07 May 2012

First Impressions: The Avengers - Franchises Assembled

We've all been teased and waited for it for years - the biggest Movie Crossover Event of all time - The Avengers (2012) was finally released this weekend and it has dominated in every way it was supposed to. So far it has obliterated previous opening weekend records and is assuredly on its way to being one of the biggest films of all time - it would appear that Marvel's big gamble has paid off in spades. Let's dive into the more subtle (yeah, right) aspects of this film as well as the context of its release - SPOILERS to follow, we have much to discuss.

The Avengers does everything it needs to. It bypasses much of the exposition regarding its characters and trusts its audience to find its bearings while picking up a difficult story immediately. How are are these Alpha Dog characters going to get together and work with each other? The film seems to movie quickly at first, then stalls out, perhaps overemphasizing the difficulty of getting these assholes to work together when they all really know what's at stake.

A Giant Green Rage Monster Finally Done Right:

Impressively, most of the film was actually like this
The film does an excellent job of merging many of the successful elements of other character's films. From Hulk living in a shack in India to Tony Stark's NYC penthouse, the film gives equal time to everyone and it flows fairly naturally. The Big Bad here is Loki, Thor's brother, and it's clear throughout that even after all the crap from THOR (2011), he's still willing to forgive and forget. It's a shame that Loki is more of an asshole than ever. To see him finally get his ass whomped on by Hulk is comforting.

The Hulk has had a tumultuous film career. From Eric Bana to Ed Norton to Mark Ruffalo here, it doesn't seem like anyone had really gotten him right. Part of the success of The Avengers is finally achieving that distinction in two words: "Hulk - Smash." Ruffalo is a superior Bruce Banner in that he has this vulnerability and humility absent from Norton's performance while lacking the whining of Bana. It's also nice to see a digitized Hulk that not only has more of Ruffalo's face but is also a little chunky instead of the tight taught creation of The Incredible Hulk (2008).

Let's take a look at these Hulks for a quick second. Here is the 2003 Bana version, The Fat Green Glob. Now, it doesn't look all that terrible considering it was nine years ago, and the film really isn't all that terrible, either, despite an atrociously slow opening and lots of weird stuff like those crazy Hulk-dogs that attack him in the woods. Next, we have the ripped-up Norton version, which wisely skipped an origin, and tho most of the cast was an upgrade, it didn't handle Blonksy that well and we just knew there could be more. Finally, the Ruffalo seems to find its way in the middle, and sure makes for an ugly mug. That's just the way we like it. Hulk does everything he needs to do - exist as a huge liability whenever Banner is around any other human but smashes it up when "the Other Guy" comes out. It was also assuring that this was finally a chance for Hulk to run wild - he needed to smash everything in sight and for once this actually helped the good guys.

Power Suits, Mjolner, and...Handguns?

Oh, humans.
Moving on to some of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents, it's more obvious than ever that Nick Fury as played by Sam Jackson is a huge shady dude, although he had some cool scenes, like shooting down his own planes when he needed to and telling off Powers Boothe and the rest of the Secret Council. Of course there was a shady Secret Council. Cobie Smulders didn't really seem to do much and was definitely the weak link in the cast. Clark Gregg shined as usual with a little bit more humanity and his death was surprising and shocking to both the Characters in the film and the audience, tho even in death he had some great lines.

Hawkeye spent most of this film in the throes of Loki, which called back to his history as a villain and took him out of the running against the other Avengers. If this hadn't been the case the film would have become even more muddled and it was a good call to do. Scarlett Jo on the other hand had some heavy lifting to do and her role was more prominent than I expected. She actually performed well and it was exciting to see.

The Central Trio:

Okay, how about the Big Three? The dynamics between Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man make up the core of the film and are the LeBron, Kobe, and Carmelo of the Marvel Universe. They all really lay it on the line and all get some serious wounds in the final battle. The Captain's selflessness and Boy Scout nobility are immediately apparent, seventy years after that kind of stuff was cool. It will be interesting to see where they take him in Captain America 2 (2014) after the events of this film.

Thor, Cap, the Iron Man

Thor comes in fairly later than the other characters, and it's a dream to see a battle both between him and Hulk (for no small reason that they are some of the only characters who can challenge each other), as well as between him, Iron Man, and Captain America. I mean, you have to see these dudes brawl with eachother, that's definitely part of the ticket price. I think all told we got to see Nick Fury vs. Hawkeye, Thor vs. Iron Man, Thor vs. Captain America, Thor vs. Hulk, Hulk vs. Black Widow, Hawkeye vs. Black Widow, and of course, Everyone vs. Loki.

In the end though, it's all Iron Man's show. Robert Downey, Jr.'s charisma led Iron Man (2008) and was a huge factor in assuring that these films would be profitable enough that this whole Crossover Universe would be possible. His questionable character is on trial throughout the film and it's deserving enough that he has a major role in defeating the nasty Alien buggers in the end and the major self-sacrifice.

C'mon Legolas
What's interesting is how some of the characters' ideologies have been flopped from their Comic incarnations. I've talked about this a bit before. The Central Theses of Iron Man and Captain America were central to Marvel's Civil War Storyline a while back. Iron Man has generally been an advocate for security and government registration while Cap favoured greater independent freedom. The Avengers neatly swaps these ideologies fairly naturally. We've gone into Tony Stark a little bit more in-depth before, check this out.

The more interesting dynamic within Marvel Comics has always been between Cap and Stark. They're really the Batman / Superman equivalent and the film somewhat gets into their arguments and reconciliation. Thor is surely another big character, though, but he has always had some distance from the rest of the group based on his more cosmic origins. His growth since THOR is apparent, the Thor that started his own film would have been much more reckless, instead his big beef here comes from his intimate connection to Loki, his brother.

All This from a God of Mischief?

Actually everyone in fairly equal share contributes to foiling Loki's plan, from Black Widow disabling the portal generator, Cap assigning roles through his natural leadership qualities, Hulk smashing Loki's face, and Thor taking him back to Asgard. Downey Jr. gets all the best wisecracks though, and the Black Sabbath shirt he wears throughout the film is another nice nod to his irreverence, as is the cool mid-battle scotch he tries to share with Loki.

Loki is the Norse God of Mischief, a Trickster God like Anansi the Spider, the Southwestern Coyote, or Bugs Bunny. No, no, that doesn't seem appropriate at all, right? Would a Trickster God ally with a massive Alien Army to conquer the Earth? I'm inclined to believe otherwise, but that's neither here nor there. Tom Hiddleston does some excellent work here, Loki is a tough line to walk between intelligent, cunning, and psychotic. He's a fearsome baddie and although he tends to be lesser known than some other villains, he's assuredly the best to be thrown at the Avengers right now. Red Skull could be a nice choice, but the Abomination isn't really that huge of a threat, and anything from Iron Man is crap. To present a conflict for the Avengers you really need someone with enough machinations as Loki and they nailed it.

There may be another villain suitable for this kind of Global Threat and The Avengers presented an incredible tease for him. For now, pick up some shawarma, we'll be back tomorrow for more.

1 comment:

  1. Great article - Hulk on Hulk: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/05/the-hulk-on-mark-ruffalos-hulk.html


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