Sunday, May 6, 2012

So, When's the Justice League Movie?

Film: The Avengers
Format: Sycamore Theater

Like the good nerd that I am, I tend to see a lot of the superhero-type movies in the theater. I miss a lot, too—I still haven’t seen Captain America, for instance. But I tend to see them all eventually. Because I see them all eventually, I’ve seen all of them except the aforementioned Captain America leading up to The Avengers. Yes, even the shitty first attempt of Hulk. So, this film has been building for years, and it’s finally here and has broken every box office record in existence. No surprise there. But is it any good?

Yeah, it is. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s pretty damn good.

A group of people (we learn later that this is S.H.I.E.L.D.) is working on some sort of new energy source with something called the tesseract, which evidently popped up in the one film I haven’t seen. Anyway, it starts going nutty, and since it’s essentially a door to the other side of the universe, this can be a real problem. It opens up and out pops Loki (Tom Hiddleston). He steals the thing and makes potential Avenger Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) his mind-controlled servant for good measure.

So we spend the next chunk of the film doing the whole “Avengers Assemble” thing where we’re introduced to the rest of the team. Masterminding all of this is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Using agent Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) for some of his acquisitions and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) for others, he brings in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), and somehow manages to acquire the services of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is a semi-divine extraterrestrial.

Anyway, it soon becomes evident that Loki’s plan is to use the tesseract to open up a doorway to the far side of the universe so an alien race can pop on over and basically destroy humanity. I’m not really sure what this does for Loki, or why the aliens want to kill everyone. It’s not really explained. Evidently, Loki wants to rule Earth, but he seems to have forgotten the part where the aliens are going to show up and destroy the place. Kind of silly, really, but I’m not keeping score that carefully.

Anyway, it proceeds in much the way you think it will. The heroes get together and there are huge personality clashes and everything goes to hell. Then the entire world is put into critical jeopardy and the heroes have to figure out a way to work together. Along the way, there is property damage and explosions of near-Biblical proportions. Seriously, this is not something that could have been filmed a few years ago—there are buildings falling over in Manhattan, and I’m fairly certain that some portion of the audience for this film is thinking that it’s still too soon.

Anyway, the last major chunk of the film is the alien invasion and the response to it, plus the big fight against Loki. Really, this is what virtually everyone in the theater paid for. The momenst of humor are fine, the quieter moments are dandy, but what we really want and what I certainly paid for tonight was a good half hour of solid ass kicking, and that’s what I got.

The Avengers is not a perfect film, though, and I’m preparing myself for the inevitable fanboy backlash for saying that. But it’s not. Whedon is an excellent writer and a dedicated fan, which is in his favor in a film like this. He knows these characters, and he’s enough of a fanboy himself that he knows what the fans really want. But he still hasn’t really figured out how to film close combat. While many of the action scenes look great, several—particularly one-on-one fist fights—are spotty and confusing, with no clear shot for the audience of what is happening. It’s a complaint I have in many films of this type. I want to see the damn action, not brightly colored flashes of costume moving quickly. I’d love to have someone film the action sequences as if this were a martial arts movie so that we in the audience can actually see the fight choreography. For a film of this type and stature, the action sequences are critically important, and not all of them work here.

My other complaints are more or less nitpicks. The first time we see the Hulk transformation, for instance, it is a long and painful process. The second time, it just happens, almost immediately, mostly so that Whedon could work in a line just before the transformation is needed. There’s no explanation for this—we’ve already established that it takes longer. So evidently the painful transformation is…elective? We see a board of directors for S.H.I.E.L.D. planning to nuke Manhattan…with no real indication that it will do anything. Huh?

But no matter. The Avengers is the sort of fun, big budget spectacle that summer movies are all about. It doesn’t have to make complete sense all the way through. It doesn’t have to sit solidly upon all of the various movies that have come before it. I went to see things explode and watch the Hulk punch things. That’s what I got. Ultimately, I’m pretty happy with that.

Why to watch The Avengers: Because it’s The Avengers.
Why not to watch: Not everything jibes perfectly.


  1. re: The Hulk transformation... I thought that was pretty clear. The first, "painful" one has Bruce Banner trying not to transform. He's struggling against it. But the one at the end, he reveals he's always angry and can unleash at any time he wants. He's not struggling and just let's it all out. Hence, quick transformation.

    1. Meh. I don't buy it. I mean, I realize that's the justification. I just don't buy it.

    2. Buy it. Because if you watched the Incredible Hulk, as you stated, you should note that the entire point of the film was building up to (and concluded with) Banner's absolute control of his alter-ego.

      Then Black Widow mentions in Banner's first appearance that he hasn't had an 'incident' in a year and all the characters (namely Romanoff and, humorously, Stark) are trying to figure out his 'secret'. The secret was his control the whole time.

    3. I do agree with everything else on this review though. Very good read.

    4. I didn't remember that from The Incredible Hulk. That's a pretty strong point in favor of that argument.

  2. Sorry, but I completely agree with Nick on the Hulk's transformation. The entire difference is that he doesn't want to change the first time, but does the second time. It's also why the Hulk is more out of control the first time and not as much the second time. While they didn't come out and directly state it, I thought it came across well. They did have Stark telling him he must be somewhat in control as the Hulk because of other things he's done when he's changed, and that he should think of it more as a potential gift than a curse, and we are shown Banner considering this.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this film. As I'm going to write in my inevitable review in a couple of days, "It had everything I could have ever hoped for from a Joss Whedon Avengers movie." I don't have one single nit to pick with this film. The closest I came to missing a scene is them showing Thor preparing to leave Asgard simply because I was wondering after the movie Thor how the character Thor was going to get back to Earth for the Avengers. As they said, Odin's power was able to bridge the gap.

    1. My biggest issue, and it will continue to be my biggest issue, is that Whedon doesn't film close-in action well. As I said above, someone needs to film superhero fights like martial arts fights. The one-on-one battles would have been much more entertaining if they had been filmed a la "I know Kung Fu" from The Matrix, for instance.

      But let's keep in mind here--I did like the film.

  3. I've been saying something similar about the action. A handful of the action sequences are spatially confusing and never quite orient the audience clearly. This is the tenancy in a lot of those closer, one on one fights you address in your review. It's one of my major complains with the film. I love Whedon as a writer, but I think in the hands of a proficient action director this film could have been a big step up.

    Still, the smart writing and the way Whedon teases out these characters make it the first Marvel film I've enjoyed in years, so I'm pleased with the results.

    1. Yes, that. It really is a good movie, and in no small part because Whedon does an excellent job of using all of the characters. Each one gets several moments throughout the film, and it doesn't feel like any of them got short shrift. That in and of itself is a major accomplishment.

      My problem with the fights is just that--a problem with one aspect of the film. On the whole, I'd call this a pretty rousing success, and better than we had any right to expect.

      I guess if I have another complaint, Captain America's costume is...well, it's pretty lame compared with the others.