Saturday, May 5, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers

The Avengers
The Avengers (2012)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson

The summer blockbuster season is officially in full swing with the release of The Avengers, the first of many superhero films that will unite movie geeks over the next four months.

This much-anticipated Marvel Comics gathering is brimming with great visual effects, intense action sequences and a hefty dose of smartass character interactions. In short, it's bound to be one of the biggest hits of 2012.

While it helps to have seen each of the superheroes' individual star vehicles, it's by no means necessary thanks to a mostly-solid script from director Joss Whedon and Zak Penn which makes a great effort not to exclude those who may have missed a film or two ...or three.

When Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the deranged, power-hungry adoptive brother of Norse god, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), arrives from the planet Asgard to take over and enslave the entire human race, the eye-patched Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is forced to assemble his S.H.I.E.L.D. initiative agents to protect Earth.

Robert Downey Jr. returns as billionaire Tony Stark -- the man behind Iron Man and the majority of the movie's witty one-liners. He finds himself at odds with Captain America (Chris Evans) the 1940's-era superhero patriot who, after spending 70 years in a deep freeze slumber, is more than a little disoriented by his surroundings. Out of all the characters, these two clash and then ultimately bond the most, providing the majority of the flick's comic relief.

While special agent Clint "Hawkeye" Barton (Jeremy Renner) is given the least screentime of the Avengers, he proves himself essential to the team thanks to his sharp eye and famously accurate marksmanship with his trusty bow and arrow.
Tom Hiddleston as Loki
As Russian assassin Natasha Romanoff, the lethal Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson is able to keep up with  -- and sometimes even out-muscle -- the boys. There's even a hint of flirtation between her and both Bruce Banner and Hawkeye to keep audiences looking for a little romance satisfied.

While the entire cast is immensely likeable in their respective roles, it's Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner who nearly steals the film. The subtle nuances and charming likeability he brings to his lab geek will likely earn The Hulk a whole slew of new fans who once shrugged off the other two medicore screen adaptations starring Eric Bana and Edward Norton. It makes you wonder whether or not The Hulk would have been a more successful and enjoyable franchise had Ruffalo been the go-to guy right from the beginning. His Banner is the psychologically tortured soul at the very heart of the movie -- the one Avenger who would likely give anything to abandon a power that he deems a curse.

The second half of the film is an exciting romp through the streets of Manhattan as the Avengers finally come together as a team to fend off the advances of Loki and his alien army. However, in order to reach this point the audience must slog through the opening 40 minutes of the film with its glacial pacing and redundant conversations about the Tesseract, the little blue cube that acts as a power source and portal for the villainous Loki. You could almost play a drinking game with the amount of times you hear the words "Tesseract" or "cube" in the first half.

But once the The Avengers settles down partway through and finds its groove, it transforms into a wildly entertaining action-adventure led by a talented group of actors who are all equally likeable. It will be hard to choose a favourite Avenger.

If nothing else, Whedon and Co. prove that you don't have to have a flawless script to provide the audience with great, entertaining escapism.