Tom Cruise who? Exactly.

Liev Schreiber plays the trusty friend, Ted Winter, with a surprising amount of subtly, knowing just how to complement Jolie’s powerhouse performance without trying to compete or overshadow.

And of course, the action. While some may groan at the sheer audacity of the action sequences, you can’t argue that they aren’t spectacular. From freeway hopping across truck-tops to driving off an overpass while steering a car with a Taser (yes, a Taser), Salt stretches the realm of believability – but the beauty of it is, you won’t care. Just as when Bond stops a bomb countdown with :01 seconds to go or when the action star walks through flaming debris with perfectly coiffed hair, Salt‘s action scenes are so well shot and edited, the audience isn’t given any time to question the logic or realism of it all. You only have time to smile and get excited for what’s coming next.

Not only was the action fun, it was delightfully brutal. Diverging from its 90’s brethren, Salt kicks the violence up a notch, giving Jolie, in particular, a chance to flex her cold-hard-bitch muscles, laying waste to enemies with merciless precision. Noyce deserves a nod for this as well, filming unforgivingly without being graphic.

The most wonderful part of Salt was it’s ability to actually keep me guessing. I’m hard pressed to remember any recent movies that managed to keep secrets or surprise me (without being cheap about it, *cough* Book of Eli *cough*). Noyce’s deft camera angles linger on facial expressions just long enough to make you second guess your assumptions. The actors quirk an eyebrow or throw a glance that disrupts your theories. These small nuances kept Salt from being completely predictable and made for a truly enjoyable movie-going experience.

The Weasel: While the cast works wonderfully, Chiwetel Ejiofor (who plays FBI agent Peabody) was woefully underutilized. I thoroughly enjoyed his steely performance in 2005’s Serenity and loved seeing his versatility in the indie hit, Kinky Boots. Unfortunately, Salt leaves him little to do, other than scowl and remain confused the entire film. A waste.

Salt delivers on its tagline – “Who is Salt?” The movie manages to keep you guessing, and makes sure you enjoy the ride from beginning to end. With clear room for future installments, I pray there will be – classic spy movies deserve a comeback. Move over Jason Bourne – Evelyn Salt has arrived.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Salt manage to keep you guessing? Were you able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the action? Would you like to see a sequel? Share your thoughts in the comments, but remember – avoid revealing spoilers!

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