Thursday, May 17, 2012

Avengers Assemble Winning Combination

Hulk prepares to smash. Hulk strongest one there is. ©2012 Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios

When Aristotle said “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (but he said it in Greek), who would have guessed he was talking about “The Avengers”? Have no doubt about it, this superhero feature may be the best of its kind.

The Avengers are a Marvel Comics superhero team that has been around since 1963. The team has had a changeable lineup over the years; the film’s lineup comprises Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). The Avengers are brought together by Samuel L. Jackson* (expertly played by Samuel L. Jackson) to deal with the threat of global destruction caused by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother, stealing a device called The Tesseract. With this do-dad, Loki intends to open a portal to another dimension, allowing a force of alien Chitauri to help him enslave the Earth. What follows is 143 minutes of super-heroics.

The remarkable thing about “The Avengers” is that it manages to accomplish so much. There’s quite a bit to set up, from the shadowy machinations of S.H.I.E.L.D. , the agency that Jackson works for, to explaining the mumbo-jumbo of how The Tesseract will work its magic. Sandwiched in there are capsule introductions of our half-dozen heroes and the story of how they are brought together. Unlike, for example, 2002’s Spider-Man, which staggered under a tedious telling of the origin of a single hero before getting to the good stuff, “The Avengers” never feels long or laboured. There is sufficient levity to keep the film from bogging down in ponderous nerdity, but not enough to make it a joke, a fine line nicely managed.

Director Joss Whedon, who also has credit for the screenplay, captures the characters well, showing how disparate they are. They may have to work together, but they are not all friends, or even friendly. None of the friction in the team feels forced, but rather a natural product of the characters. Comic-book fans should appreciate that the characters seem true in spirit to themselves. Granted, Thor has an Australian accent, Black Widow doesn’t have a Russian accent, and Hawkeye’s flamboyant purple costume stays in the closet, but these are minor things that don’t get in the way of enjoyment. The purist may complain about Nick Fury, who is the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comics, being replaced by Mr. Jackson, but Fury never really was much of a character. Mr. Jackson brings a lot more excitement to the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. head. One suspects the comic book writers would have used Samuel L. Jackson as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. all along if they could have figured out how to use a real person in their comics.

The action scenes, as one would hope are bold and exciting. Keep in mind that I saw this in glorious 2D, so I cannot speak for how it looks in 3D (blurry with a chance of headaches, one suspects). There is a real sense of danger and the heroes rising to the occasion when all seems lost, which is the definition of cinematic heroism.

Performances are good throughout, though Scarlett Johansson stands out. Unlike many other superhero films, we find a capable, believable female character who is not simply eye-candy or a damsel in distress. Whedon can take some credit for having written it and Johansson for bringing it to life. Samuel L. Jackson is a joy to watch as himself, though, sadly, “Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherfucking aliens on thismotherfucking planet” is a line that seems to have been left on the cutting room floor.

Given the awful “Iron Man 2.” the dubious “Thor,” and the so-so “Captain America,” it seemed a possibility that “The Avengers” could have come up short, but it delivers on all fronts: action, character, performances, and even intelligence. Most importantly, it takes us on a genuine journey, as these individual heroes come together and come to appreciate each other. It’s a pleasure from start to finish and the new measure of what a superhero movie should be.

Rating 5/5

*This character is sometimes mistakenly referred to as “Nick Fury,” but it is quite certainly Mr. Jackson.

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