Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Avengers (2012)

It's been nearly two weeks since my last Marvel film, THOR (2011), so time for another one! And what a movie it was: Joss Whedon's superlative THE AVENGERS (2012).

Whedon wrote and directed THE AVENGERS, which brings together all of the Marvel superheroes in the culmination of the first cycle of Marvel films. To say that it works well is an understatement. Whedon manages to simultaneously tell a big, intricate yet coherent story, give many characters individual moments to shine, and keep the movie going at such a pace that it was a surprise to realize it had run 143 minutes.

As the movie opens, the nasty Nordic god Loki (Tom Hiddleston), last seen falling into a black abyss in THOR, turns out to be alive (but of course). It's a long story, but Loki invades a SHIELD station and uses his magical powers to corrupt Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and steal the Tesseract -- watch the movie to find out what it is -- with the enslavement of mankind soon to follow.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the head of SHIELD, brings together a disparate team to fight Loki and his army from outer space: Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).

Soon Thor (Chris Hemsworth) joins in the battle, having finally found his way back to earth from Asgard, anxious to have it out with his evil adopted brother Loki. And of course, SHIELD agents Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are on the team as well.

If it all sounds like Greek, it doesn't really matter. It's just a whole lot of fun! Think of the Tesseract as sort of the initial MacGuffin which causes the movie to happen -- although unlike one of Hitchcock's devices, the Tesseract actually does something. It's a great ride as a group of high-powered characters interact, challenge one another, and strut their stuff fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. (Oops, wrong superhero...)

I've mentioned before that the Marvel films strike me as a comic book soap opera of sorts, with a large recurring cast and no one ever really dying. (Forget Loki...Agent Coulson, I'm looking at you!) It struck me tonight that THE AVENGERS is the "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" of the Marvel of the classic TV series MAVERICK will get the reference. Correspondingly, I prefer the much more spot-on UK title for the movie, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE.

All of the actors are excellent, and I have particular fondness for Thor and the Black Widow, but watching THE AVENGERS I was struck that it's really Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark who's the glue which holds the movie together. In the midst of somewhat more predictable characters, whether the upright Captain America or the impressively godlike Thor, it's the quick-thinking, fast-talking Tony who mixes things up and makes things happen, including confounding Loki with his verbal sparring. One thing you can say about Tony, he is never, ever at a loss for words.

As played by Downey, Tony is a completely unique character, on the obnoxious side, yet he rather earns the right. Downey completely sells Tony as a cynical genius with a heart hiding under his sarcastic exterior, especially when it comes to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Tony has many of the best lines in a very well-written movie, whether it's reacting to Pepper's friendly greeting to Phil Coulson ("His first name is Agent!") or interrupting a dramatic scene between Thor and Loki with a jibe about them indulging in "Shakespeare in the park."

When arguing with Captain America, who asks what Tony is without his suit, Tony unhesitatingly responds "Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" before telling Captain America "Everything special about you came out of a bottle!" Ouch. Of course, Tony admits of himself "I'm volatile, self-obsessed, and don't play well with others."

I think my favorite line, though, was when Nick Fury said "I'd like to know how Loki used it to turn two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys." The puzzled Thor queries "Monkeys? I do not understand," and Captain America, who was a young man when THE WIZARD OF OZ came out, proudly says "I do! I understood that reference."

There's also the moment Captain says, "At this point, I doubt anything would surprise me," and Nick says, "Ten bucks says you're wrong." Later, in a perfectly timed moment, Captain America silently pulls out his wallet and hands Fury $10.

I could go on as the script is full of gems, and beyond the good dialogue the story itself is very well balanced between moments large and small. They even took a minute to assure Thor that his true love Jane (Natalie Portman) is safely out of harm's way, being protected by SHIELD. There are some great visuals, especially SHIELD's aircraft carrier turned invisible spaceship. And the final tag, showing what tired superheroes do after saving the world...priceless.

As regular readers know, I watch "recent" movies relatively infrequently. What a treat it's been to discover this very entertaining series, which is almost completely lacking in many of the things I dislike about newer movies, whether it's gore, foul language, or explicit love scenes. Once in a while they do make 'em like they used to...well, except for the CGI! Like the rest of the series, THE AVENGERS is a movie I anticipate which will offer much enjoyment on repeat viewings.

THE AVENGERS was filmed by Seamus McGarvey.

Parental advisory: THE AVENGERS is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence. As with all the Marvel films, there are lots of battles but almost zero blood.

THE AVENGERS is available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo set, on DVD, or via Amazon streaming. The trailer is at IMDb.

Previous Marvel reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), IRON MAN (2008), IRON MAN 2 (2010), THOR (2011), AGENT CARTER (2015), and ANT-MAN (2015).


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