Movie Review: Marvel's the Avengers
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Joss figured out the Hulk! Joss figured out the Hulk!!!
Uh, sorry. If there's one thing "Marvel's The Avengers" almost compels — even in those of us who are agnostic on the whole genre of superhero movies — it's a sort of frantic, insidery, aint-it-geeky-news noting of what was Really Awesome about the movie. A submission to the hype, if you will.
And oddly enough, you probably will (submit, that is). "Avengers" is state-of-the-art popcorn fare, the most smartly comic-booky of the 21st-century Marvel comic book movies.
It is not the best superhero movie of recent times (that honor still goes to the Michael Mann-ish "The Dark Knight"), but it is the most enjoyably whiz-bang, especially in the fight-packed second half.
Joss is, of course, director Joss Whedon, the cultish creator whose invention, writing and show-running of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has informed the past 15 years of live-action fantasy on the big and small screens. It is pretty well impossible to imagine anything from "Battlestar: Galactica" to "Lost" to, well, any of the movies that fed into this one, without Whedon's sensibility.
So there is something deeply satisfying about seeing Whedon given the keys to the kingdom, even if the movie has to keep up a blockbuster tone that could easily be at odds with his natural, nerdy thoughtfulness.
The punch line is that Whedon is incredibly good at the blockbuster fight stuff. Turns out that if you absolutely, positively need a CGI battle between monsters from beyond the stars and Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Whedon is your man.
When we meet our heroes, they are scattered to the winds. Captain America (Chris Evans) is a World War II vet in a young super-soldier's body, a man out of time waiting for a mission and a pop culture reference he understands.
Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is hiding from his Hulk alter ego by doctoring in India.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is back in Asgard. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is as cocky as ever. The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are black ops agents haunted by their pasts. These folks do not a team make.
But Thor's bad seed brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wants to Take Over the World and starts with sacking a S.H.I.E.L.D. base, which prompts S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, who is totally Samuel L. Jackson) to, well, not as much get the band back together as try to get them all aimed in the same direction.
The plot is vestigial at best. We are here for two things: Whedon's uncanny ability to balance humor with supernatural team dynamics (a trick he learned from the Marvel Comics of "Avengers" creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, honestly) and punching. Lots and lots of punching.
The chatter crackles, too, and Whedon seems to be the first director to really figure out that CGI's inability to perfectly mimic the complexity of human motion can be played for laughs as smart as they are slapstick.
This works best with the Hulk (trust me, you'll know it when you see it), and Whedon uses that CGI monster better than any filmmaker before him.
Unsurprisingly, the stronger actors give the stronger performances. Downey and Ruffalo play off each other with veteran skill; there are excellent bits from Clark Gregg as the deadpan agent Phil Coulson; and Hiddleston is just terrific, a canny blend of menace and arrogance. He's that classic British type: the character actor who is perfectly in tune with his material.
By the time the gloves come off and it's Loki's army versus the assembled Avengers, it's one YESSSS! moment after another. Whedon's blockbuster instincts are stellar, and his balance of battlefield heart-tug and fist-pump is a blast to behold.
It's Summer's Mightiest Movie. Nuff said.