Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers

The movie needs little introduction. You don't have to be a comic book fanboy/girl to know that the hype around the latest in Marvel's movie adaptations has a great deal to live up to. But given the fact that The Avengers went on to break the box office record for biggest opening weekend (dethroning Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) in all likelihood if you're reading this you've already seen the film and know that every moment spent waiting for it has been completely worth it. At the risk of being completely redundant, though, I'll go ahead and give it the Other R2D2 Blog treatment.


First off: Joss Whedon. I barely even need to elaborate here. Yes, he's developed something of a cult of personality but he's every bit deserving of it. C'mon, Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog...any one of those titles serves to prove Whedon's creative prowess, not to mention the myriad of other writing, creating, directing, and producing credits behind him. His signature style is clearly visible on The Avengers, and it's just what the doctor ordered. Whedon knows how to balance character development and action to pitch perfection and it's no more obvious than in this film. If Marvel knows what's good for them, Whedon will hopefully helm everything Marvel makes from now on forever and ever.

Hyperbole aside, The Avengers may be the best Marvel film to date and that's largely due to Whedon's skill as writer and director. I was admittedly skeptical about the film leading up to its release. Marvel had done a wonderful job of giving each of their characters a movie that fit them perfectly; Iron Man and Iron Man 2 sported a high-octane, rock-n-roll vibe that reflected Tony Stark's playboy persona. Thor practiced a vaguely Shakespearean motif courtesy of director Kenneth Branagh that allowed the "elevated" English the Asgardians spoke seem less out-of-place. Captain America wisely pulled off a very meta-plot that incorporated the character's rather cheesy origin as a propaganda poster boy. And we don't talk about The Incredible Hulk because, ya know, Edward Norton. So naturally I wondered if The Avengers would have enough room for all its characters without becoming too bulky and awkward. And in the end I was blown away by how deftly the film handled it's rather tall order; each character's stories and journeys were given space to develop without getting in each other's way.

The cinematography even reflected this in places, specifically during combat scenes. There's a brilliant shot in the climactic battle scene where each of the heroes is fighting the oncoming Chitauri hordes in their own way: Hawkeye and Black Widow use precision marksmanship and martial arts, Thor calls down lightning with his hammer, Captain America's shield acts as both defensive and offensive weapon, Iron Man zips in and out of aerial combat, and Hulk of course just smashes the crap out of everything. It's a single shot that lasts for (what felt like) a few minutes, swooping in and around the heroes like a friggin' roller coaster. But it wasn't annoyingly jarring or out of focus; no Bourne-like shaky-cam in sight. It was high energy without being disorienting and distracting. It was just thrilling. And as much can be said for the rest of the film.

True to Whedon form, the film is also loaded with laughs. Not only is Tony Stark's (more like Tony Snark!) rapier wit in perfect form, there's a veritable treasure trove of one-liners and sight gags. In as much as this film is an action movie, it's a comedy. And from where I was sitting, that was a very good thing.

And what of the visual effects? We hardly hear anything about visual effects any more because we've all become so used to photorealistic CGI; I'll be the first to admit a measure of jadedness when it comes to visual effects these days. Despite that, The Avengers manages to be chock full of grade-A VFX and yet not burdened by them. I found myself truly impressed with the CGI in this film in a way I don't remember being impressed since first seeing Gollum on screen.


Thankfully, there really isn't much I found to take issue with. Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark is my favorite character - and growing up Iron Man was one of my favorite superheroes. So there's a part of me that wanted more of him in the film. But the film is already pretty long at almost two and a half hours and giving Stark more screen time would have cut into the screen time of the other heroes, destroying the balance The Avengers maintained so well. So that one hardly counts as a con, really. Just a personal gripe. And a minor one at that.


The Avengers is every bit deserving of the critical and financial praise its receiving. Cramming 6 superheroes (4 of whom have already carved out narrative territory for themselves in their own films) into one film and giving them enough room to be themselves without tripping over each other was a monumental task. But if there was one director who knew and loved these characters enough to do them justice individually and together it was Joss Whedon; and he's accomplished another monumental creative feat.

True, this movie is pure comic book fare. But that's exactly what it's supposed to be and it's a prime example of the fact that visual effects don't have to snuff out character development - cinematic spectacle and quality writing can still operate in harmony. And when they do, the result is a movie going experience as satisfying as The Avengers.

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