MOVIE REVIEW: The Avengers
THE AVENGERS-- 5 STARS
The words "never before seen," "unprecedented," "groundbreaking," and "revolutionary" get thrown around a great deal in the movie business. Everything wants to be on that cutting edge ahead of everyone else. Few movies deliver on those adjectives. When that cabin door opens in 1939's The Wizard of Oz and everything sepia turns to color, a new world is opened, not just in the movie, but with movies themselves. In 1995, when Pixar's Toy Story brought computers into animation, that was a "game changer," another buzz label. Just three years ago, Avatar's technical achievements in performance-capture technology and 3D filmmaking raised the bar and was something dreamed of, but never thought possible. I may be picking out too tall of a pedestal, but there's an element of newly broken ground to the culmination that is The Avengers, from Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures.
Where The Avengers breaks historic ground is in long-term planning and scope. Many films in many years have had several years of tedious planning put into them, but not like this. Plenty of film franchises have gone on to make connected sequels. The Harry Potter series was built for that, but not like this. Never before has a film attempted to merge this many individual entities. Aside from classic horror showdowns like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, nothing of the sort in terms of uniting characters has ever been attempted at this scale. In my lifetime, the closest I've ever seen to a character being in more than one project was Michael Keaton's cocky federal agent Ray Nicolette appearing as a cameo in 1998's Out of Sight from Steven Soderbergh and as a supporting character in 1997's Jackie Brown from Quentin Tarantino. Both films were based on Elmore Leonard novels, but that doesn't mean Jack Foley (George Clooney) and Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) were going to team-up and start a crime spree together down the road. What The Avengers had in mind was bigger than that.
Marvel Studios gained control of their own properties instead of farming them off to the highest bidder (i.e. Spider-Man is housed at Sony and the X-Men universe remains at 20th Century Fox). Success allowed them to start bankrolling and selling their own movies without splitting with distributors like Paramount and Universal. That clout increased when Walt Disney purchased all of Marvel Entertainment (movies, comics, and all) on New Year's Eve 2009. They became their own creative control. Few franchises can say that.
Through uncompromising planning and genius forethought, Marvel shrewdly enacted a master blueprint of developing five individual origin films (2008's Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, 2010's Iron Man 2, and last year's Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) from four different directors that built off of one another, were inter-connected, and culminated to the common goal of this massive team-up we are witnessing with The Avengers. Many studio chiefs (just ask Warner Brothers with their DC Comics library of Superman, Batman, and the like) have dreamed this, but none have tried it and none have succeeded until now.
The Avengers is exactly that: a dream come true. No one thought it was possible, but Marvel stuck to their guns and the pay-off monumentally delivers. In The Avengers, we learn very early on that the Cosmic Cube, a.k.a. the Terrasect, a source of endless power wielded and recovered from Captain America: The First Avenger, will be the object of our villain's affections. That villain is Loki (the excellent Tom Hiddleston), the adopted brother of Thor and brief former king of Asgard, and he demolishes an underground S.H.I.E.L.D. base to take it away from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, with a full role instead of his usual cameos) and company. He also gains mind control over Terrasect specialist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard from Thor) and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s sharp-shooting archery assassin Clint "Hawkeye" Barton (Jeremy Renner). Fearing the Chitauri alien army that Loki has behind him, Fury decides to reactivate his rumored "Avengers Initiative" as a response team to Loki's global threat.
Fury, the trusty agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), and Natasha "Black Widow" Rommanoff (Scarlett Johansson), begin to enlist and recuit the resurrected WWII hero Captain America (Chris Evans), the reclusive gamma scientist Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, taking over for and improving on Edward Norton), and take a gamble working with Iron Man himself, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., zinging the one-liners). When the God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), tracks Loki to Earth, he too sees that S.H.I.E.L.D. and he have a common enemy and goal, that being recovering their lost colleagues and Terrasect. Thus, a team is formed, but one with many kinks and differences, which come to light and clash wonderfully as The Avengers plays out.
The movie, whether your are a fan of the comics and previous movies or not, is infectious summer blockbuster fun. Those going in casual may just come out a fan. The Avengers delivers the comic book action, beefy heroics, impressive special effects, and 3D spectacle as advertised. When put up against the previous movie greats of the genre, The Avengers might just chisel out its own spot on the Mount Rushmore of comic book movies, right beside Superman, The Dark Knight, and Spider-Man 2. It's that good and that important for the growth of the genre.
The long road to get to The Avengers was worth it. By having the origins of our main characters out of the way, the story can progress and cover a lot of ground. If those five lead-up movies didn't exist, The Avengers would feel thrown together and have too much to introduce. Those five initial films set the values, agendas, and goals of these characters. We just get to sit back and see what happens when they intersect.
While Robert Downey, Jr. is the headliner, each main character gets their time to shine in the center spotlight with not only "wow" moments of action bliss, but also meaty character-driven scenes. Combined with extremely well-written, laugh-out-loud humor from Joss Whedon, the interactive experiences between these formerly separate personalities is outstanding. Whedon, as a fellow fanboy on the inside and popular comic book writer on the outside, knew when and how to use and respect the epic moments that occur throughout the movie. With all of that said, Mark Ruffalo's Hulk steals the show. He instigates the best shock, awe, and leap-out-of-your-chair spots out of everyone on the team.
With this nearly five-year, six-movie blueprint of building to The Avengers completed, it will be interesting to see where Marvel Studios goes with both Avengers sequels and new individual adventures from these now-iconic characters. Iron Man 3, Thor 2, and Captain America 2 all have the green light. After this film, I expect a renewed interest for more Hulk that may lead to that character getting a much-deserved sequel, hopefully with Ruffalo at the center. As with any Marvel movie, stay after for the credits for TWO extra scenes. One sets up the likely heavy on the horizon for The Avengers 2 and the other is for pure geeky enjoyment. Once again, all of this scope in The Avengers constitutes nothing short of a movie-making miracle. Go back a rewrite the definitions for "unprecedented," "groundbreaking," and those other buzz words from the opening. The bar has officially been raised.
LESSON #1: POWER CORRUPTS-- Simply put, power corrupts, especially if it's a mythical cube that could be a source of limitless energy for an entire planet. When something comes around looking stronger than you, you respond by raising your level of strength. After that, you want a show of strength to prove that you're still on top.
LESSON #2: THE MOTIVATION TO JOIN A TEAM OR A CAUSE-- While Nick Fury and the people from S.H.I.E.L.D. talk a good talk about the threat of alien war, each main character has their own reasons for being there, staying there, and fighting for this cause. Motivation comes in many forms and many levels of strength. You will see that going on here.
LESSON #3: STEPPING UP WHEN NEEDED-- In order to get Lesson #2 to happen for the motivation to work, the decision must be made to commit and step up when it is necessary. The decision-making step follows the stimulus of motivation. Again, each one of the future Avengers steps up in a different way.
LESSON #4: WORKING AS A TEAM-- Once you get a team assembled and motivated, they have to work together, not against each other to succeed. On this team, each big-time player brings a different skill set of strengths and abilities that must be utilized properly and in the right moments in battle. Kudos to Captain America and his natural leadership ability.