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LYT Review: “Avengers” is the Mighty Money Shot You’ve Been Awaiting

The term “geekgasm” does not go amiss here.

If you’re like me – not in every way, obviously, because that would be weird, but in the key hypothetical way required for feeling this review – there will come a point in The Avengers where you simply sit back and say to yourself: “Holy shit. I’m watching Captain America and Iron Man fighting Thor. On the big screen. In live action. For real.” If you can imagine yourself reacting in that fashion as I did, this is the movie for you. It may also be clear by now that it’s really hard to be objective, because I’m not quite sure how to put myself in the shoes of somebody who doesn’t care about any of that, and imagine what they’d think, beyond the obligatory, “Waaaaahhhhh, I’m old and 3-D Imax hurts my head!” that will invariably emerge from some quarters (due apologies to those who genuinely cannot view stereoscopic 3D; yes, they exist).

Now, obviously it is not a given that the mere presence of familiar heroes fighting guarantees a popular movie; if it did, X-Men 3 would be better liked. And The Avengers, or rather, “Marvel’s The Avengers,” presumably so named as to avoid Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman jokes like the one I made a week or so ago, is co-written by the same dude as X3 – Zak Penn. The other major writer would be Joss Whedon, who also directs. And here is where I must lay my biases on the table: Never been a fan of Whedon’s dialogue. As those words finish being typed, I imagine the sounds of villagers and verbal pitchforks heading straight for the comment section to advocate for my head. I do think the guy comes up with great concepts, and if the “so five minutes ago” line in the original Buffy movie was his, I salute its general brilliance. But he does like to have characters use way too many words, often unrealistically so. Granted, the same could be said of Shakespeare, as he’d no doubt point out, so we’re just talking personal taste, as well as the fact that it is therefore significant that I thoroughly enjoyed almost all the quips in The Avengers. The most conspicuous groaner comes upfront, when Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury says something like, “Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to keep spinning.” Jackson has established a precedent for saying stuff sorta like this, but it’s really best left to Tarantino. Better are the more efficient wisecracks, like:

Captain America: “We need a plan of attack.”

Iron Man: “I have a plan. Attack.”

Or there’s Cap’s response when told that Thor and Loki are gods: “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” You’ve seen the “Hulk, smash!” bit in TV spots, but it plays even better when the full context is revealed. And there’s a wonderful cameo that would seem to be based entirely upon the viewer knowing the actor in question’s key line from another movie (yeah, I’m beating around the bush a bit to avoid spoiling something you may not get anyway; if you’d like it all cleared up, click here for enlightenment).

So…How do we talk plot without giving away more than we should? It’s quite easy, really. You’re probably wondering why, if Loki could be defeated by Thor alone, it now takes multiple heroes to stop him wreaking havoc upon the earth.  The answer basically boils down to the fact that he apparently powered up and learned martial arts in the time since his last movie, as well as benefiting from an alliance with an alien race called the Chitauri (for those of you hung up on Skrulls, my limited understanding of the comics is that Chitauri are sort of like Skrulls but not, and it’s kinda moot here anyway since they never shape-shift). The Chitauri don’t really show up until the third-act blowout, however, because (a) the rest of the movie involves the heroes arguing with each other first and foremost and (b) the Chitauri look very expensive to animate and money had to be saved somewhere.

Loki kicks things off by busting into S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters to take a cosmically powered cube that ought to be called the cosmic cube, but is only referred to as “The Tesseract” because that sounds geekier. In the process, he demonstrates a new ability to possess people’s minds, and ends up bringing one of the main characters to the dark side. This in turn requires that Nick Fury (Jackson) assemble the rest of the team, while Loki goes into full-on General Zod mode, obsessing about people kneeling before him.

One thing that’s rather deftly handled is the way in which viewers of all political stripes can see affirmations in the material. Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a straight-arrow conservative soldier who follows orders and believes in self-sacrifice; he does, however, have occasional anachronistic flaws (he makes a major assumption about Fury based on skin color). Conversely, Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a libertine individualist who represents a more contemporary ideal, but his hedonism backfires at times too.

In Loki’s tirades about how humans need freedom from freedom, libertarians will find much to talk about, while the team as a whole could easily be seen as a metaphor for multicultural (and ideological!) diversity. And comic fans will delight in the fact that their heroes are show to all be geeks deep down, from Agent Coulson’s collection of Captain America trading cards to the sheer joy shown by Cap himself when he finally “gets” a pop-cultural reference (to The Wizard of Oz, a movie from his time).

