Friday, May 18, 2012

"The Avengers" Perfect the Comic Book Genre

Movies: Tony Nunes reviews "The Avengers"  

When it comes to comic book movies I tend to prefer adventurous fun over dark realism. I prefer the whimsy of Burton’s Batman over the gloom of Nolan‘s (though I still really appreciate those films). I’m a fan, not a hater of the Peter Parker Emo dance from "Spiderman 3." I think that superhero movies should remain in the range of the demographic comic books were and always have been targeted to. The perfect comic book movie should appeal equally to the 10-year-old as well as the 30-year-old fan. Superheroes should be flashy, witty, and sometimes arrogant. In the purest of comic-book adaptations I should be able to laugh, grip my seat and loudly cheer at the screen. "The Avengers" made me do just that, which makes it, dare I say, the most nearly perfect comic book movie I've seen yet.

This certainly doesn’t mean that "The Avengers" is a perfect movie, just that its action and tone are closer than most to what the genre should be. By film standards, "The Avengers" shouldn’t work. Putting four of the most singularly spectacular superheroes ever created together in one film is a setup for a collision in storytelling. But here, Marvel has cultivated a film universe that has surprisingly maintained most of its continuity over the course of five films. Keeping with that cohesion, "The Avengers" are called together by the threat of the ominous Tesseract cube, an artifact of unlimited power first used in 2011’s Captain America film. Loki, brother of Thor steals the cube from S.H.E.I.L.D., the agency overseeing the Avengers Initiative. While the plot-lines can seem a bit derivative at times, the dedication of the writers, producers and director Joss Whedon to tie everything together really adds to the experience. 

Even if someone hasn’t seen all or any of the previous films, the simple story of good and evil squarely vying for power (a literal cube in this case) is relatable to all ages. What waters the conflict down a bit however is the alien race Loki summons to reign destruction down on New York City. If "The Avengers" has one major shortfall this would be it. The screenplay by Zak Penn and Whedon is fun at all the right moments but almost comically grandiose at others. The choice of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as the villain seems weak and uninspired. At one point Loki confidently commands a crowd to “kneeeeel” before him. All I could think of at this moment was the great "Superman II" villain Zod, and how much Loki pales in comparison. As is revealed in the credits, Loki is a puppet, whose strings are being pulled by a character only comic-book fans would recognize as Thanos. Thanos is a much more compelling villain, and instead of waiting to use him in the sequel, I wish he was used here instead of the meek Loki.

If the writing is the only real weakness (and not a very big one) of "The Avengers," its strength lies exactly where it should; in its heroes. What could have failed as a clutter of superheroes is propelled by the collective comic wit and tense action of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Capt. America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Everyone knows their part and plays it perfectly.

"The Avengers" is the ultimate tent-pole release. Setup over five films spanning back five years, the franchise has masterfully constructed a cohesion that is unprecedented even in the world of the blockbuster. Plot twists, MacGuffin’s and characters big and small as well as the actors who played them carried over from both "Iron Man" films, "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger." The Hulk was the only major change coming into the Avengers, with Edward Norton originally, and lifelessly playing the Hulk in the 2008 film version of "The Incredible Hulk." It’s all built to "The Avengers," and it’s all been well worth it.

"The Avengers" was so entertaining in fact that its left me wanting more. To fill that want Disney and Marvel already have plans for "Iron Man 3," as well as sequels to "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" already scheduled for release over the next couple of years, with a second Avengers film to come thereafter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new Hulk film starring Ruffalo as well. And who knows, maybe even Hawkeye and Black Widow can spin-off into their own movie together. But what about the other Avengers members? Rumors of an Ant Man movie to be directed by Edgar Wright have been swirling for years. I wouldn’t doubt Ant Man at the very least will be making an appearance in Avengers 2. What about Thing, Spiderman, Wolverine, Dr. Strange? The franchise tie-in’s and spin-off’s are endless.

Whatever happens, I hope that Whedon stays on to direct. As a director, Whedon has a gift for punctuating action with humor. There are moments of comedy here that are so perfectly timed and unexpected (especially involving the Hulk) that the audience simultaneously burst out into laughter and applause. That reaction pretty much sums up the "Avengers" experience. 


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