Friday, May 4, 2012

The Avengers 3-D

More Superheroes Than You Can Shake The World's End At

The gang's all here: Jeremy Renner, Robert Downey Jr, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlet Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, with Mark Ruffalo's Hulk and Chris Evans as Captain America in background, all part of Marvel's "The Avengers". 


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, May 4, 2012

Joss Whedon is a man of many pursuits and talents, and while I cared little for "The Cabin In The Woods", which he co-wrote, I cared lots for "The Avengers", a rousing, galvanizing, well-acted superhero adventure based on Marvel's famed comic book of the characters.  "The Avengers", which Mr. Whedon wrote and directed for the big screen, opened today across the U.S. and Canada.

Immediately "The Avengers" sets its stage: there are forces deeper than this motley crew of heroes -- Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye -- can ever hope to imagine, and these flawed troubadours will have to fight themselves before fighting Loki, their sworn enemy, "the rightful king" of Planet Asgarth, a man bent on ending the world and making the planet no longer inhabitable for human life.  (Aw shucks, Loki is probably just really a lonely soul simply looking for new friends to play with but was rebuffed as a child.  Beware the consequences of ostracism boys and girls!)  Loki has to gain control over the Tesserac, a cube of life-sustaining energy that if in the wrong hands could be destructive and world-ending.

One of the best superhero adventures ever put on film ("Spider-Man 2" is still the best with "The Dark Knight" behind it), "The Avengers" plots its maze of characters clearly and concisely.  There's sufficient and efficient back story through economical dialogue so that any uninitiated audiences get a sense of the histories that these burdened warrior men and women carry.  These heroes know they have a job to do but they don't do it robotically.  There's reason and deliberation behind their actions, and twists in plot that reveal more bonds and intrigue among these figures, notably Nick Fury (a stellar Samuel L. Jackson), the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., an international peacekeeping agency.  These superheroes also have a lunch-pail, regular Joe and Samantha mentality to their work, cheerfully observed in one scene very late on.

The pathos on this busy playground is very much in play, and there are strongly acted scenes, especially by Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner, the tormented genius assaulted by gamma rays in an experiment gone horribly wrong.  Mr. Ruffalo gets the pitch, tone and balance of Banner right with precision and sensitivity, never trying to overcompensate or downplay his character's flaws or shortcomings.  Mr. Ruffalo, a workmanlike and effectual presence as a performer, sinks into Mr. Banner, fully embracing him.  Banner knows he's trapped by his circumstances and he flaunts his own vulnerability with assumptive intelligence: he cannot trust anyone it appears, even those who mean him no harm. 

Mr. Ruffalo's performance is the film's best -- so refreshingly unselfconscious and unassuming for a film of this genre.  It's not very often that superhero films showcase fine acting, but this, along with "The Dark Knight" and a few select others, is the exception proving the rule.  In "The Avengers" Mr. Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. (as Iron Man/Tony Stark), together and separately, are particularly good.  There's a terrific scene of dialogue involving a sextet of characters, a fantastic centerpiece moment of many memorable moments.  Comedy effortlessly interrupts kinetic action sequences and vice versa. 

Even with its levity "The Avengers" is serious full throttle stuff in all departments, where bone-crunching, cartoonish violence meets Shakespeare in the Park, as acknowledged by one of the Avenger characters.  The film pokes fun at itself and its characters as much as it is dead set on giving palpable, rousing, goose-bump thrills to its audience.

Perhaps this near-flawless film's downside is that Scarlett Johansson's ass is made into a superhero all its own.  Mr. Whedon's film has at least three candid, less than discreet shots of Black Widow's shapely rear end.  Beyond such gratuitous glimpses we don't get too much dimension anywhere else in Ms. Johansson's spy character.  Black Widow is more an accessory than an affirmative self-starter in "The Avengers" and that's more than unfortunate; it's a travesty.  Still, the action set pieces Black Widow steps into with relish are slickly choreographed.  Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff has a "ledger of red to erase" and unless the comics (which I haven't read) elucidate further, Black Widow is as mysterious and shadowy as some of the villains we see later.  Meanwhile, the 3-D and visual effects are hardly the worst seen in a film that is strongest when the action isn't happening and the conversation -- some of it serious and some witty -- is. 

The film's other major female character fares far better.  Agent Maria Hill (good work by Cobie Smulders) is a sensible stalwart who executes her job flawlessly.  Endlessly loyal, Agent Hill knows the truth and keeps it under her hat while in the line of fire.  Mr. Whedon attempts a direct connection with the audience by utilizing in far better ways than "Transformers 3" did the specter of 9/11/01: the climactic 25-minute battle here is better written and realized with thoroughly authentic terror wreaked upon New York City, with Nick Fury essentially playing the President.

"The Avengers" is a dynamic, thoughtful adventure that has time for action, humor and amusing one-liners.  (Staying until the very end of the final credits will see patient moviegoers rewarded with two additional scenes.)  Mr. Downey is the core of the film as Tony Stark, and his banter with Miss Potts, now his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is priceless.  The film's production design and visual effects are well placed, in a film that towers in stature, menace and entertainment, some of it very loud indeed.  (Fear not: Michael Bay's movie decibel meter readings remain safe.)

With rarely a lull, always an entertaining riposte and a slick, polished Tom Hiddleston raising the stakes as the creepy, charismatic Loki, "The Avengers" is everything you want in two-plus hours of spectacle, noise and never-ending awe.  It's an exhilarating experience.  Stage is the name of the game in "The Avengers" and each characters gets a mini-movie to star in -- never mind the fact that many of the characters have previously had separate movies of their own.  The director ties this theater of characters together so very well, creating a movie whose charms and cues are so infectious and irresistible.

With: Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgård, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter

"The Avengers" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference.  The film's running time is two hours and 23 minutes.

COPYRIGHT 2012.  POPCORNREEL.COM.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.                Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW