Tag: Avengers (page 2 of 2)

Movie Review: The Avengers

It all comes down to this. Four years and five movies ago, if you’d told me that Marvel Studios would craft a connected universe between film franchises building to a coherent capstone piece, I would have laughed at the notion. But here we are. The Avengers has arrived, and with it a lot of questions are answered. Is Marvel crazy enough to pull this off? Were they right to trust Joss Whedon and his litany of failed TV shoes? Can the disparate worlds of Iron Man’s slick super-science, Thor’s magical Norse-trapping high adventure, and Captain America’s slightly campy but ultimately endearing throwback action merge without a seam or hitch? And will an untested actor filling the oversized purple pants of the Hulk topple the whole thing?

Courtesy Marvel Studios

In case you’re wondering: yes, yes, yes, and hell no.

The story for this epic is relatively straightforward. The shady international organization SHIELD is in possession of a magical MacGuffin called the Tesseract, last seen used by super-science villains Hydra during World War 2. Loki, Asgardian demi-god of mischief, appears in the SHIELD lab and steals it so he can summon an intergalactic army and conquer the Earth. To stop him, SHIELD head honcho Nick Fury puts together a team of super-powered individuals consisting of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Hulk. They alone have the power to save the planet… provided they don’t beat the crap out of one another first.

In comics, this sort of thing happens all the time. But in film? It’s a lot more difficult to pull off. Marvel undertook the biggest gamble since the Lord of the Rings or perhaps Harry Potter, taking works that were previously considered somewhat niche and pushing them into the mainstream culture with a complete lack of shame or irony. As more films were released, less of the pretense of ‘our world’ was wrapped around them. Iron Man you could almost buy as a plausible story, Thor not so much. And with The Avengers, not only do these disparate stories meet, but they’re also expected to play off of and work well with one another? This shouldn’t work.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
Tony: “Ladies, ladies. You’re both pretty.”

And yet, it does. Not only does it work, it works extremely well. Writer-director Joss Whedon is one of the best alive when it comes to quirky settings and balanced character dynamics. His writing, while often panned for being too self-referential or pop-culture laden, fleshes out these characters for newcomers to the audience while playing off of previously established beats, as well as setting up alliances and conflicts for this film’s running time. No character, be they hero or villain, is made to look dumb or shorted on time to shine. Except for the alien invaders, that is, but as CGI threats for our heroes to beat up, they do pretty well.

Speaking of heroes, this movie absolutely would not work if the ensemble had no chemistry. Put any fears of that to bed. Not only is everybody in this production at the top of their game, it’s clear that these folks are quite comfortable with one another, playing up the merits of their characters as well as their flaws with adeptness that allows their co-stars to play off of them with ease. The dialog and actions feel natural, tension is high, and humor is explosive. While Robert Downey Jr. is the old hand at this, and occasionally the scenes feel like “Tony Stark and some other losers, the movie”, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth continue to show what inspired choices they are for Cap, Black Widow, and Thor, respectively. I also don’t think Thor’s lines could be said by another character, which is another criticism often leveled against Whedon. Last but never least, Tom Hiddleston is allowed to stretch his wings as Loki even more here than he was in Thor. Free of a great deal of his familial angst, he comes across as a great mix of mischief-maker, deceiver and Flash Gordon villain, with a smirking confidence and swagger that are, in and of themselves, tough to beat.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
List of offenses: Mass murder, mass destruction, mind control, killer fashion sense, having too much swag.

The Avengers does feature some new faces which could have diluted the project but instead underscore the strengths of the work. Jeremy Renner, previously established as Hawkeye in a one-scene cameo during Thor, feels very much like both a sniper and a former renegade. Cobie Smulders, previously seen on How I Met Your Mother, comes to us as SHIELD agent Maria Hill, working very well with SHIELD vets Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg (Nick Fury and Agent Coulson, respectively) not only in humans observing the super-humans but also as forces of their own. And then we have Mark Ruffalo. Bruce Banner in the past has been tortured, haunted, hunted, and conflicted, but Ruffalo manages to be all of those things and brilliant, quick-witted, funny, and confident. I certainly hope we’ll be seeing more of him in this role.

There are a few hiccups in the plot regarding the nature of the Hulk, and the discussions between Loki and the aliens can seem a bit obtuse at times, but any quibbles I can think of against the film are minor. The construction is tight, and while the film clocks in at around two and a half hours, it never drags and no scene feels unnecessary. It’s a modern epic, a testament to the power of geek culture, and while on paper it seems like it should never work, The Avengers not only delivers on the promise of the previous Marvel Studios films, it leaves the audience hungry for more.

Stuff I Liked: The SHIELD helicarrier. The governing council of SHIELD which was a nice callback to some of those comics. The scene in Germany before the heroes arrive. The callbacks to the previous films, woven elegantly into this new plot.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: There’s a moment in the film that I definitely didn’t like, but I acknowledge its presence for various reasons. I will not speak more of it, as this is a spoiler-free review.
Stuff I Love: The duo of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. The little touches that remind us just how much Steve Rogers is a man out of time. Thor and Loki maintaining their Asgardian airs at all times. The very well balanced final battle, from the ‘assembly’ of the Avengers to its climax.

Bottom Line: The Avengers is one of the best super-hero films ever made, with a great cast, top-notch production values, a very smart screenplay, and excellent direction. This is well worth your time and money to go see in cinemas.

Hyped Up or Hyped Out?

