Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Avengers: Fantastic Superhero Action, Joss Whedon Style

Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is a terrific superhero film. There may have been some doubt in fan circles if a film featuring Marvel Comics’ premier super team could be pulled off, but this is an entertaining, action-filled movie. Marvel has done a fine job in the last few years of bringing various superheroes to the screen in individual films (the two Iron Man movies, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk) while subtly tying them together with cameos and in-jokes, so that viewers can see the heroes exist in the same shared universe. The Avengers is the payoff, the knockout punch, if you will, of all that groundwork. And bringing in Whedon (best known for the Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel TV series), to write & direct the project was a very, very smart move.
The villain here is Loki, who was prominently featured in Thor (2011). This time the Thunder God’s evil half brother has teamed up with an alien race to obtain a powerful object  called The Tesseract, (better known the Cosmic Cube to all you comic fans out there), and to use its power to….what else…. rule the world!  Nick Fury, the head of the super-secret organization known as SHIELD (Samuel L. Jackson, getting more screen time than he has in any of the previous movies) brings together a disparate team of heroes to fight the menace. Some are reluctant, some aren’t, but everyone seems to question if this group can function as a team. The roll call includes Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), archer/soldier Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and superspy/assassin The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). And of course, there’s the big green guy: The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, taking over the role from Ed Norton), who’s the uncontrollable wild card in the equation.
In true comic book fashion, the heroes battle each other (and their own demons), before coming together to battle Loki and his alien forces in a fantastic action sequence. Whedon juggles the group of heroes well, giving everyone a fair amount of screen time.  If you’re familiar with Whedon’s previous work on Buffy and Angel, as well as his comics work on titles like Astonishing X-Men, it’s no surprise that he presents the team as a sort of dysfunctional family, who have to get past their own issues and work together to defeat the villains. There’s also a lot of great dialogue & some wonderful humor in the film, another Whedon trademark.  Tom Hiddleston is satisfyingly creepy as the evil & manipulative Loki, and the supporting cast features Cobie Smulders as SHIELD agent Maria Hill, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson (seen in some of the previous films), Stellan Skarsgard (in his role from Thor) and Gwyneth Paltrow, reprising her role from the Iron Man films.
Even if you’re not familiar with the comic book characters, you’ll be able to enjoy the snappy dialogue, wonderful special effects, solid performances & amazing action sequences. This is fantastic film-making at its best, and finely crafted popcorn entertainment. Whedon and his cast & crew have done a superlative job. The Avengers is one of the best superhero films ever, and it will be interesting to see where the Marvel heroes will be taken next, in the already planned individual sequels to their own films, and the now promised sequel to this one. A couple of additional notes: as with many of the previous Marvel movies, make sure you stay until the end of the credits for a couple of additional surprises. And while I viewed the film in 3-D, it’s not absolutely essential, as the movie was re-processed for (not shot in) 3-D, so it will play just fine in two dimensions.

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