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The Avengers aka Avengers Assemble (2012)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE AVENGERS (2012)

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston

Written By: Joss Whedon (also story), Zak Penn (story) Directed By: Joss Whedon

The Short Version

After all of the hype and anticipation, the wait is finally over.

Just remember, it’s really hard to live up to hype past a certain point.

The Avengers is a comic book movie, in comic book style; don’t expect an art house flick.

It’s a good idea to have seen all of the lead-in films first.

The Avengers is a fun party.  Just treat it as such and enjoy.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

SHAWARMA, WITH SWISS.

Approved by Tony Stark.


Pairs Well With...

HEINEKEN.

A default beer selection when mass market domestics aren’t good enough, but the mass market’s the only game in town none the less.

“What's your secret?  Mellow jazz?  Bongo drums?  Huge bag of weed?”


So, it’s finally arrived: the most anticipated motion picture mash-up to come along since Freddy vs. Jason.  And now that the Avengers have assembled, how did it turn out?

That question isn’t as simple as it might at first appear to be, and its answer definitely isn’t a foregone conclusion.  How you approach the question makes all the difference.

Are you looking for an all-around excellent motion picture with a tight storyline, a plot without holes, and meaningful action sequences which, at the end of the day, make sense?

Or, are you looking for a movie that acts like a pulp comic book that’s out to give you a good time as long as you don’t ask too many questions?

If you fall into the first camp, then The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, if you’re a Brit) is going to disappoint you. 

The story’s so loose that the perps on “Cops” could wear it for pants, and the plot has enough holes to make for a fair round of golf.  There’s a definite beginning here, and even a reasonable first act during which the majority of the Avengers assemble. But save for the late arrival of the last member of the team (which is itself a plot hole), most of what happens during the second act carries a definite odor of “passing time,” plotwise, including a major battle sequence.  This is compounded by the fact that the actions of our villain, Loki (Tom Hiddleston, War Horse), during this time make no sense, even after he explains them.  (The explanation doesn’t hold water, no matter how often it’s repeated.)  Once the third act comes along, the story pauses long enough to play Penn and Teller with how it has hoped to manipulate the audience (via its explanation of how it’s manipulated the characters), and then moves on to a final battle that seems to exist only because it has to, with bad guys that look to have come straight from Michael Bay’s cutting room floor.  Loki, at least, the audience has been able to make an investment in, but his army?  Not so much.

Given that without exception, the lead-in flicks to The AvengersIron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger – have all been well-plotted, reasonably multifaceted affairs with a lot of attention paid to every detail involved, viewers have a right to be surprised here, especially with Joss Whedon (whose Serenity is absolutely watertight) at the helm.

Of course, Joss Whedon has assumed that you’ve already watched all of those films.  (If you haven’t, you should, especially Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, because otherwise, some major plot points that are just barely glassed over in terms of explanation will not make much sense.)  With those introductions out of the way, he figures that you’re ready to dive into an action comic book and just have fun rocking out to the biff-bam-pow symphony, with any depth showing up in scattered two minute increments during moments when the characters try to figure out how to outdo each other.

And you know… he’s got a point.

This brings us to the desires of the second camp mention above: the ones just looking to have a good time, and by that, I mean the mass market majority.  You folks, The Avengers has covered, and then some.

You wanted a party, and The Avengers is bringing the party to you.

One of the great challenges of a mash-up is to preserve the individual appeal of everyone involved and to try to give each of its headliners reasonably equal time to shine in the spotlight.  Most mash-ups fail at this challenge; the group either so dilutes the broth that there’s no real flavor left, or one character dominates so heavily that it cancels out the value of having an ensemble.  The Avengers doesn’t have that problem.  One of the great strengths of Joss Whedon’s screenplay is that he does an excellent job of distributing the weight as evenly as possible.  Fans of any of the characters involved should be able to go through this movie with no complaints at the end about their particular golden boy or golden girl being slighted, and that’s an outstanding trick.

