Monday, May 21, 2012

The Avengers - Early Thoughts

Well I’ve decided to start going to see some superheroes movies in the run up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises.  So let’s take a look at the latest release with Marvel’s characters.  As always my review will contain full spoilers.

Right up front I will let it be known that I was coming to this movie very much as a general viewer.  I have not watched the individual movies for any of the main characters leading up to the release of this film nor have I read any of the comics.  The only passing familiarity I have with these characters are the old animated TV shows, the old live-action Hulk TV show, and the Ultimate Avengers movie.  Despite not having background for much of this though I found the story quite easy to follow once it got going, although I would have liked a little bit more background for Nick Furry and SHIELD, it would have made it easier to care about them in the initial fight with Loki in the introduction, rather than struggling to figure out who was the bad guy and who was the good guy as people drove jeeps around.  In fact I think the quick backstory worked very well for Captain America and I would have liked to see something that at the beginning too.  I like that there was a clip to show he was at war, that he was frozen in ice and then the dialogue lets us know that seventy years passed while he was in the ice.  It’s short enough not to bog down those who already know his origin, but it’s just enough for anyone who’s new to the character to understand what is going on.  However, I did like that some of the mystery was left with other characters like Black Widow and Hawkeye.  We don’t really know anything about her before the events of the movie, what did she do in her past that she regrets?  And since I was going into this with nothing but a few trailers and word of mouth to go on I didn’t realize Hawkeye was going to be working for the villain for the first half the movie so that was really neat to watch.  Also the idea Black Widow brings up of her and Hawkeye having a history together is interesting.  Does she really have feelings for Hawkeye, or is it a strong feeling of debt and friendship that brings them together?  I love that this wasn’t answered in the film itself, the audience gets to think what they want (including those who have read the comics and of course know far more than I do) and we don’t have to have romance shoved in the last third of the film just for the sake of showing people kissing hooray!  Further awesome points get scored for showing that the relationship, whatever the nature is, does not come before duty.  When Nick makes the call that Hawkeye is about to compromise the base she knows he must be stopped and she does what needs to be done no matter the personal costs at stake.

I enjoyed a lot of the characters here in fact.  I like that Tony Stark is a hero and is also a real jerk at times.  As I’ve said before I do like characters who can be good guys while not always being very nice guys so long as the character is balanced and I think Tony is.  He was actually friendly with Banner and he was ready to give up his life for the Earth when he took the nuke into the portal to destroy the invaders.  I like that we got to see Captain America act like a solider.  He actually picked up a gun and shot people rather than just throwing the shield.  He also got a costume that works in the film with the darker colours and that he doesn’t where the mask all the time, something that in previous film efforts with the character have proven problematic.  I love the Hulk in this from his design and animation to his alter ego Bruce Banner.  We get equal time with Banner and the Hulk and I love that.  Too often it seems Hulk is trotted out to smash things and Banner gets shafted, not so here.  Bruce is initially approached for his scientific knowledge not his ability to transform, and he gets to have snarky banter with Tony that was fun to watch.  He also gets a slight arc in the film in that Hulk and Banner reach a kind of equilibrium at the end; where he is more controlled there than when he first transformed on the base, so we see that both men can co-exist at least a little bit.  I also like that Nick Furry remained manipulative through-out the film.  When the whole thing with Phil’s death and his cards came up and I found it to be contrived and forced, and so it was great later on to learn that it was contrived and forced!  I love having grey areas like that even in simple good guy versus bad guy action films.

The effects are really good and a lot of the action is great too.  I didn’t like many of the close-up shots of the action, especially the ending fight between Loki and Thor because I found it hard to tell who was punching what but many of the long shots were great to watch.   My favourite part for action was definitely the final battle in New York when Loki opens the portal.  The camera movement between all the characters, giving them all time on screen and the different team ups was marvellous.  Loved Hulk throwing Loki around like a ragdoll and Thor using the Empire State building as a giant lightening rod.  I also like the changing camera angles as Loki’s forces attacked the city, for example shots from inside cars, it made me feel like I was right there in the middle of things.  I also like that we got acknowledgement of collateral damage both during the fight, with rubble and collapsing buildings, and people trapped everywhere, and how people respond afterwards because so often superhero movies will totally ignore the fact that there should be people in the buildings being ravaged.  And yay for the Stan Lee cameo!   It was also awesome that we got to see police here and they actually got to be useful!  

The only time I found the fighting and the action to be a bit much was the fight between Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America after Thor takes Loki.  That was point where I went’ guys can you please find some other way to deal with things?’  But I will give the movie props for Thor slamming his hammer down on the Captain’s shield and having the giant shock wave; that was awesome.  

To be fair to all the fighting to solve problems things that is what this movie wants to do.  I get that this is purely an action film.  This is not art, this not cerebral and it’s not trying to be.  This is pure escapism filmmaking, a perfectly valid take on the art form, and it worked wonderfully here I think.  It mines the story layer of the film hard be giving all the characters a lot of screen time both by themselves and as a team.  It allows each of them to show their individual skills, being totally badass along the way, and to grow and forge relationships; to become better themselves in Hulk’s case, and to become a real proper team as a whole thanks to Furry.  The effects are there to compliment this story and not to have them just for the sake of having them.  The filmmakers know what they want this to be: a thrill ride action flick that has familiar characters that they treat with respect and develop and it does all that so very well.  I am truly impressed. 

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