Fassbender in Prometheus

Another featurette from Ridley Scott’s upcoming sci-fi thriller Prometheus is available for viewing. As excited as I am for the film, and in light of my peculiar adoration of Michael Fassbender, the temptation is to jump all over it and begin salivating. However, I think I’ve reached the saturation point of hype. If I watch any more promotional material, my enthusiasm may begin to diminish. I am, in a sense, hyped out.

A friend of mine is in a similar situation with The Avengers. I offered to link him the latest clip of a conversation between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov, but he politely declined. There’s simply so much hype out there that maintaining a heightened level of enthusiasm gets exhausting after a while. I’m sure the film will be fun, but it’s entirely possible that there’s too much hype getting built up around it.

As positive as “the buzz” may be for these films, there’s that little part of me that warns me about something being over-hyped. More than once, especially in films and video games, a hot new title has been hyped all over the place only to ultimately disappoint its would-be fans once released. Only the most ignorant and wide-eyed optimists can ignore such cautionary tales and believe that whatever it is that’s being hyped will be 110% awesome.

Then again, despite not watching further promotional material, these films are still being discussed. So perhaps the hype has done its job already? It’s difficult to say. There may not, in fact, be such a thing as too much hype. I’m not certain. I’m not in marketing. I always feel a bit odd shilling things I do, but I guess I need to get over that if I intend on selling my writing.

And Loki Wept

Courtesy Marvel Studios
We needed to see more of that smirk.

I’ve now seen Thor twice. And while I stand by my assessment that it’s an enjoyable if simplistic fantasy romp, I’d be lying if I didn’t hold the likes of Captain America, X-Men: First Class and Spider-Man 2 as higher in the Marvel movie line-up. The Avengers has me hopeful, especially in light of the release of the trailer yesterday, but I must admit that something’s bothering me about the Asgardian aspect of it.

I still think that casting and presenting the Marvel Universe’s iteration of the Norse pantheon the way they did was bold in concept and competent in execution. But, thinking about it, there’s something huge I would have changed to make it more than just decent. If Marvel had done this, either back in the Lee/Kirby days or under Kenneth Brannagh, the end result would, I feel, have been fantastic.

The problem, you see, is Loki.

Tom Hiddleston played Thor’s half-brother and the lord of lies in the film. I don’t want to take anything away from Tom, as he did well with what he was given. But the true tragedy is this. The writers of the movie adaptation of Thor characterized him like this:

Courtesy DEG

…when, really, Loki should be more like this:

Courtesy the excellent xeedee

For those of you who don’t know, that’s the representation of Coyote from the excellent webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court (which you really should be reading). Coyote is a trickster. He speaks honestly, but doesn’t always tell the truth. He never comes across as jealous of anybody else’s station, powers or prestige, only asserts his own will when necessary and contents himself with engaging in playful banter, timeless stories, cryptic but informative riddles and the occasional well-meaning bit of lechery.

In other words… he kicks ass.

Loki and Coyote, traditionally, have a great deal in common. They are characters who get by on clever wit and fast thinking alone, rarely engaging in direct confrontations unless it can’t be helped. Loki was known in his myths for mischief and lies, not because he was malevolent but because he was the antithesis of many stoic, straight-forward, unsmiling Aesir, including Thor. His cunning was supported by a massive set of godly testicles – after all, who but Loki would have the balls to put Thor in a wedding gown? (That’s a long story.) His motivations are largely unknown, making him a complex and perplexing but still compelling character for scholars of folklore as well as for his fellow members of the Norse pantheon.

Not the sort to blatantly make a grab for power no matter how darkly charismatic he is.

I’m not against taking old myths in new directions. I’ve got an anthology sitting here that says I’m fine with that. What I’m against is undermining a good story turn for an easy one. Making Loki into a jealous step-brother with the straightforward ambitions and motivations of a dime store Bond villain doesn’t sit well with me upon reflection. The frustrating part is, there are moments in the film where so much more could have been done with him.

Take his scene with Thor in the interrogation room. There’s good tension, emotion and chemistry there. Instead of being part of a megalomaniacal master plan for Asgardian domination, however, this could have instead been a ruse on Loki’s part to help teach Thor some much-needed humility. Perhaps even discussed with Odin before slipping into the Odinsleep? Wouldn’t Loki think twice about what he said when the Jotun find a way into Asgard in force?

Speaking of which, instead of some sort of convoluted traitor/backstab ploy, have the Jotun ally with, say, dark craftsfolk from Svartalfaheim to accelerate Ragnarok or piss on Odin or something. Let Loki suss this alliance out when he goes to speak to his birth-father (which should be a shock, as Loki can easily assume Aesir form and others to blend in anywhere he goes). No need to send the Destroyer to Earth to try and kill Thor, either… there are a dozen ways to put Thor at Hel’s doorway and prove himself worthy of Mjolnir without Loki needing to drop one on Midgard. Perhaps in his exchange with Laufey, Loki indicates Thor is on Earth, and Fafnir overhears this and finds a way to try and assassinate the thunder god.

I’m just spinning ideas off of the top of my head, here. My point is that Loki could have been so much more than Marvel’s masters made him out to be. Even in previous Marvel appearances, particularly in the Asgardian Wars arc that set the X-Men against him, Loki was never a transparently evil villain. He wheeled and dealed. He operated on veiled promises and half-truths. Rarely did he raise his own hand against any of the heroes, and his goal in doing so was almost always temptation or subversion instead of outright destruction. The more I think about it, the more I realize the cinematic Loki has been done a disservice, and I find it hard to believe that Marvel could have gotten the character so wrong, in my opinion.

I have no doubt Tom will continue to bring at least some mischief and aplomb to the part, but I think when Loki looks down from Asgard to see what we’ve made of him, he’ll either laugh… or weep.

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