With that said, there is one potential show stealer here, and it’s not Iron Man.  Oh, sure, Tony Stark still tries to fill up every room he walks into with line after line of snarky goodness, and Robert Downey, Jr. has brought his “A” game to the screen once again.  But the script doesn’t allow the characters to give in to his blustering, and the cast members are up to the challenge of selling their ability to hold fast (which is no given when Robert Downey, Jr. is on his “A” game).  Much to the surprise of many, though, including me, it’s Mark Ruffalo (Shutter Island) as Bruce Banner who not only stands equal to the personality hurricane that is Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance, but even comes out on top of it.  Ruffalo’s quiet intensity is captivating, and makes it very easy to forget that he’s the third guy to play the character over a span of just three movies.  When he talks – however quietly – you want to listen.  Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ruffalo’s performance here singlehandedly revives a previously dead-with-danced-on-graves Hulk franchise.

This brings us to the Hulk himself, the bigger and greener half of our surprise show stealer.  Never mind the smart guy or even the demigod; it’s Hulk that everyone’s afraid of, and with good reason.  The Hulk is wonderfully written as a character, being allowed to roam free with the inherent simplicity of his appeal (“Hulk? Smash!”) while at the same time being given just enough complexity to avoid looking like one of the robot props he’s fighting.  (And yes, fans, Hulk’s few lines of dialogue are once again being voiced by The One True Hulk, Lou Ferrigno!)  Just as impressive, though, is how The Avengers sidesteps one of the character’s biggest handicaps.  A major problem with the first two Hulk films involved the “not ready for prime time” look of the CGI Hulk, which looked like a giant green Smurf the first time around and a boss monster from a video game the second.  This new iteration of the CGI Hulk (painstakingly derived from Mark Ruffalo’s own features) isn’t perfect, but it is better than any that have come before, and most importantly, it rarely if ever looks out of place when set next to a human being, which is where the first two versions utterly failed.  How can this be, you ask?

It’s because before, the Hulk was being placed in a world that the filmmakers involved were taking great pains to make look real.  The Avengers, on the other hand, does its best to take the real world and make it into a comic book.  Therefore, the Hulk looks more realistic precisely because the real world doesn’t.  It’s a very simple but very clever trick, and it derives from Joss Whedon and company giving the audience exactly what it wanted: a pure comic book party, hold the onions and suspend the disbelief.

You want ZOMG explosions?  You get ZOMG explosions.  You want Hulk to smash?  You get Hulk smash.  You want Stark to snark?  Stark snarks up a flying ark.  (Really.)  You want to know what would happen if Thor’s hammer hit Captain America’s shield, just because?  Here ya go!  You want to see what Nick Fury can do with a bazooka?  Coming right up!  Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it, and Joss Whedon serves up just about anything you could have wanted that could be reasonably crammed into just under two and a half hours of runtime.  (Unless you’re one of those ladies or gentlemen who wanted to see more shirtless Thor, that is.  Apparently, shirtless Hulk filled up the quota there.)

So, do the plot holes matter?  While I’ll admit that one still bugs me (Thor’s easy arrival), at the end of the day, no, they don’t matter.  The villain can stall all he wants if it lets me see what happens when Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man duke it out against each other.  The Avengers isn’t filet mignon and fine wine made for “the Academy;” it’s bar food and beer made for you and me.  It’s fun, and that’s what comic book movies are supposed to be all about in the first place, right?  If you want a comic book art film, go watch one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies.  If you want a party, hook up with these guys.  (I shouldn’t even have to tell you to stay through the end, but consider yourself encouraged.  The Avengers even supplies a twofer: one extra in the middle of the end credits, and one extra after the end credits.  The latter extra is also one of the funniest scenes in the movie.)

Bottom line, if you enjoy comic book hero flicks, then you’re going to want to see what happens when The Avengers assemble.  It’s not perfect by any means, but it is a fun ride, and that’s what really counts.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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