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Friday, May 18, 2012  

M. Ovie Reviews: The Avengers

As many comic-book movies as I've seen in the past few years, and as many as you've seen me review, it's a little surprising that I'm not actually a comic book fan. I think I'm becoming a comic-book movie fan, though. Particularly a fan of The Avengers.

I've been a willing mark in Marvel's long con to which this is the culmination (see above) and we all knew that when this sequel to, like, six other movies showed up, I'd be there -- not least of all because I'd already invested in four of them. And pretty much liked most of them, so what the heck? But even with that and all the positive reviews, I knew better than to let my expectations get too high. But they did anyway, and then the movie exceeded them.

I confess to being a longtime admirer of Joss Whedon, but also a cautious skeptic, given the whole Dollhouse and Firefly thing. I remain curious as to how he actually got this gig. As a comic-book geek himself, he was the perfect guy for the job, which should have disqualified him right out of the gate. Good thing somebody screwed up somewhere along the line. The Avengers turns out to be a perfect balance of...well, lots of things.

For instance, there's the perennial question of comic geeks: "Who would win in a fight between Hero A and Hero B?" Before all the supers start getting along, thanks to a catalyzing event I won't spoil, there are plenty of permutations of Hero A vs. Hero B. (and sometimes hero C.) to take in, both superpowerish and verbal (both of which are enjoyable). Every hero has his or Black Widow's own personal tragedy to deal with, and they do, but without being whiny and mopey about it. And I think it's been pretty well established that a superhero movie's quality is often inversely proportional to its protagonist's level of self-pity. I.e., In this context, Iron Man > Captain America > Thor > Iron Man 2 > either Hulk movie, from what I hear.

The other thing that makes this project Whedonesque is the whole gang-of-misfits-with-powers theme. The Avengers are like the Scooby gang (the real one, from Buffy) in that they all have their own special skills and abilities that fit together perfectly when it counts, but they're also outsized personalities who bicker like teenagers. There's a scene where everybody yells at Nick Fury (and if you're going to yell at SLJ -- who between this series and The Incredibles has been in most of my favorite superhero movies -- you definitely want five other superheroes to have your back) that reminded me of nothing so much as everyone turning on Giles in the library, in a Buffy scene that may or may not have actually happened.

There's also the balance of each individual Avenger, which is somehow pulled off brilliantly. Nobody steals the movie (although RDJ comes close) and nobody gets shortchanged (with the possible exception of Hawkeye, and who cares about him since M*A*S*H went off the air?). Character development is balanced with action, humor is balanced with tragedy, and it all just holds together.

As a director, I'm glad to say that Whedon avoids most of the usual Whedonisms. There's very little directorial intrusion, and almost none of those pointlessly interminable tracking shots he used to do all the time just to show off. I'm not saying he doesn't do them, but here he makes them count. Rather than trying to show up the series' previous directors Favreau, Branagh, or Johnston (I can't speak to Lee or Leterrier), he respects the visions they laid out in their prequels and integrates them into a whole. And unlike most overblown action movies, he lets his actors act. Every one of these invincible personages has moments of vulnerability and even fear, including Thor and Loki.

To put it bluntly, Joss Whedon shows a lot of balls with this project. And somehow he keeps them all up in the air.

posted by M. Giant 12:45 PM 0 comments


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