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The Avengers (***½)

Marvel’s “The Avengers” is explosively entertaining thanks to Whedon and its performers…

avengers ver14The first blockbuster of the 2012 summer movie season also happens to just plain old be one of the best films of the year so far. ‘The Avengers’ could have gone wrong in a ton of different ways, but almost inexplicably it’s a massive success. With only a few small flaws to blemish its record, this film is a testament to how much of a coup it was to hire Joss Whedon to write and direct the project. He gets to the core of what this movie should be about. It’s not about explosions and fights, but instead about community, loneliness, and the need for teamwork in the face of long odds. This is not only the best film to come from Marvel’s production company, but it’s easily one of the 5 best superhero films to date (it’s your move, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’). Whedon has taken the best of each previous Marvel film and, with one or two flaws aside, cobbled together pretty much the ideal Avengers film, rife with strong performances, surprisingly effective humor, and more than a touch of heart. It’s like a great comic book come to life, and you’re left just as giddy as a young child first discovering the tales of heroism within those books and diving right in. Between this and co-writing ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, Whedon is the man of the hour in many parts of the film world. ‘The Avengers’ isn’t perfect, but then again, neither are heroes tasked with saving the Earth, and we still love them. I have no doubt that you all will love this film when it opens on Friday.

Only talked about and planned for in prior films, the Avengers Initiative comes full circle here when the Trickster God Loki (Tom Hiddleston) comes to Earth looking for the Tesseract (or Cosmic Cube from previous Marvel flicks), a source of limitless power. After initially stealing it from S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, team leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) decides that a team of superheroes is the only solution to the problem of Loki and the promise of interstellar war that he brings. He already has master assassins Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) on his payroll, with the now unfrozen super-soldier Captain America (Chris Evans) in his employee as well (not to mention Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson and Cobie Smuthers’ Maria Hill)). Fury sends out Coulson to fetch the previously disqualified Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Black Widow to bring in Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), as these brilliant men may be able to help locate Loki and the Tesseract. Complicating things is the arrival of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the God of Thunder, who is seeking to stop his brother Loki on his own. When it appears that they will all have to work together to stop Loki, they join up…only to let infighting and their own issues threaten the mission. All this leads up to a brilliant third act battle with Loki’s army where the Avengers, well…they assemble. And it’s amazing.

the avengers team imageThe acting here is surprisingly good, with everyone doing their part but never making it all about them. We get exactly what we expect from Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth, but they each are improving on what they did in prior films, and the same goes for Tom Hiddleston as well. With beefed up roles, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner flesh out their characters a bit and each get their moment in the sun. Renner is given a bit of the short straw here, but that’s more due to a plot development than anything else. Cobie Smuthers is underused, but she serves her purpose. We even have the return of Paul Bettany, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Stellan Skarsgard. The true standout, however, is Mark Ruffalo, who makes the character his own. The first actor to really get the Hulk AND Banner right, he steals the show. Downey Jr. may get the best lines, but the best acting is from Ruffalo.

Joss Whedon is the first filmmaker to get to both write and direct a Marvel Studios feature, and he makes the case that this is the route to go with next. Whedon’s direction is superb, making the movie feel truly epic, and his writing is smart and honors all that’s come before him. With the exceptions of the opening scene (it feels too rushed), Loki as the villain (he feels recycled and his motivation isn’t that great), and the removal of Hawkeye from the proceedings for a sustained amount of time, Whedon does a nearly flawless job. None of my issues are major ones, and he more than makes up for it with one of the best third acts of any action film in a long time (go figure, he co-authored an amazing third act last month with ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ as well). Somehow, the action packed finale also manages to be filled with emotion and humor as well. In fact, the funniest moment in the film comes right in the middle of a major battle. Whedon deserves credit for the success here, managing to take the type of thing that Michael Bay has made into a calling card and do it about a thousand times better. He makes it look effortless. Joss Whedon has found a way to right the Iron Man ship after the disappointing ‘Iron Man 2’, find a way to properly use the Hulk after two failed attempts by other filmmakers, and he gives every character a time to shine (not to mention using 3D in a way that enhances the action, not blurs it and dilutes it). It’s truly yeoman’s work by Whedon here.

The Avengers 2012 movie stills 14Could ‘The Avengers’ be an Oscar contender when all is said and done? In the tech categories for sure, but I think you’re dreaming to be thinking Best Picture here. Honestly, it’s most apt awards consideration would be for a Best Ensemble nod from the Screen Actors Guild awards, but even that is an amazing stretch. This is brilliantly executed popcorn entertainment, but it’s still just that in the end and voters will see it as such. I’d love for the Academy to consider it, but I think consideration is where it ends for the flick, for better or worse.

Rarely does an action film work as well as ‘The Avengers’ does. It’s nearly perfect and a guaranteed good time at the movies. Tremendously acted, well written, well directed, and amazingly fun, this flick pretty much has it all. When it opens in a few days the box office is likely to be staggering, and this is one film that deserves that type of success. It’s a home run for Joss Whedon and all who were involved. You should make sure you don’t miss ‘The Avengers’…oh, and stay for the credits, as there’s a post credits sequence that strongly suggests where the eventual sequel will go. Count me in!

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Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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Isaac

Already saw it (we got it a week early here in Mexico, it’s all everyone is talking about…). I sawit in 2D, because I prefer it when I have the choice. What I love most about these heroes is that they don’t take themselves as seriously as you’d expect them to. The film is ridiculous, but it takes advantage of how ridiculous it is to make an entertaining, action-packed film with likable (if flawed) characterts and plenty of humor. What I was most looking forward to was watching these four very different characters play off each other and that did… Read more »

Kim

Maybe this is worth seeing after all…

Myles Edward Hughes

You’ve made me that much more psyched to see it Thursday at midnight. Can’t wait!

UBourgeois

When all the early raves were coming in I was really surprised, but much of it was explained when I heard Joss Whedon was behind the whole thing. This is shaping up to be the year of Whedon, especially since he still has that Much Ado About Nothing adaptation for later this year.

tony williams

Saw it 2 times now here in Mexico, Joey did the third act remind you very much about the final battle in trasnformers 3? Besides that this was a perfect time at the movies, you really cant take away your eyes of the screen in 2 and a half hours. Id recomend watching it in 2D

Jessie Makowski

I’m not a huge superhero fan, but I’d check this one out if it’s as good as you say.

Massimo

New Soundgarden song plays at the end credits or before?

Joseph Braverman

Other than a few minor quirks, I thought this film was fantastic. Joey is absolutely right — characters like Thor and Captain America, and even Loki, are fleshed out even more so in this film than they were in their original film incarnations. I disagree about Loki being somewhat of a misfire as a villain (Hiddleston brings back the Machiavellian mischievousness to modern day cinema, and I love that), but I will say the story’s third act didn’t make best use of Loki’s bad-ass status. I want to see what others have to say on this matter. Overall, a great… Read more »

John Rivera

I liked it a little less than you but it was still entertaining fun.

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