Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Marvel's The Avengers

YES! The Avengers arrived on Blu-Ray yesterday, September 25th, 2012, and I was delighted beyond any euphoria I have ever experienced in my life!

Okay…maybe that’s overdoing it a bit…but I was happy to receive this Blu-Ray from my wife when she returned home from a day of shopping at Target. Even if she didn’t bring it home last night, I still would’ve took a trip there myself to get it, because I had been waiting for this disc from the minute I left the theater last May after watching the film for the first time.

Back in 1978, I saw—at the time—the best comic book film I had ever seen: Superman. As far as special effects movies of that time, Superman was the best. It had even won an Oscar for it and won such critical praise for its cinematography, but my 9-year-old self loved it regardless back then. For over 25 years, that movie was on a pedestal for me as the best superhero movie ever…until Spider-Man 2 was released. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was overall a good trifecta of films (yes, even the third one was enjoyable), but part 2 stood out from the three and even from all comic book movies, because in 2004, I held that movie as the best superhero movie ever. In my mind, The Dark Knight was a worthy runner-up, but Spider-Man 2 won me over as the best. However, a mere 8 years later, The Avengers comes along and just blows me away!

Conversely, this film didn’t just drop on us all of a sudden...we all knew about this and saw this beast coming almost 5 years ago. Starting with Iron Man in 2008, four separate films constructed and readied all of us for The Avengers simply by giving us entertaining movies with a tag at the end of each one—albeit, making us wait through exorbitant amounts of movie credits—hinting at an upcoming collaborative superhero movies which we all knew was going to be The Avengers. And, looking back, that is what made this film work. Because the filmmakers couldn’t just drop a huge movie like this and try to introduce us to a group of heroes with their origins in just a matter of 2½ hours. If they did, the movie would need to be over 4 hours long.

So, what I’m trying to say is that this movie has topped my choice for the best comic book/superhero movie to date. It breaks my heart to say it, because I’m a HUGE Spider-Man fan (although it makes it easier now that Sony screwed up the character with this new rebooted debacle they released over the summer). But yes, The Avengers is now my favorite film based on comic book characters.

Now, if you’re coming in this dry, with no prior knowledge of the separate films that led up to this one, it’s okay. You may find yourself asking questions about what one person (or alien) is, or you may not understand the objects or plots discussed, but you’ll get the basic gist of the film. And the simple idea of it is that an alien menace threatens the welfare of the planet, so a security agency in charge of keeping peace helps to assemble a group of superheroes to maintain that peace and fight off the threat that wants to annihilate our planet.

The heroes should all be familiar and are pretty much household names that most people would recognize. But as I had said, even if you don’t, the movie is very enjoyable to watch.

So, assuming that you’ve seen the preceding films, we see that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is still alive and is able to get to Earth to take the Tesseract (the Cosmic Cube) that S.H.I.E.L.D. (the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) has been performing tests on. Loki’s plan is to open a portal and let in an alien army to overpower the humans of Earth in an attempt to rule over them. S.H.I.E.L.D., directed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), fails to protect the Tesseract and Loki—taking over the minds of Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Dr. Selvig (Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd) to help in his plan—steals it.

One by one, the heroes from the previous stand-alone films are called in to help.

Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America (Chris Evans), is brought in to lead this mission. Still taking in this new world after being asleep for 70 years, but never losing his sense of patriotic duty, steps in. It still throws me for a loop how straight-laced Evans plays the roll. I’m used to him as Johnny Storm from The Fantastic Four and how much he was a smart-ass in that film, so it’s a little off-putting to see him as the guy who gets annoyed when other characters joke around and not take things seriously.

Tony Stark, well known to the world as Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), is brought information by Agent Coulson ((Clark Gregg) about the threat and the other potential team mates, but he's still reluctant to join in. As in the previous two standalone Iron man films, Downey maintains his wit and funny banter, never taking things too seriously (he tried to get Banner to turn into the Hulk for Christ’s sake!). He turns in a solid performance and doesn’t disappoint. However, if I do have any criticism on his performance, it’s the constant need to give everybody funny nicknames (he calls Loki “Shakespeare in the Park” and “Rock of Ages” and refers to Thor as “Point Break”), but it can all be tagged as the type of character he is.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is called in during her covert operation she’s in the middle of to help bring in the most unstable of the group-to-be, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), due to his knowledge of gamma radiation that the Tesseract has traces of, being careful not to let his alter ego, the Hulk, emerge. Johansson continues her character arc from Iron Man 2 and even brings a little bit more as we find out she may have some history we never fully get to know about, but it seems shady as we hear there’s “a lot of red in her ledger.” As for Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner, what a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, Eric Bana and Edward Norton are both great actors, but I don’t think they had the right chemistry or heart for the part. Or perhaps the actor and CGI character didn’t mesh well together. Whatever the reason, the filmmakers remedied it perfectly by casting Ruffalo in the part.

