Thursday, May 3, 2012

‘THE AVENGERS’: Assembling 7 Reasons why it’s the Best Marvel Movie Yet

(By David Betancourt and Michael Cavna, Comic Riff’s website, May 2, 2012)

EDITOR’S NOTE: “We’re not a team. We’re a time bomb.” So says Mark Ruffalo’s de-Hulked Bruce Banner, as if he were describing not only the Avengers but also “The Avengers,” the hotly anticipated mega-movie that’s set to detonate Friday against its box-office rivals. Some cumulative alchemy of the preceding Marvel movies and the proceeding popcorn-movie season — plus a slew of good reviews — has “The Avengers” poised to become one of the year’s top-three commercial flicks, threatening to set records. But is the film all that the buzz says it's cracked up to be? Comic Riffs contributor David Betancourt hit a screening of Hollywood’s latest superhero entry to see whether it passed his Extreme Fanboy Test. His verdict? It reigns supreme.

MARVEL STUDIOS gave us fair warning.  Back in 2008, at the end of the first “Iron Man,” Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury said to Robert Downey Jr.’s billionaire industrialist: “I am Iron Man? You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet. ... I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.”  Those words launched a studio’s real initiative — Marvel’s bold plan to roll out four more films: an Iron Man sequel (which would debut Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow) and movies featuring the Incredible Hulk, Thor (which briefly introduced us to Hawkeye) and Captain America, all linked with the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D (as well as hidden scenes at the end of each film). Then, the biggest step: Assemble all the heroes together for a super-film.  The studio’s initiative has paid off — and not just because those Marvel films have grossed more than $2-billion at the global box office.

Marvel brilliantly cast every Avenger: from Captain America (Chris Evans, despite the fact that most fanboys knew him as the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four) to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to the first inspired casting choice that made everything since possible: Downey Jr. wearing the Iron Man role like a second skin.

So what happens when they finally mix together iron, super soldier serum, thunder and lighting, gamma radiation, a Russian spy and bows and arrows? We get one of the best comic-book movies ever — and the top movie from Marvel Studios by a fair margin.  Here is why (and caution, of course: mild spoilers ahead):

1. ‘THE AVENGERS” fleshes out each superhero — and our villain — smartly.
Everything about Joss Whedon’s film is on point — even going so far as to pay homage to the original first issue of the comic from 1963, which featured Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as the main villain (just like the movie).   Among the Avengers, Captain America struggles to adapt to life 70 years past his present, as well as to the edgy sense of humor of Iron Man.  Bruce Banner’s big brain is needed, even though the doc’s not interested in letting the Hulk out of his mental cage. The Black Widow is dealing with her own personal issues, and Thor must accept that he has to help take down step-brother Loki for the sake of Earth.  Even when the skin is gamma-green, characters are fleshed-out with white-hot intelligence.  

2. HOW BLACK WIDOW holds her own:

With a lesser director and actress, it would be easy for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow — who doesn’t have the powers quite like the rest — to be lost in this big-boys-with-toys club. But Scarlett's Black Widow stares down the Hulk and Loki — and her powers of persuasion are sometimes the strongest talent of all.

3. IRON MAN’s suite of new suit tricks:
With all the nifty flying maneuvers and impressive weapons arsenal, we tend to forget that Iron Man’s high-tech suit also makes him very strong. In “Avengers,” he easily goes toe to toe, blow to blow with Thor when they battle in a heated disagreement.

4. THOR’s hairy conflicts:
Even better than Thor’s mano-a-hammered-mano showdown with Iron Man:  the Hulk and Thor duke it out in spectacular fashion. (When the Hulk tries to pick up Thor’s hammer Mjolnir? Nothing good.)  And then there’s Thor’s relationship with Loki that plays like ancient tragedy. At most every turn, he tries to make his villainous sibling see the error of his ways.

5. THE STARK snark:
What's better than Iron Man’s maneuvers? Tony Stark’s quick-quips, verbally thrusting and parrying, when the armor’s off.  Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t need the super-suit to light up the screen — and here, his deft, laser-sharp lines play even brilliantly when delivered with cheek and edge to those on his own team.

6. THE HULK as “smash!” hit:
Enter Hulk, up-stage right. New addition Mark Ruffalo is winning as a thoughtful Bruce Banner — the best big-screen Dr. Banner so far, superior to the gifted Ed Norton and Eric Bana — but his CGI alter-ego steals entire scenes.  Verdict: Hulk like Whedon!


It’s no mean feat to keep the wealth of storylines and characters all propelling clearly and cleanly to the unifying Big Finish. By the time we get to the Avengers forming a circle on that blasted-out Manhattan avenue — literally having each other’s backs in a moment already viewed by millions — the film has built to the finale beautifully.  Verdict: Whedon knows crescendo!

BONUS: You know how Marvel movies always feature a treat after the credits? “The Avengers” offers its own tease after the credits.

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