Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Just Seen: Marvel's The Avengers

Okay, if they're gonna spend $220 million on a film that rakes in $207 million domestic and $390 million worldwide box office the first week, well, such a franchise summary deserves my Costco discount movie pass be added to the pile.

And The Avengers is a definitely a franchise summary, the strange Frankensequel to five other movies (Hulk 1 and 2, Thor, Iron Man 1 and 2 and Captain America: First Avenger.) It 's a hydra movie with five heads and what looks to be a long, long, long tail.

The demi-god Loki (Tom Hiddleston), with his
sword and magic helmet, as he opens a
trans-dimensional portal to our planet (bottom).
(Would you believe I swiped this joke from
the New York Times?)
I'd go so far as to say that the necessity of The Avengers almost ruined Captain America, a delightful superhero film set resolutely in WWII. That movie ended in (spoiler alert, kinda) a no-win situation for the Cap, and he wound up frozen in a block of ice. At the very end of the film he was revived in present day by Nick Fury-- essentially for The Avengers. The bridging between these two films was executed with about as much finesse and subtlety as a street-corner sign twirler.

I can't help but wonder why Marvel was so damn keen on jamming as many superheroes as they could into one film can. Wouldn't it be more profitable in the long run to have a LOT of franchises going? Or is this the result of a sort of a Walmart-ization, a way to streamline profits into one manageable unit?

But this is a quibble: The Avengers is fine escapist entertainment. You get to see stuff blow up. You get to see the inner workings of a giant flying aircraft carrier. You get to hear Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) deliver witty zingers-- he's no Roger Sterling, but it's better than the stilted bantering between Thor (Chris Hemsworth and Loki (Tom Hiddleston)-- what Tony Stark called “Shakespeare in the park.” You get to see Hideous Space Bikers and Giant Trilobite-Snakes from Beyond the Stars battle costumed heroes over Manhattan. Modesto's own Jeremy Renner holds his own as Hawkeye, showing he has the presence to stand out even in a busy comic-book movie.

A few notes:

• Joss Whedon's writing/directing adds two very good elements to the film. He knows the geography of cinema-- how to stage fights and move action among multiple characters so that you never get confused. There is not one shot in The Avengers where you don't know what is happening and how it connects to parallel scenes. Not every action director gets this: Michael Bay lets his transforming robot fights get so out of hand the action becomes a CG blur.

Whedon also infuses the film with a cleverly overwritten and funny tone. It lacks the baffling solemnity most directors add to big-budget flicks like this: almost every non-CG-Fight scene (and some of those as well) ends on a nice upward twist, a cute button that reminded me of some of the better episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Some reviews have praised Whedon for making an intelligent comic-book movie: I wouldn't go that far. (that honor still goes to Jon Favreau and the Iron Man films.) Still, due credit to Joss for pulling The Avengers up to a high-school level of wit, as opposed to the usual middle-school fart-joke level of a Bay film.

• This is the second Joss Whedon film where he has made me try to care about the death of a character I didn't know or care about. I ain't saying who, but it was character that was in several of the parent films and ultimately was about as disposable as a piston rod. Still, all business stops for about ten minutes while a few (I guess hardcore Marvel fan) audience members gasped. He did the exact same thing in Serenity, when he killed off Wash (Alan Tudyk, Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball). All the "Firefly" fans in the theatre freaked out: I never saw a single moment of that series, so I was in the dark as to what the wailing was about. It points up Whedon's fanboyish tendencies, him essentially telling casual moviegoers “If you don't care, you haven't geeked out enough to care.”

• Are superheroes the One Percent? I'll illustrate a scene: In the thick of urban warfare and devastation, Captain America (Chris Evans) lands among a handful of cops and starts barking out orders (“Fall back, set up a perimeter on 39th street,” etc.). One cop, New Yorker to the core, looks at his silly blue tights and says “Why should we be taking orders from you?” Then, by coincidence, Captain America is beset by a half-dozen Hideous Space Bikers. He demolishes them with his shield in the blink of an eye. Beat. The cop then starts urgently repeating Cap's orders to his underlings, ha ha ha. “Why should you be taking orders from me, Mister Ordinary Civil Servant? You should because I am superior to you in every way!”

But this is a subject that's far too big for this article. Bottom line: Go see The Avengers. It's spectacular, engaging and you won't feel all icky afterwards-- like you will when you go see Battleship next week.

1 comment:

  1. I was just talking to a 60-year-old actress friend of mine, and SHE heard this is a good movie to see. I think the strategy is clear now - everything goes in, everyone goes to see it.