Thursday, 26 April 2012

Movie Review - 'The Avengers' (Plus Some Extra Bits)


I swear, if The Avengers was four hours long, I would have enjoyed it even more. It's been an age since a summer superhero blockbuster had me wishing it would never end. I am certainly not the first person saying this, but Marvel took a huge gamble in handing Joss Whedon the task of directing what really is the ultimate superhero movie. Once again, the powers that be at Marvel have shown that they know what they are doing. Hit the jump for my full review.

If you don't know what The Avengers is about, you cannot possibly be reading this review. So I'm not going to go into the fact that it's all our favourite heroes rolled into one mammoth movie: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk; and some other team players too: Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury and of course, Agent Caulson. Nor will I mention that they need to save the world. It's all too obvious. What isn't obvious is how all these egos would play together. Every one of the four main Avengers have had not one but two movies of their own (including the sequels in development for Thor and Captain America). Not only that, but their personalities differ radically. There's a demigod, a billionaire philanthropist playboy genius, an All-American WWII soldier who has been frozen for 70 years, and a scientist with more than just a few anger consequences. The biggest challenge with The Avengers was how to balance all of this out into one coherent movie. I, for one, was worried it would turn into a huge mess (but a pretty one at least), and I don't think I was alone either. 

Did Whedon (who wrote the screenplay and directed) succeed? He not only succeeded, he triumphed. He took the very thing that makes the Avengers such a difficult movie to make, too many massive egos for one film, and got them work in his favour. The chemistry between the different characters was outstanding. Not only did it make for awesome banter and a revelation of every boyhood fantasy rivalry, but it allowed each character to be fleshed out even more than they were in their own movies. You need to stand these heroes up next to each other to really see who they are. As for the fantasy rivalries, I will leave that for you to discover. Oh, and Whedon finally got the Hulk right by casting Mark Ruffalo. He was the, uhm, biggest surprise of the movie!

The real triumph, however, was something that mega-budget Hollywood blockbusters seldom get right: humour. The inter-hero bickering and bantering was dialogue at its very best, regardless of genre. When the fate of our planet is threatened by a hell-bent Fassbender-esque demigod leading an alien army, things aren't always that funny. To turn such dire fare into popcorn entertainment, you need jokes to take the edge off. Michael Bay has tried so incredibly hard to inject some laughter into Transformers, but all he achieved was ridicule. Joss Whedon has done what Bay wishes he could do, and I bet the man is pretty jealous. The audience ranged between edge-of-your seat suspense and complete hysterics on a regular basis. This is what Hollywood is all about - a roller coaster ride of emotion!

With a budget of around $220 million, The Avengers was given an opportunity to be spectacular. It needed to be, with all those heroes and only one real chance to pull it off. The action set pieces were not only epic in scale, they were perfectly balanced as well. Some scenes were like Transformers on steroids (the finale), and others evoked memories of the James Bonds of old (the Stuttgart scene). Not one move or sequence was wasted or ill conceived. Every punch, kick, body slam, shot or explosion was there for a reason, forcing the audience to focus for every second of the movie. Most epic films with long battles allow you to divert your attention a little because of all the damn explosions and stuff. It even gets boring. Not here. With The Avengers, you literally don't want to miss a beat, and the 2 hour 22 minute running time goes by like a trailer.

I will admit that before watching this film, I was not a "Whedonite" at all. But having read about him quite a bit, I see how The Avengers has his fingerprints all over it, and why Marvel thought he was the man for the job. There is the dry, caustic wit, the surprises out of left field, and of course, the hidden little movie references. Some may consider these spoilers (even though I don't think they are), so I will list them after the review is over.

Apart from the Whedonisms, I would say that The Avengers is characterized by the perfect blend of "epic" and "basic". Everything is huge, but as I've mentioned already, all other aspects of the film were carefully and meticulously thought out. Joss Whedon's attention to detail is geekdom at its very best, and further enhances Marvel's already brilliant track record of weaving together different elements of its own comic book universe. 

All in all, this The Avengers is a near perfect action movie, and probably the greatest superhero movie ever made (not counting Nolan's vision of Batman, which is just too different to even begin comparing).

9 out of 10

(MINOR) SPOILERS AHEAD!

I'm sure there are many more, but watch out for nods to:
  • Reindeer Games (Tony Stark teasing Loki).
  • The Lord of the Rings (Tony Stark teasing Hawkeye).
  • Point Break (Tony Stark teasing Thor. Yeah, he does a lot of teasing. Also, it's interesting (and probably insignificant) to note that Kathryn Bigelow directed Point Break, and also The Hurt Locker, which starred Jeremy Renner. Deliberate? Doubtful).
  • King Kong (Hulk in Manhattan).
  • Independence Day (the final strike).
  • The Silence of the Lambs (Loki, wearing his Hannibal mask, going back to the original Hannibal himself up in Asgard).
  • Alien (Harry Dean Stanton acted in Alien, and has a small role here where he asks if Banner is some sort of alien).
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (or Tenacious D, depending on your type), when Tony Stark teases Loki (again) by referring to the "blue stick of destiny". I think I'm stretching it a bit now though.
  • Finally, another well known Whedonism is his regular reference to classic stories and films. He does it here with a Biblical allegory (Noah) and Shakespeare (teasing Thor about Shakespeare in the Park). Actually, he filmed another (smaller) adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, while filming Avengers. So there's plenty Shakespeare! I could also mention that Kenneth Branagh, who directed Thor, also directed adaptations of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet, but that would be getting ridiculous.
Any more?

The Avengers opens in South Africa today (26 April 2012), and in the USA on 4 May 2012.

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