The Avengers: Film Review

The Avengers

One big happy superhero family

EARTH IS UNDER SIEGE. The culprit: an ambitious god with a truckload of daddy issues, leading an alien army from a universe far away. Who’re you gonna call? Definitely not the Ghostbusters.

First of all, you should call Nick Fury, the one-eyed director of S.H.I.E.L.D. who bears an uncanny resemblance to Samuel L. Jackson. Then you better hope he still has a couple of cell phone numbers on his phone. For example, Tony Stark’s – that is, “genius playboy billionaire philanthropist” – number and Steve Roger’s, who is – wait. Steve doesn’t have a cell phone. He just woke up from a 70-year hyper-sleep on ice and doesn’t really know how to work one out yet. So who else can he call? Bruce Banner who’s on a self-imposed exile in India? Natasha Romanoff who’s under cover in Russia? Or that guy who likes to perch himself on high surfaces, watches you like a hawk-eyed stalker? Or maybe Fury should start a sacrificial ritual and hope that thunder god Thor would deign Midgardians with his presence. The point is, everyone he’s got who can fight off this alien army is separated all over the globe. And they don’t get along. At least at first.

Bringing them together is a massive undertaking for Fury, but  it’s an even bigger responsibility for Joss Whedon, the Nick Fury of the  Marvel Studios’ latest superhero venture, The Avengers. Imagine – he has to put together 10 famous names from 5 previous films that were worked on by a dozen of other filmmakers in order to A. save  Earth from idiotic superhero films (yes, Green Lantern, we’re looking at you); and B. smash the summer box office.

So, did he manage? Yes. In fact, HELL YES. Not only that, Whedon may have created a new benchmark for comic book superhero movies. (Do excuse us, Nolan.)

Family affair

That The Avengers is a crossover film has already put it on a league of its own, although that doesn’t mean it is without a few complications. On one side, The Avengers already has a tried-and-true fan base from previous films (Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor, Captain America). Whedon himself  also comes with a loyal fan base that follows him from Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Firefly and other cult projects. So if the cinemas are brimming with Marvel fans and Whedonites, it’s no surprise, and this way the movie is ensured against box office failure. On the other, Whedon still has to find a red thread that binds the six Avengers together without pissing off these people. And therein lies the challenge.

As it turns out, however, we need not worry – for this director who came into the project without a blockbuster hit in his resumé has done the impossible and emerged as the victor. First, he did it by putting his ego aside. Whedon reportedly consulted with Thor director Kenneth Branagh and Iron Man director Jon Favreau in order to align his Marvel world with its previous incarnations. Second, he imbued the script with his brand of Whedonesque genius. This means getting Robert Downey Jr. to mock Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston for doing a round of “Shakespeare in the park – doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” It also means Hemsworth got to say “he’s adopted” when Scarlett Johansson pointed out how many people Hiddleston had killed. All Whedon, all genius.

And how he wove the strands of tales that had previously existed through his heroes is an admirable feat. From RDJ’s Tony and Chris Evans’ Cap bickering like a kid and his uncle over career choices to Thor and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk solving their differences through fists of fury, as well as Black Widow and Hawkeye’s palpable sense of unresolved sexual tension, Whedon made them all work against the backdrop of the imposing S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier and office politics. He’s a like a teacher without a pet – zooming in equally on each of the characters and giving them all an equal chance to shine. And if Fury has to wait until someone’s life is taken away until everyone finally comes together, this is also a testament to Whedon’s bravery for taking risks in order to build a solid story about how 6 individuals could slowly become a team. That, or this is simply a 6-person dysfunctional family. Either way, Whedon has found a way to make the audience root for them. So if any studio wanted to produce their own crossover film, Whedon’s The Avengers is now clearly the standard to follow.

Go green

What’s great about The Avengers is that Whedon presents them the way Marvel comic writers and artists present Earth’s mightiest heroes on paper – colorful, action-packed and using frames that replace comic book panels. To enjoy the Avengers’ kick-ass journey is to read a Marvel comic crossover event – pick one, any one – with fanboy-level focus and enthusiasm. This proves that not everyone has to take the dark and serious path to make a critically acclaimed and universally popular comic book movie. Sometimes, keeping the fantasy elements alive and bringing on an alien army to wreak havoc on Earth is what it takes to win the box office race.

Even The Avengers’ villain Loki is a proper comic villain, with huge ego and even more gigantic penchant for melodrama. He’s not Joker or Lex Luthor, but he’s like a disturbing green fly (with golden horns) that can withstand the most extreme ways of extermination. In other words, highly annoying. His and his writers’ is the direction we should be applauding the loudest.

Speaking of green, it’s about time that Bruce Banner and the Hulk gets a proper screen treatment. It’s safe to say that this is the Hulk that should’ve been around all along. We absolutely cannot resist pumping our fist in the air when we saw that Ruffalo nailed both of his characters. Needless to say, the next thing to anticipate is the next solo Hulk movie – it should be the definitive one.

Considering all of this, how appropriate is it that the climax of the film is determined by green versus green? Loki versus Hulk. Green god versus green rage monster. And the winner is… SMASH.

THE VERDICT
Whedon’s vision and humor serves this epic crossover event without losing its characters’ personalities. Thanks to bromance and Hulk smash, Marvel’s domination soars to new skies.

TALKING POINT
The US military – who apparently likes to lend a helping hand in creating action movies containing military action – allegedly refused to assist with the Avengers production. They thought S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Chitauris were unrealistic enough to merit their services. And yet they helped Battleship. Irony, much?

*

The Indonesian version of this review has appeared in Total Film Indonesia Issue #31, out in May 2012.

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