By Shane M. Dallmann
DISCLAIMER: I am equally aware of the controversy and requested boycott stemming from “Jack Kirby vs. Marvel” and the fact that the new AVENGERS movie deviates significantly from the concept as set up in the original comics. I intend no disrespect to anyone involved, but in matters such as these, I’m simply a guy who likes to take his son to see superhero movies. I was given plenty of reasons as to why I shouldn’t have liked X-MEN: FIRST CLASS last time around but it still became my favorite such film of the year. So that’s me.
Okay. Both IRON MAN movies? Check. THE INCREDIBLE HULK? Check. THOR? Check. CAPTAIN AMERICA? Check. We can finally assemble the AVENGERS puzzle with the help of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, of course), the Black Widow… oh, and Hawkeye (Alan Alda… sorry… Jeremy Renner), who didn’t get the benefit of a proper buildup in a previous movie and who almost immediately becomes the mind-slave of Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) when the latter shows up to grab the all-important energy source known as the Tesseract. There’s your plot.
By far, the most spirited discussion inspired by my reviews of the “build-up” movies involved the preference of the modern viewer for either the good, old-fashioned, star-spangled patriotism of Captain America (Chris Evans) or the sardonic, post-9/11 cynicism of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). Sure, both of them want to defeat the bad guys and protect their country, but what would happen if you were to put the two of them in a room together? Let me assure you, THE AVENGERS does not disappoint even slightly in that department. Then come the characters you’d think would be even harder to integrate…
Perhaps Mark Ruffalo has the most difficult task, as he’s no less than the THIRD Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk we’ve seen since the turn of the century (though only the previous Ed Norton film “counts” in this scenario). But even though he’s entering this “payoff” fray as a first-time performer, he may be the best of them all–take him as the genius who would do just about anything to keep his “secret” from falling into the wrong hands.
And while she played second fiddle to Iron Man earlier, Scarlett Johansson now truly comes into her own as the Black Widow, providing the film with some of its most humorous and surprising moments.
The film’s biggest potential liability was a combination of the return of the Thor character (Chris Hemsworth) and the use of Loki as a primary villain. I don’t think anybody named THOR as their favorite pre-AVENGERS movie–I, myself, didn’t think it was terrible, but it was certainly the least interesting of the bunch. Fear not–the Asgardians manage to fit perfectly into this scenario. Thor believes what happens in Asgard is none of our concern but, of course, is powerless to keep the conflict from happening, and Loki knows exactly which buttons to push as he reminds one and all of “some guy we used to know in Germany.” (Forget the THOR movie as such–Hiddleston makes Loki a villain actually worth reckoning with this time around.) Thor even manages to score one of the movies best laughs (out of many)–it comes on the heels of “…he’s an Asgardian, and he’s my brother.”
The banter of the characters is inspired and everyone gets a chance to shine because writer/director Joss Whedon has very obviously loved these heroes both eager and reluctant for a long time (I know CABIN IN THE WOODS was actually made three years ago, but the guy has really taken the year by storm in my book). And true to modern sensibilities, they don’t simply band together and put aside their personal and political differences just like that–even they require a certain degree of manipulation from the top, and Nick Fury proves himself willing to do whatever it takes to achieve the desired results, including a truly shameless appeal to innocent hero worship (“Those weren’t in his jacket”–I shall say no more).
Revelations and incidents along those lines may come off as uncomfortable or even controversial, but they WORK, giving our heroes far more dramatic weight as a result. Of COURSE we want them to win–but can we actually get them all on the same page?
What’s that? I’ve been going on about characters, dialogue, drama and humor all this time? Yes, I have, and that should tell you something. You don’t need me to tell you about the action, spectacle and destruction or the terrific mechanical monsters, and I’m not going to spoil a wonderful cameo (“You an alien?”) or do more than tell you to stay through the ENTIRE end credits. You’ll get your superhero action and adventure, and you’re going to get great stuff from your favorite character (no matter who). And you’re going to get plenty of surprises.
I should also mention that while I was essentially “rooked” into seeing the 3-D conversion against my original plans, this time it worked quite well (certainly a lot better than it had in CAPTAIN AMERICA at the very least, by my experience). So if you can afford the surcharge, this time I’d say it’s worth it. And I say “go have fun.”