Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: The Avengers

I just got back from watching The Avengers. Now, before I get into this, I have to say there is literally no movie I've ever been more excited to see than this one, ever. Movies like Watchmen, X-Men, Spider-Man, and maybe the first Burton Batman movie (which came out when I was 6 or 7) are about the only ones that compare, and mostly that's because of when they came out and the age I was. This has been built up for four years, and frankly, this is one of the most ambitious experiment I've ever seen in film. I was rooting for it both because this was a franchise I have loved for years and because it's something different, something new, something that experiments with the medium. I wanted this to be an amazing movie.

And it is.

This is quite easily the best movie I've seen this year. I can't imagine any movie, not the Dark Knight Rises, not the Hobbit, not either of the Snow White movies, not Brave, not Amazing Spider-Man, none of the movies coming out this year being as good as this movie. I have seen movies this year I really enjoyed, including The Hunger Games, and this movie trounces them all.

I should probably tell you what works and what doesn't, and so I will. Firstly, I have previously stated that Loki is the greatest villain ever, and here, he's even better. He's everything I said he was before, and more menacing than ever. Each of the characters gets a chance to shine, really. All six of the main heroes, Nick Fury, Maria Hill and Agent Phil Coulson get at least one legitimately badass heroic moment, and at least one great dramatic moment (with the top one probably being Thor's conversation with Loki). The film went out of its way to show that people like Hawkeye, Black Widow and Captain America really do deserve to fight next to Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk. Seriously, DC has its work cut out for them to make their Green Arrow TV series look 1/3 as awesome as Hawkeye's scenes in this movie. The cinematography is also amazing. There are some absolutely brilliant shots utilizing reflective surfaces that should strike any viewer as ingenious. And the attention to detail is brilliant, from the dent in Iron Man's helmet after Thor's headbutt to the ravens overlooking Thor and Loki's conversation to the Jack Kirby art on the Captain America cards to the shawarma place sign that Iron Man falls into just before suggesting the team go for after-fight shawarma.

The film's biggest success, and where it substantially differs from the current slew of action hits, is that it's a movie first, and an action movie second. Yes, there's a lot of action (hell, most of the last half hour is a huge fight scene) but there is actual character development, with several characters developing in plausible and natural ways throughout the film. Iron Man/Tony Stark gets less selfish, Captain America gradually becomes less awkward and lost as he takes a leadership role in the team, Bruce Banner learns to accept "the other guy", Nick Fury grows a moral backbone, and Agent Coulson graduates from everyman-dom to heroism. The actors are given room to shine (anyone who ever said Scarlett Johannson or Mark Ruffalo were not excellent actors will eat their words after seeing this) and the script is every bit as entertaining as the violence. And the violence is -gasp- shot in a coherent manner where one can easily follow the action. This stands in stark (pun not intended) contrast to Michael Bay's Transformers movies, whose fight scenes were incoherent messes. In fact, this is a great counter-example for Bay:this is how you make a good action movie. No racism, no sexism (except from the villain, and even so, "mewling quim" is not a phrase most people would recognize), lots of heart, distinguishable characters, likable characters you can legitimately root for, and coherency. That's not really a lot to ask, but it seems like it nowadays...but I'm getting off track here. Suffice it to say, this was amazing.

If there were issues to be had with this film, they're minor and mostly nitpicks. For instance, are the Chitauri robots or organic aliens, or aliens that send down a robotic army to invade? We're never really told. We're also not told much about why there's some sort of shadow council Nick Fury answers to, nor why they're in shadows if they're supposed to be (more or less) good guys. While we are told that the Avengers Initiative was started largely because of the advent of Iron Man, and ramped up due to the events of Thor, it's never explained what the deal is with these people, nor have they ever appeared before. And, while I do think they did a good job of making this flick accessible to the poor, unfortunate souls who haven't seen the previous movies in this franchise, there are a few moments that depend on familiarity with the characters or the comic books to understand. The biggest of these is one of the two after credits stingers. The other after credits stinger, though I thought it was brilliant, could be seen as a waste by some (and in fact, I heard some people saying as much as we left the cinema). However, these are all small things.

All in all, this is an amazing movie, amongst the best I've ever seen. If you don't like it, you just may have lost your soul at some point. 10 out of 10, and a standing ovation to Joss Whedon for exceeding expectations.
Read more!