Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers - The Best Comic Book Movie Ever

At last, the event that the previous five movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building up to for four years has finally been released. After watching every single Marvel Studios movie again, I began to anticipate The Avengers even more with growing excitement. Having finally seen it opening weekend, and managing to avoid major spoilers over the last week, I'm proud to say that the end result does not disappoint in the slightest.

I wish I could describe the plot in great detail, since a lot happens, but sadly the only things I can say about it directly without spoilers would be basic premise. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives at a S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility during an evacuation. While he is there, the Tessaract gives off an unknown energy, opening up a portal to Asgardian space, allowing the trickster god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to arrive on Earth. Loki takes the Tessaract, using its power to enslave several agents, including Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). After Nick Fury fails to stop the theft, he is left only with the option to gather the Avengers together to bring back the Tessaract and prevent it from unleashing its full power.

Before discussing any more about that however, I'd like to get my casting praise out of the way, since I believed every choice and performance out of them to be absolutely perfect. Robert Downey Jr. continues to show that he's the best Tony Stark in history, Chris Hemsworth outdoes his previous bout as Thor and Chris Evans as Steve Rogers is still a very excellent decision. Mark Ruffalo is an interesting choice for Bruce Banner, since he replaces Edward Norton in the role. However, his acting skills as both Banner and the Hulk help to finally make a proper cinematic Hulk come to life and now he appears to have been the perfect candidate. Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow I believe was performed rather well, a sentiment I share about Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye acting. Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg, who plays Agent Coulsen, also make their characters as enjoyable as ever.

What really makes acting interesting regarding Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Banner however is the fact that their personalities all seem to bounce off each other remarkably well. Whether its a tense or humorous moment, the performances compliment each other to a degree that you can really believe the dynamics each of them have. This is aided by the instant friendships made and what specific characters have in common with each other despite their initial bickering, which only makes the relationships go even deeper. It is this that creates character growth and development throughout the film, something that I really enjoyed watching play out and expand. The ability for the Avengers to work as a team is tested to great degree and it was nice to be able to see them overcome it all and work as a single powerhouse of a unit.

That said, this movie is filled with action like you wouldn't even believe, even from the first few minutes alone. The two biggest setpieces however would be those of the vast helicarrier and New York City, the target of Loki's plans. In the first, the heroes haven't yet started to work together yet and have some infighting, though at least a couple of them are still trying to solve the task at hand despite enemy advance and the immediate scenes following this demonstrate just what could happen if they don't work closer as a team. Until they get to the second major setpiece, they grow to trust on another better and show just what they can do as a team, defending Earth in some of the most spectacular ways possible.

There are some times where you get to see each hero's individual skills at full capacity. For Hawkeye, that would be seeing his amazing trick arrow arsenal at work as he willingly selects what head is at the end for differing results, as well as his uncanny precision with an arrow, including one moment when he fires an arrow behind his back and still hits, dealing a major blow to his target. In the case of Iron Man, it would be the awesome technology at his disposal, including the introductory sequence of his Mark VII armor. Captain America and Thor both have the same strategy of throwing their weapon at their enemy and having it return, but their own plans of attack beyond this are fun to watch and show off their tactical strengths. Finally for Hulk, it's exciting to see him smash in ways that are more creative than other Hulks before him. When the characters team up is also cool, like when Iron Man is fighting alongside Captain America and he is able to use Cap's shield to redirect his laser fire.

But even when there are some very serious or action-packed sequences, I was very happily surprised by the fact that the movie is a major laugh riot. Some clever writing and witty dialogue, no doubt a product of Joss Whedon's screenplay, help create a more engaging atmosphere that forms audience-wide laughter at all the right times as some jokes either take off once or actually continue throughout, thanks in part as well to the performances. It is when the humor goes hand-in-hand with the action (Hulk vs Loki, anyone?) that is especially thrilling and helps make the movie all the more memorable.

I must say as well that I also appreciated the various nods made throughout the movie to the Marvel Universe and the individual heroes. Some are more subtle like Tony Stark wearing a Black Sabbath shirt, which was a pretty nice touch, to the more obvious references to the previous movies like Steve Rogers' familiarity with the Tessaract. It is enough to satisfy the comic book nerd in everyone, like myself, as well as the more casual reader or filmgoer. All in all though, it is the most rewarding for those who have seen every Marvel Studios movie beforehand.

The special effects were very impressive, and there is a lot of them. Tony Stark still has the most wondrous tech on the planet, which includes being able to manipulate an image in three-dimensional space or his new tower being able to pull the suit apart as he walks. Effects used to create the Hulk are also more impressive and realistic than ever before, helped by the fact that the transformation resembles Mark Ruffalo to create a singular identity and make the beast more lifelike in motion by his own acting. These are of course only samples of what can be expected and every instance of amazing effects would be too numerous to list here.

I also liked the individual character designs. Captain America's costume for instance is a good combination of a new design with some old-fashioned elements used in a way that it doesn't look silly or goofy, a look I would be happy to see onscreen again. I didn't mind Thor's sleeveless look, partly because it allows the audience to see his raw strength, or the return to the circle design on Iron Man's awesome armor. Loki has some interesting elements as well, with shoulder pads that don't look unwieldy and in fact more representative of the kind of being he is now. Hawkeye and Black Widow also have cool designs, all-black of course, that give them a certain personality to help them stand out too.

Finally, I also liked the music. The major contributing factor to this is the fact that Alan Silvestri, known for scoring such movies as Predator and Back to the Future, has composed something that brings the best emotion out of any given scene. His work here shows just how talented he is, as it increased my enjoyment of the film much further. The credits also have a good selection of rock, though it might have been better if it had a bit more kick to it to close it out with stronger pulse-pounding excitement.

As the first major event in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Avengers is a very spectacular and awesome movie, setting a new bar for the comic book movie in the process. While it would still be considered a summer blockbuster, the writing is much more witty and clever than others of its ilk and the well-written characters help make it a more well-rounded movie that doesn't depend entirely on special effects to pull it through. If this hasn't helped me recommend the movie to you already, then let me say that I guarantee you'll want to see it again. Just make sure you stay for the extra credits sequences, of which there are two; you will not be disappointed.

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