Sunday, May 06, 2012

REVIEW: The Avengers

I'll get back to my long-delayed wrap-up of Ebertfest shortly. First thing's first.

People sometimes say that movies are greater than the sum of their parts. I don't think that's ever been truer than with Joss Whedon's The Avengers.

Truth be told, I didn't love the movies leading up to The Avengers. The most immediate predecessors, Iron Man 2, Captain America and Thor, were all decent but underwhelming. I expected more form each. I didn't care for Louis Letterer's The Incredible Hulk, and I even thought the original Iron Man was a bit overrated. Great first two-thirds, lame climax brought down by lame villain.

it was Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America that caused the gravest concern, however. I thought every one of those movies bogged down because they concentrated too hard on setting up Avengers and not hard enough telling their own stories. They felt scattershot. It's very telling that my favorite scene in Captain America was the musical number written by Alan Menken.

So I actually approached The Avengers biting my nails a bit. Having seen the movie now, I can say without hesitation that I'm happily eating crow. Simply put, the movie is the best one yet produced by Marvel Studios by far.

The action scenes are astounding. They held me in the kind of breathless thrall that James Cameron usually creates - but I wasn't really surprised by that. For all the movie's technical flair, its canniest feat is actually in Whedon's writing.

With so many A-list heroes occupying the screen, The Avengers could have easily become bloated, to say nothing of confusing. Thankfully, it's neither. (It helps, but it is not absolutely essential, to see any of the previous films. Thor is probably the one that has the most backstory for this movie. Whedon so skillfully juggles multiple story lines that no one character dominates the movie - visually or thematically (unless you count the Hulk, 'cos he's fricken huge). Among superhero epics, this one is truly a team effort, and you will rarely find a more persuasive argument for the phrase "Better Together."

Speaking of the Hulk, I still feel that too many people were unduly harsh to the Ang Lee film. However, I have to concede, the character's never been put to better use than in The Avengers. Whedon smartly acknowledges the green guys's gravitas while actually having a lot of fun with him. (I do wish Whedon had better explained who Cobie Smulders' Agent Hill was.)

So is The Avengers the best superhero movie of all time? No. It does not have the emotional oomph of Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight Rises, but I can say without equivocation that it is the first great film of 2012.



PS: Make sure you stay ALL THE WAY through the credits - even past all the tech folks - or you'll miss the biggest laugh of the movie.


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