Avengers03

The Avengers: Things I Liked, Things I Didn’t

Excuse me while I geek out for a moment.

Okay, I’m cool now. Until this past year, I’ve never really been a comics or superhero type person (and I still don’t read much Marvel, though DC has their hooks into me something fierce), but Marvel’s movie series has been getting my business ever since I heard Joss Whedon would be directing The Avengers. But as the lead-ups have gone on, I’ve found myself more and more invested, even though I can definitely see flaws in Thor, Iron Man 2 (okay, I kind of hated Iron Man 2, but more on that in my April recap, hopefully coming shortly), etc. Would Whedon bring what I love about his work to such a big and bombastic franchise that’s been so long in the making, or would it end up being just another big summer blockbuster wanna-be?

The short story is I loved this film, almost from start to finish. It’s witty, funny, well-paced, well-shot, with plenty of thrills and applause-worthy action moments at all the right times. If you somehow haven’t seen it yet and it made $200 million last weekend without your $$$, then just stop there and go see it. The rest of this post will be spoilery as heck.

Things I Liked

The Character Interactions and Dialogue

These are all established characters, most of them with whole movies of their own, not to mention decades of comics. They’re all reasonably well-defined, and more importantly, they’re all alpha-type people, able to carrying their own stories and used to being in charge of their own activities. Tony Stark is “volatile, self-obsessed, and doesn’t play well with others,” Thor is an arrogant alien-god, Captain America is a true-blue patriot, and Hulk is, well…Hulk. As Bruce Banner suggests, throwing all these people into the same room is like setting a time bomb. It’s a perfect set-up for a dysfunctional family plotline, which is what we get, but there are so many ways this could go wrong. It could devolve into mean-spiritedness, or rely on utter cliche, or skim the surface of superficiality. But every interaction here feels totally organic, even though a lot of them are inevitable and set up by many films and comics well before The Avengers ever got the green light. Of course these characters are going to behave this way and interact this way, but instead of making it feel like we’re going through rote motions and checking script boxes, Whedon makes everything flow together perfectly, and gives us some truly great moments of not only conflict, but also connection (Banner and Stark bonding over science geekery). Everyone gets their moment to shine, everyone gets their chances to interact with each other, and the balance between these six main characters is well-nigh perfect. In terms of dialogue, everyone is pitch perfect (credit goes to the actors, too, for embodying their roles so well), and every one of Whedon’s jokes hit. He’s one of the best writers of dialogue working today, and he proves it here, and the actors and editors carry out his impeccable sense of timing wonderfully as well.

The Hulk / Bruce Banner

Hulk has had two movies devoted to him, but without the kind of continuity that the other characters have had. Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk is considered canon for leading up to The Avengers, but Mark Ruffalo is new to the role here. And he hits a home run with it. He’s got just the right amount of quiet, resigned nervousness as Banner – knowing he’s got a modicum of control over the monster, but also knowing he could lose it at any moment. He’s the only superhero out of the bunch that could just as easily kill his allies as enemies, who frankly doesn’t WANT to turn into his superhero form ever if he can help it. He’s a fascinating character, and Ruffalo gets all of those nuances across in not that much screen time. The other characters play off this well, too, as there’s always an undercurrent of actual fear that “the other guy” could come out and they have very little chance of controlling him if he does. But when Banner does bring out Hulk intentionally for the climactic battle, he gets all the best moments, and he’s truly awesome on screen, as he hasn’t been in the earlier movies. Stopping the giant snake thing that Iron Man’s been taking ineffective potshots at for ten minutes, no problem. Slamming “I’m a God” Loki around like a rag doll. Punching Thor for no reason, and yet, why not? The audience was left wanting more Hulk, and that’s quite something after relatively coolly-received films. Didn’t hurt that the mo-cap was really quite good, too.

The Ineffective Villain

I know, I know, supervillains are supposed to be the bread and butter of superhero comic book stories – most of them, in fact, are defined by their villain, and I’m sure future installments of these movies will be. But I actually found it kind of refreshing this time that Loki is frankly not that effective as a villain. He seems to be at first, and he’s got that glowstick of destiny that can turn people to his side, but really, he’s just a pawn in whatever game his alien overlords are playing. And he’s not even that effective at doing that. Which works for this film because this film is about setting up the Avengers as a team, and they do quite a good enough job tearing themselves apart without too much help from Loki. He’s got some amount of divisiveness in mind, but I really think he didn’t do much to incite them against each other that they wouldn’t have done on their own. They give him credit for coming on board and setting them against each other, but I almost think they give him too much credit, blaming him for things they’re doing to themselves. It was kind of an amusing undercurrent that every advance he made was almost accidental because the Avengers hadn’t managed to get it together yet, not because of anything really intentional or long-term he was planning.