After initially capturing Loki—which leads Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who jumps right back into the role flawlessly, to come to the group, as he wants to bring Loki, along with the Tesseract, back to Asgard—the group finally comes together. Not without its trials and tribulations, the members-to-be test each other out, fighting amongst themselves as they get to know each other and their strengths. But even after getting along, they’re still at odds, mostly with disagreements of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s plans and Stark’s ego—as well as a touch of Loki’s manipulation—it sort of falls apart, aiding in Loki’s escape, although we have to wonder if he really was a prisoner after all. Once Loki’s plan comes to fruition and the world is at stake (and Nick Fury plays his hand to help push them), the team comes together perfectly for some of the best action scenes put to film.

What I liked most about this film was The Hulk. You’ve probably heard from a lot of reviewers, or just word-of-mouth, that he stole the movie—and it’s true. But it was even better for me because after my favorite superhero, Spider-Man, Hulk is number two—or at least almost equal to Spidey. So to see him finally portrayed accurately on screen overloaded my heart with fan boy glee. The scene when he goes toe-to-toe with Thor was terrific and I was in awe at how much motion-capture/CGI has improved over the years. The part of the trailer where the characters circle together to get ready for the oncoming threat, I had seen dozens of times before the movie came out, but it still gives me goose bumps to see it in context with the film as a whole. All the characters get the same amount of screen time and all of them help the story move along. They all help the plot move along and it’s not like any of the characters are wasted.

The music score by Alan Silvestri is actually memorable and symbolic as the heroic theme of the movie. As I sit here, writing this review, it’s replaying in my head, over and over. Trust me, I’m not complaining.

The movie was released in both a normal format as well as in 3D. I chose to watch it in the normal viewing format because I didn’t think the film needed the gimmick to win me over. I was right. The Avengers wins the audience over with the stories and characters and not the visual effects. The film features individuals you care about and want to see come out on top over the evildoers. It’s an original story, from the pages of the comic books anyway, and not some borrowed sci-fi version of Dances With Wolves. Do you see what I’m comparing it to (wink-wink)?

Marvel definitely have their stuff together and are finally doing things right. They’ve created a universe that have the characters overlap each other and that’s what the comic book fans have wanted for a long time. Hopefully Marvel can win back the rights of other characters to get them all involved in this comic book cosmos, whether they become part of the team or not. Dare Devil should be free. The Punisher might be—however, they’re in talks to make a television series out of the character, so I’m not sure. Ghost Rider might be on the market after the debacle the last movie turned out to be. But other important characters that are actually part of the team in the comic book pages should be there and we nerds feel their absence. How cool would it be to see Spider-Man swinging along and fighting side-by-side with Captain America and Hulk? Let’s get the Fantastic Four in there to help out in the battle! Or the X-Men! Who knows? Maybe we will see that in the future.

Nonetheless, I can go on and on about this flick. I’ve seen it twice in the theater and once so far on Blu-Ray, only because I had to get to sleep last night, otherwise I would’ve watched it a second time last night. I’ll probably wear out this disc with the multiple viewings it’s going to endure, but it’ll be well-deserved because this film is the quintessential superhero comic book movie. It’s what other studios would love to do, but I really don’t think they’ll have the know-how that Marvel does. Talk has been brewing about the Justice League movie going into pre-production, but they better watch all the movies leading up to The Avengers if they want a chance at doing it halfway right. Are you listening (or reading this), Warner Bros.?

But you know what? It’s all about Marvel. The future is bright with what’s to come and I can’t wait!

So, in conclusion…what’s my final “bit” on The Avengers?

The best and most definitive superhero movie to date; it’s filled with drama, action, humor, suspense…basically something for everyone. It’s a movie for the whole family to sit around the television and watch with a tub of popcorn. I love it! You’ll love it! It’s especially entertaining and satisfying to watch all the solo movies that lead up to it before watching this one. But it’s just as enjoyable as a separate feature. Worth a watch or a rent…definitely worth it to own it on DVD or Blu-Ray, take my word for it.

Also, to follow suit with all the stand alone movies, there are two post credits scenes: one in the middle and one at the very end. Comic book nerds will understand the first one and the second one is very amusing.

Well, that’s about it. Thank you for reading and, as always, you can reach me on Twitter: @JustCallMeManny.


Sam Brown said...

I have to agree with you that this is the best super hero movie of all time, and that is no light praise. Marvel did such a great job setting up this movie, and I think that is why it ended up being so good. I was talking to a coworker at DISH, and he didn’t even know that every one of the characters had a stand alone movie. I am pretty sure that most people only remembered the Iron Man movies, but I still think that it was genius to release all of the individual ones first. I saw this movie in theaters, and I loved it so much that I put it on my Blockbuster @Home queue the second I got home. It came in the mail today and I got to check it out on my 3D HDTV. I love being able to rent 3D movies so that I can test them out on my system, because it is getting to be old and not every movie works on it. I am glad to say that this one did, and it was just as amazing as it was in theaters!

Manny said...

Thanks, Sam...I appreciate the comment!