May 2, 2012

Review: A Superhero Smörgåsbord – 'The Avengers' Assemble

It's finally here. Marvel Studios' hints and nods at a superhero team-up movie—seeded in two Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America—has finally paid off. From the mind of fanboy writer/director Joss Whedon, The Avengers mostly executes everything Marvel has built over five films with mind-blowing (sometimes numbing) action and genuine moments of humour.

The Avengers is a grand spectacle of an alien invasion, superhero, buddy comedy, comic book, action extravaganza. The film is not just a marvel of action, it's funny—like really funny. Whedon's greatest asset is his penchant for dialogue and natural humour. There are a dozen laugh out loud moments and sight gags in the midst of intergalactic destruction.

Despite Marvel ruining half of Iron Man 2  and dragging down Thor just to set up this film, The Avengers is all pay-off with little to no exposition and a very basic invasion, team up plotline. They don't refer to any future films here. There's a Transformers like feel but with comprehensible action, actual character development, and earned stakes.

The cast once again elevates the film with very sharp turns by Mark Ruffalo (replacing Edward Norton) as the raging Hulk and Chris Hemsworth as the mighty god of thunder. Chris Evans is earnest as the super solider lost in time. Everyone gets their moment to shine, even if all they have to work with is a gun or bow and arrow.

Robert Downey Jr.'s iron avenger is probably most misplaced with his snark and egotism yet Downey is such a gifted humourist, he powers through. The villainous Tom Hiddleston as Loki absolutely shines as a duplicitous trickster and antagonist. Characters interact famously with pulsating chemistry and interplay.

While set in a grounded reality established in Iron Man, Whedon and company employ a heavy mythology. The world is set up and our heroes go to town. It feels as if the shadowy S.H.I.E.L.D. agency is run by three people and operated by hundreds of mindless workers, wisely minimizing such large world building to allow for an accessible reality.

There are only a handful of sets and locations to save up for the large-scale action. The first act is predictably uneven and it's weakest as we check in with all the superhero team members segueing into them fighting each other before coming together to face a common enemy.

The main weakness, thus far, of Marvel's self-produced films—first independent and now under Disney ownership—has been their tight budgeting leading to recasting actors and director changes and as a result, anticlimactic third act action sequences. Not here. The Avengers lays it all on the line with extended second and third acts, consisting almost entirely of explosive set pieces—one on an aircraft carrier and another completely destroying Manhattan—evoking memories of 9/11).

It's hard not to feel giddy and overjoyed after watching The Avengers, marvelling at the bombastic experienceHowever, there are problems mixing so many fantastical, ridiculous elements and ideas. These are mostly hidden by sharp writing and direction. The plot unfolds quickly with a good pace to minimize any questioning or logic.

The Avengers is a massive, intergalactic war movie mixed into a superhero smörgåsbord, lavished stylistically in the vein of comic book panels and splash pages. It is a huge, (mostly successful) sprawling story involving gods, monsters, aliens, robots, and yes, superheroes. Assemble and enjoy.

More | YVArcade / First Showing

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