Marvel's 'The Avengers' Brings Their 'A' Game
New PG-13 film opens this weekend in theaters.
The first big entry in the blockbuster sweepstakes season is setting a very high bar indeed. For lovers of comic book heroes, watching this Marvel team of a lifetime suit up, bicker, beat each other up and save the world is akin to geek nirvana. It is the very definition of bigger, better, more!
It is an explosion of egos, to be sure. They're like the dysfunctional family of superheroes, with one black sheep causing most of the trouble. Thor and Iron Man. Cap and Iron Man. Thor, Cap and Iron Man. How do they have the time and energy to fight anyone else when they keep beating each other to a pulp? It's as fun to see if they'll get along long enough to formulate a plan or find a way to work together as it is to watch the many and spectacular special effects.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a volatile group of disparate super humans to form "The Avengers," who will attempt to save the world from destruction by Loki (the wonderful Tom Hiddleston), Thor's complicated brother, and his army of alien monsters. It's not the best idea. Superheroes don't seem to work well in teams…
Each member brings different strengths. Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is a "genius, billionaire, philanthropist playboy" in a super-suit. He can fly, blow things up, build genius contraptions and solve genius equations, but he's also kind of a tool. Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) is very strong and patriotic, but his greatest power is his selfless courage. Bruce Banner aka The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is a genius who is a big green indestructible behemoth when he's angry. Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a super-spy athlete and weapons expert who can get anyone to reveal anything.
You'd think this wouldn't be nearly as important or valuable as, say, Thor's strength as a hammer-wielding demigod. You'd be wrong. She is a femme force to be reckoned with and integral to their success. That the character of Black Widow is a standout is no surprise to those familiar with Joss Whedon's longstanding appreciation and promotion of strong female role models. Rounding out the team is Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), also a weapons expert and spy who would put Katniss's skills at archery to shame.
As the lead villain, Tom Hiddleston's Loki is a controlled fury. He plays him like a wounded child given a puppy and a blowtorch. The scenes between him and his lovingly pissed-off brother Thor (the gorgeous and majestically hunky Chris Hemsworth) are a thing of beauty. We, like Thor, never know whether to crush him or console him.
With breakneck pacing, witty dialogue and high caliber performances by the entire cast, director/co-writer Joss Whedon deserves all the positive attention the Hollywood powers that be will likely heap upon him now. Passionate fans of his work (called Whedonites) have always known he has a gift for great scripting and direction, as exampled by their TV favorites "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," "Angel" and "Firefly," the movies "Serenity" and "Toy Story" and the web hit "Dr. Horrible."
He has never shied away from trying something different or taking risks (for proof just see his recent release, the genre mash-up "The Cabin in the Woods"), and that attitude and wealth of experience has all led to "The Avengers," to the great good fortune and entertainment of movie lovers everywhere. It doesn't hurt the movie either, that five of the stars have Oscar nominations or wins to their credit.
One of the greatest feats of "The Avengers" is that each main character, most of which have already proven themselves strong enough to star in their own films, are well represented and developed within the span of the movie. I asked several fellow viewers who they thought was the star, and each chose someone different. The previews give the impression it's the Tony Stark show, but all the members of the Avengers have different strengths and qualities to which different viewers will be drawn. Whedon balances their bigger than life "superhero-ness" with their very human flaws, quirks and complicated personal histories.
As usual, Whedonites will recognize some Whedon regulars sprinkled through the cast, like Enver Gjokaj from "Dollhouse" in a cameo. Clearly for both actors and film fans, long-term loyalty to Joss Whedon pays off.
In an interview with the movie magazine Empire, Whedon reveals: “I sort of feel like blockbusters’ time has almost passed in this age of movies. I think that they’ve become the language, to the detriment of all other films, that it’s very rare that you can just do an original work that’s compelling and that’s the thing everyone has to see.”
He may be right. Blockbusters may soon be a thing of the past. But "Avengers"? So far, this blockbuster season, this is the thing everyone has to see.
About this column: Leslie Combemale, "Cinema Siren", is a movie lover and aficionado in Northern Virginia. Alongside Michael Barry, she owns ArtInsights, an animation and film art gallery in Reston Town Center. She has a background in film and art history. She often is invited to present at conventions such as the San Diego Comic Con, where she has been a panelist for The Art of the Hollywood Movie Poster and the Harry Potter Fandom discussion. See more of her reviews and interviews onwww.artinsightsmagazine.com.