Sunday 29 April 2012

Review: The Avengers

Year: 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Screenplay: Zak Penn, Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downley Jr, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddlestone, Scarlett Johannson, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L Jackson

Synopsis is here:

Ploughing through my grammatically dubious past reviews (seriously, the grammar Nazis must have a field day before never returning), it's clear to see that my thoughts about Marvel's studio adventures were mostly entertaining, yet consistently preoccupied. My enjoyment of the various entries have ebbed and flowed for an assortment of reasons. However, the element that stands out like the proverbial sore thumb, is the common knowledge that all these features are accumulating to something grander in scale.

This has lead us to a series of relatively fun jaunts which are sorely lacking at points. We've come to a very peculiar point in cinema in which the executives are now so invested in future projects that the first features are pushing sequels, way beyond a cheeky hint or odd nod. It seems that back stories and plot points are now being made even more verge than ever before, due to the desire for the audience double dip.

This brings us to The Avengers*, a film which aims to be the actual fruit of all the other labour, the definition to the large amount of Marvel input. It's hard not to feel a little duped by the "in-complete" feel of the previous entries. However, even before the end of the first act, any ill feeling begin to subside.

Simply put; for me, The Avengers delivers, in spades. Joss Whedon doesn't give us a "game-changer" or whatever new hyperbolic label being haphazardly thrown about recently. In fact Whedon's ingredient for success is to par everything down back to basics. True, the use of story and character has been bolstered somewhat by the previous films and yet The Avengers works on it's own as Whedon has boiled every character down to their essence, balanced the screen time and grown the film around them.

Liberties with it's introductions and the script has small issues (some awkward info-dumps) with some of the intricacies of it's admittedly silly plot (lets not fool ourselves that the tesseract macguffin is any more advanced than a certain allspark). The difference here between Whedon's Avengers and many of the others blockbusters that have passed, is that here, he and Penn (writing credits to X-men) really utilises the knowledge of the world these characters inhabit. The screenplay knows what makes these heroes tick and allows them to grow organically. From the humour of the characters to the action sequences, it all stems from a good understanding of not only the material, but character itself.

Let's take the villian of Loki (Hiddlestone) for example, who has bloomed from a Commodus-lite snivelling creature to a presence of Machiavellian reverence. Hiddlestone's Loki now has the same self arrogant swagger as Whedon's Mayor, but now he is a fully formed creation.  This villain, like The Joker, isn't simply a faceless alien or a generic spy antagonist but a character given an intricate agenda. Not just one born from a lazy wish for power, but sourced from a fractured family relationship only started in the first film. Such elements are examined and expanded with a deftness of touch, which has been sorely missing from a few blockbusters.

But that's what the pens (well keyboards...possibly tablets?) of Pen and Whedon bring to proceedings. Their focus the actual people inside the frame helps highlight the spectacle. What we are given is action driven through characters as opposed to empty effects. In a world in which we're consistently being being thrown bigger effects in a shallow effort to make us believe that bigger (and louder) is better, The Avengers works because it's creators simply go back to what made blockbusters so memorable in the first place. We share their plight, see their fears and flaws, pompous as this may sound, Whedon quite simply, has given these heroes their humanity.

Joss Whedon has grown and matured as a feature film director. The Avengers carries much of his writing quips and visual style, but while the Serenity was a little raw and still that cult feel (though a favourite of mine), here we have a boarder appeal but at no expense of entertainment. The humour is just as colourful as the film itself but it's is not at the sacrifice of the characters. It's not shoehorned or misplaced, quite the opposite.  The Avengers channels its spectacle through emotion and character as opposed to flashing blatant brand recognition and explosions (although that stuff is clearly within the film). Whedon is slowly crafting his own style of film action (those short sharp zooms were seen in Serenity). And while the set pieces aren't the strongest I've seen, the simple fact that sections are tailored to suit the characters personalties effectively makes a huge difference. I will say however, that the film suffers from a horrible infliction the proceeds so many of it's type. I found myself questioning the dubious power levels that these people have. The super powers of these beings seem to fluctuate for when the story accuires. I'm sure an actual comic book fan would be able to "set me straight", however it's that issue which reminds me why I favour the likes of Batman.

Slight frustrations aside, The Avengers is what I want from a summer movie. Whedon's film manages to mine the charisma found in the comics and place it on screen. We have an odd balance in play, in which, what we know about the characters from the previous entries gives us a certain level of depth and knowledge, and yet The Avengers gives enough space and time to allow these characters to mature further. I am still, in all honestly, wondering about the dodgy mechanics of Loki using his silly power cube to bring about the Gears of War reject army and story does feel dumb. But like a good summer movie should, I rolled with the punches because the emotion behind the motivations are there. The performances (standouts are Hiddlestone and Ruffalo, the humour and knock around tone washed away my issues. The Avengers has laid down the Summer gauntlet, I hope it starts as it means to go on.

*I simply refuse to call the film by it's stupid name change. The only good thing that alteration has provided, is making sure I get U.K cinema listings as opposed to U.S ones in Google.