Sunday, May 13, 2012

Review: "The Avengers"

You have to admire Marvel for their dedication. Over the past four years, they've poured a lot into building up the four distinct big players who make up The Avengers, as well as an array of smaller roles. So, with so many big characters set up, The Avengers faced the challenge of bringing a lot of larger than life personalities, the film needed someone at the reins who could effectively juggle all of the film's pieces. Enter Joss Whedon, beloved creator of TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. What Whedon achieves, thankfully, is a lively balance of comic book fan service and capable cinematic vision, even if it lacks anything to make it more than a fun ride. 

And, despite a 140 runtime that could have given us a bloated mess a la Transformers 2, Whedon actually moves the pieces of the plot with enough verve to keep the film from falling into indulgence. Though the opening is easily the weakest part, it doesn't last long and is at least efficient in setting up a critical part of the story, Tom Hiddleston's returning villain, Loki, last seen in 2011's Thor. From there, things generally get better and better, and even when the film stalls, it's never for long enough to really make an impact. Whedon's script isn't as smart or witty as it thinks it is, but it does do a good job of playing the characters off of each other. Particularly well-utilized are Iron Man/Tony Stark's (Robert Downey Jr.) clashes with Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), two men who represent two very different manifestations of what America stands for. Less interesting is Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who fights with the above-mentioned characters along with Mark Ruffalo's Hulk. As these fights are kept purely physical, they do little to add to film's presentation of the Avengers as a bit of a rough-around-the-edges group. The two less flashy characters - Scarlett Johannson's Black Widow and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye - are also less interesting in general, although at least Johannson has plenty to do, while Renner is sidelined for a great deal of the plot. More fun is Hiddleston as Loki, who actually brings a fun sense of menace to the role that seemed missing in Thor. His motivation is as standard as they come, but at least the actor gives the role some presence.

So even though it does a better job of handling its characters than the average summer spectacle, it still falls short in this department. Much is forgotten (though not forgiven), however, in the massive climactic battle, in which Manhattan is, as always, brought nearly to ruin. Though there are a few edits that puzzle, Whedon's staging of the sprawling battle covers all of the heroes so comfortably that the battle never grows tiresome. The stakes are never quite there - Whedon keeps things a little too safe - but at the very least it's always watchable, engaging, and throwing enough at you to hold your interest without becoming bombastic nonsense. What's really missing though, outside of one hilarious scene involving the Hulk, is anything memorable, either in the laughs or the drama. It's a fun ride, and certainly worth seeing on the big screen, but don't be surprised if you don't find much to talk or reminisce about a day later.

Grade: B-

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