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!





Dexter Season 1: A Bloody Good Time

14 01 2010

I realize it’s a little late, but with the increase of TV on DVD, shows are gaining new fans well after their initial seasons have aired.  And Showtime’s Dexter just got a new fan!  If you haven’t seen Season 1 beware…there are a few spoilers!  Here’s the breakdown:

Dexter Morgan is as blood spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department.  His adopted sister, Deb, is an officer and they often work together.  What no one knows is, Dexter is a serial killer…with a twist.  He only kills other killers.  Season 1 chronicles Dexter’s life, juggling a girlfriend, sister and job with his vigilante-style killing sprees.  The dreaded Ice Truck Killer is the season’s mysterious antagonist, and as the season progresses, Dexter’s dark and veiled past starts to be revealed…

The Monkey: The show is expertly written.  The humor is dark and witty; Dexter has no emotions, feels no attachments, and watching him fake it is disturbingly funny.  Michael C. Hall plays Dexter with just the right amount of detachment, without alienating the viewer.  Despite his lack of feelings, the viewer roots for him.  The twists are intelligent, the characters likable.

The Weasel: The female characters (especially Dexter’s sister, Deb and his girlfiend, Rita) are sometimes weak and grating.  Rita, a battered divorcee with two kids can come across whiny and needy.  Deb’s foul-mouth can be endearing, but her over-the-top dramatics can be tiring.

SPOILER ALERT!

I was surprised that the twist at the end (it is revealed that the Ice Truck Killer is actually Dexter’s brother) was not explored more than it was.  Both boys witnessed the brutal murder of their mother…and they were both psychologically damaged, becoming killers themselves.  What I found most interesting was the ways in which they view/approach death and killing.  Dexter has an obsession with blood (making his job a perfect fit).  On the other hand, Brian (The Ice Truck Killer) drains his victims of every last drop of blood.  This paradox is intriguing and clever, but is never fully explored on screen.  Whether this connection was meant to be subtextual or not, digging deeper into the psychology of the characters is something I hope gets further development in subsequent seasons.

END OF SPOILERS

While the season wrapped up most of the plot lines nicely, a thread involving Lt. LaGuerta (Dexter’s boss) is left open.  While her character was frustrating towards the beginning of the season, she’s become a likable character, one I hope gets some more development.  Season 2 is a fan favorite, so I can’t wait to start another Dexter adventure!  Michael C. Hall just revealed his battle with cancer, so I hope he has a full recovery…his fans seem like a supportive bunch, and I see many more seasons of Dexter in his future!

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think?  Did you like Dexter Season 1?  Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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