The Avengers (2012)

Few movies this year have had as much written about them as The Avengers.  Which is funny when you think about it, since Avengers is basically a popcorn movie- an epic, knock-your-superhero-spandex-off, way-above-average popcorn movie, but a popcorn movie nevertheless, and a popcorn movie tends to be lighter than air and not given to having loads written about it.  It’s been lauded as the BESTCOMICBOOKMOVIEEVER (or, more simply, the BESTMOVIEEVER).  It’s also been derided as schlock and overblown, whereas there are those who think it’s fine, middling at best, and at worst.  If you haven’t heard, it broke a bunch of records, records that will likely be broken again, maybe even this year by another comic book movie (paging Spider-Man & Batman).  It won’t be the last movie to generate this much conversation, and it wasn’t the first.  It’s not even the first comic book movie to cross over to the mainstream; it joins The Dark Knight as one of the most universally beloved comic book movies ever.  That movie was amazing in how Christopher Nolan found new ways from start to finish to astound us.  The Avengers is amazing in how Joss Whedon finds new ways from start to finish to entertain us.  Put simply, I loved both movies- but The Dark Knight itself astounded me (the plot, the Heath Ledger performance, the crazy action sequences, the stakes) while The Avengers entertained me at astounding levels (the lines, the action set pieces, the Hulk smash, and, best of all, the characters).

You’ve probably already seen it (and if you haven’t, may I ask you why, and WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?), but if not, The Avengers is about a bunch of misfit superheroes who comes together to save the world from an evil demigod and his alien army*.  This sounds like the plot of an entertainingly terrible B-movie, but with Whedon’s neurotic brain in the mix, it’s entertainingly awesome.  I’m going to piggyback on all the others who have praised this movie and point out that the dialogue is endlessly amusing; the characterization is spot-on, especially in regards to the Hulk; the plotting is stellar, not in the vein of intricacy or originality, but in that every hero gets his/her time to show off his/her personality, which is essential to holding our interest and adequately molding the Marvel universe.  This is the key to the movie’s greatness- superb, grounded characters doing incredible and hilarious things.

Because each character gets good screen time, each actor carries a significant amount of the load.  However, the focus tends to remain on Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk.  Robert Downey, Jr. is sardonic and rebellious as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and he spends the movie jockeying with Cap for center stage.  Their battle for the direction of the team hinges the plot and the tone of the show.  Chris Evans as Captain America holds his own opposite the great Downey, Jr., and we watch Cap develop from a fish out of water to a more than capable leader, as well as the noble center of the group.  Mark Ruffalo, the newcomer of the bunch, turns in a fantastic performance as Bruce Banner/the Hulk.  He comes off as perpetually anxious, but in a quiet way, resigned to his fate, his anger bubbling under the surface.  Ruffalo gets it all right, and because he’s so good, when the computer-generated Hulk takes over, we’re fixated on him, and he steals the movie.  Hemsworth (Thor), Johansson (Black Widow), Renner (Hawkeye), and Jackson (Nick Fury) have less to do, but they fill the gaps nicely and manage to show remarkable range regardless.  Clark Gregg has a wonderful role as the ubiquitous Agent Coulson, who has appeared in all the previous Marvel movies since Iron Man.  He’s a bigger piece of this multi-superpower puzzle than his averageness hints at.  Tom Hiddleston is also a joy to watch as the villain of the movie, Loki; his scenes alone with various Avengers are some of the highlights of the movie, as he balances between megalomaniacal and humorously impotent.

I saw it at the midnight premiere, and it was the best experience I’ve ever had at the movies, in terms of shared laughter and awe.  There are incredible action sequences mixed in with moments that catch you off guard with how funny they are.  Interestingly, those moments won’t ever be as awe-inspiring or funny again.  Most popcorn movies don’t hold the same impact the second or third or 74th time you see them.  But you know what will make this a beloved movie for a long, long time?  The characters- their misfit natures resonate, and the way they come together as a team is exciting to watch.  By the end of the movie, these characters are our friends, and that’s something critics have failed to notice.

Simply a great movie.  It is entertaining, well-plotted, balanced between so many huge personalities, and it caters to the all-important comic book fans.  I want to type “This is what the movies are all about,” but that would be a dumb statement.  No movie can hold everything that the movies are capable of.  It would be better of me to say, “This movie is my kind of movie.”  I love mainstream movies that transcend their cookie-cutter, studio-backlot expectations.  I want a movie like Avatar or Rango or (500) Days of Summer, that takes the mainstream formula and blows it out of the water.  It started with movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The Avengers carries on that tradition wonderfully.

*Which sounds strangely like the plot of the recent Eastern Conference Finals.  Interpret that how you will, in terms of who’s who.  Could go either way, really, especially when you acknowledge that both Rondo and Battier look like distinct species of alien.  But it’s pretty clear when you consider that James is obviously an evil demigod.  This lends a whole new realism to those ridiculous Avengers/NBA Playoffs ads.

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