But we haven’t yet talked about Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk. Let’s do that, because Ruffalo is the best Hulk/Banner ever. He makes it look easy, but it’s not – every prior actor to get the green rage has focused so exclusively on the angst that they miss the comic-book fun of “big dude breaking shit.” Hulk utters maybe two words at most here (the same as in every prior movie, incidentally), but he’s a lot more fun, as is Banner, who has learned to deflect his angst with humor, and ride a hilariously rusty motorcycle.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is better in these movies than the character has any right to be; am I the only one who could never stand all those Thee’s and Thou’s in the comics as a kid? He’s less defined here, since his sole purpose is to find and punish his li’l bastard of a brother. More so than with Cap and Iron Man, your appreciation of Hemsworth’s thunder god may depend upon how well you liked his prior film (the lack of origin stories already told is refreshing to those of us who’ve seen the formula over and over, but may perplex the casual viewer). Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner provide eye candy in their black costumes, but the addition of a shared past between the two characters effectively moves their storyline along (my 9-year-old brother declared Hawkeye his favorite Avenger after the movie). Sadly, Jackson comes off ineffective; for a guy who should be demonstrating his m-f’ing fatigue with these m-f’ing aliens on his m-f’ing planet, he mostly just sits back and occasionally shoots things, while getting owned by Powers Boothe from an undisclosed location.

Is it fun? Yes. Very. The humor is akin to that of both X-sequels penned by Penn, while Whedon plays in the big-budget sandbox with appropriate glee. That there is at least one moment in which two major characters hit each other as if they were both action figures wielded by toddlers in the sandbox feels about right – the director is playing with his toys like we all did, just bigger and better.

 

UPDATE: As a couple of commenters (and coworkers) have pointed out, I misread a key scene between Captain America and Nick Fury. What appeared to be a pretty ballsy joke about Cap assuming Fury was a servant is actually payback on a ten-dollar bet that I had either missed earlier or forgotten about (understand that even at press screenings, loud and positive audience reaction can happen and render some words inaudible). My mistaken perception resulted in what I feel is a more cutting joke about perceptions of the ’30s versus now, but cast aspersions on the character of the good Captain. I regret the error.

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18 comments

  • Great review of a great movie. I had previously watched all the lead up movies as released and had high expectations and was completely engrossed the whole time I was watching it. Seeing it a second time tomorrow to enjoy it at the theatre again (I live in Australia and saw it opening day last Wednesday).

  • “[Captain America] does, however, have occasional anachronistic flaws (he makes a major assumption about Fury based on skin color).”

    WHOA WHOA WHOA, when does he do that? I’ve seen the movie twice – what the hell are you talking about?

    I hope you’re not talking about the $10 bet thing, cause if you are you’ve totally missed the joke (and that may be saying a lot more about your own preconceived notions about race, if that is true.)

  • The captain american line is stupid in retort to someone saying thor is a god. “hey cap your god isn’t real thor is right in front you we are done arguing jackass” someone shoulda said that to cap. I hate they put shit like this in movies to appease middle america??? maybe I dunno it’s dumb and irresponsible.

  • First, Steve Rogers didn’t tip Fury! It as the $10 bet they made. Second, Zak Penn did not co write this movie. Joss Whedon did a page one rewrite and has sole screenwriting credit. Penn got a story credit because he was the first writer on the project and WGA rules require giving him a credit.

  • Danny and bivith, you are correct, and I will add a clarification to reflect that.

    As for Penn, I think we may be having a semantic debate over what “co-write” means. If he and Whedon are both credited, they are IMO both co-writers of the project even if they didn’t co-write with each other.

  • [...] Avengers – Age of Ultron Point One: My confusion at Marvel’s wacky decimal system of numbering certain issues aside, this Brian Michael Bendis-penned and Bryan Hitch-illustrated story is a great launching point for what’s going on in the Marvel Universe right now and will make either a wonderful amuse-bouche or aperitif for Marvel’s The Avengers, which our very own LYT says you should absolutely go see. [...]

  • @bob: some of the people I saw the film with were bothered by that line too, as if it were some sort of pro-christian comment by the filmmakers. i found that ridiculous, as the line was perfectly in character for steve rogers. a 1940’s american would pretty likely make a statement like that, and it was funny. calm down. a character saying something isn’t the same as a FILM saying something.
    that being said, i also thought him handing fury ten bucks was him making a racist and outmoded assumption (and also perfectly in character and fairly funny). can anyone tell me WHEN the bet was made? i totally missed it.

  • @kat: I agree with all that, I was just pissed at the moment but yes it’s funny and totally makes sense coming from captain america in his characters context.

  • @bob, I will also concede that someone could have easily pointed out some of the concrete “thor is as good as a god in this context” evidence that cap was going to have to work with haha.

  • From what I understand, Zak Penn had nothing to do with the script. He wrote a script, but it was completely thrown out, and Penn was only given story credit because of WGA rules relating to necessarily similar plot elements.

  • The $10 bet was made at the beginning of the movie, when Fury comes to Steve to talk about the mission (when Steve is training). Rogers says something like “I doubt anything will surprise me at this point.” Fury answers “I bet ten dollars, Cap.”

  • Honestly, after seeing it, I fear that after I see any of the other action movies this year I’m simply going to say “that was good, but it doesn’t beat The Avengers.”

    I’m cool with that though.

  • I too misread the ‘Cap paying back Fury $10′ scene the first time I watched it because I promptly forgot the line about the bet as a throwaway. It was only when I rewatched it again and paid attention did I remember ‘oh yeah, they made that bet, not racism joke’.