The Long Action Take

I’m such a sucker for long takes. I know on some level this one wasn’t really real, since the final battle scene is a CGI fest, but watching the camera fly through the entire Manhattan battlefield, the focus of the shot being handed off from character to character as we move along until we’ve seen every hero and every individual fight in the air, on the ground, and on top of the buildings was pretty freaking awesome. I had heard about this shot, but I’d forgotten to be looking for it until it was probably halfway over and I realized what was happening. Loved it. It gave a really succinct and well-laid out look at the geography of the battle, gave every character their due in the fight, and was kind of the capstone shot to an entire film filled with well-done fight scenes. No shakicam or lightening-quick editing here, which went a long way toward making this film as awesome as it is.

Agent Coulson

Leave it to Joss to take a character who’d been in all the other films, increase our emotional attachment to him, and then kill him off. That’s what Joss does, and even though he was forced by the limits of the project to use a more peripheral character than he would in his own shows, he manages to give Coulson a quite moving and meaningful death, even giving him his own hero moment. It’s effective because not only have we gotten to know Coulson a bit through the other films, but Joss really lets him have some memorable bits early in the film, including when he first arrives to recruit Tony and he and Pepper Potts get a little bit of banter to make Tony jealous. It’s a slight scene, but I enjoyed it, and that sort of attention to character detail paid off in the end. There’s some amount of Firefly scattered throughout this film, and I think it’s at its most potent here.

Individual Smaller Things

Every time Hulk was on screen. :) Captain America’s shield vs. Thor’s hammer. Iron Man’s suit at 400% capacity. Thor’s overblown Shakespearean speech in the same room with Tony Stark’s sarcastic quips (and Tony quipping back at him mockingly!). Banner’s resigned retelling of the time he tried to commit suicide. Natasha Romanov’s introduction fake-out, something of a cross between Buffy and Alias‘s Sydney Bristow. Steve handing over the ten dollar bet to Fury just based on the flying carrier – Steve, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The gimme shot of Hawkeye shooting the alien speeder behind his back. Seeing Cobie Smulders in something other than How I Met Your Mother. Tony one-upping the travel kit suit from Iron Man 2 with an airborne projectile version. Just enough backstory on Black Widow and Hawkeye to intrigue me, but not enough to slow the movie down. Steve getting the “flying monkey” reference and being proud of it.

Things I Didn’t Like

The S.H.I.E.L.D. Section

The lead-up into the story is overlong and dull. The whole set-up at S.H.I.E.L.D. would’ve had me worried if I hadn’t already heard so many good things about the rest of the film. It’s not quite interminable, but geez is it dull. The gathering of the Avengers might’ve been a bit on the long side, too, but I didn’t mind it so much. It was mostly the S.H.I.E.L.D. break-in and out section that got on my nerves a bit. On the plus side, the end of it did have a nice visual callback to the end of Buffy‘s final episode, which is fun for us Whedonites in the audience.

Thor’s Return

So the way this played out in The Avengers was pretty cool, actually – Thor flying in and grabbing Loki out of the plane for a brotherly heart-to-heart. But at the end of Thor, it was made pretty clear that Thor was stuck on Asgard and could never get back to Earth. It was kind of a big, emotional plot point. And then here they blow that off with a one line thing about how Odin must’ve gathered all the energy or something to send Thor back, and I was like “uh, whaaaaaa?” Yeah, I know they make these kind of shrugged-off retcons all the time in comics (does anyone ever really die in comics?), but I would’ve liked just a tad more explanation about that, and what it means. Is Thor stuck on Earth now, since Odin blew all their resources getting him back here? Is he cut off from Asgard forever now, or just until the next movie, when they’ll conveniently find a way to get him back there? It’s a nitpick, but I loved the movie so much I had to nitpick to find even two things I didn’t like. :)

  • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

    Our likes/dislikes lists are pretty simpatico, Jandy. I would add:

    Likes
    Black Widow – She doesn’t “get” to be an Avenger. She is an Avenger. Whedon is renowned for writing strong women, and there’s no question Black Widow benefited from his being on this movie more than any other character. In someone else’s hands, she might have been peripheral or uninteresting. Instead, I left this movie wanting a Black Widow solo flick and I’m thrilled to hear they’re apparently gonna give us one.

    Nick Fury telling The Council that because their decision was “a stupid ass decision,” he was ignoring it. Up until then, my reading was that Samuel L. Jackson was playing Nick Fury because he’s a geek and they thought it’d be cool. It was in that moment of cocky defiance, though, that it became clear to me that this really is a Samuel L. Jackson role.

    Alan Silvestri’s score – I can’t say I’d know the tune if I heard it, but in the course of the movie itself, the music felt perfectly suited to the material. Also, Iron Man blasting AC/DC in his arrival moment was a nice touch.

    The post-credits tag. I think it’s my favorite since Nothing to Lose almost 15 years ago.

    Dislikes
    Captain America really got cheated here in the character department. We see him feeling (and made to feel) out of place, but there’s so much more that could have been done to make him interesting here. I’m sure that will be the focus of his next solo movie, but I think it could easily have been addressed here in a way that didn’t require dramatically changing the content of this film or stealing from a future story. I just feel like there should have been a second Cap movie before this came out, because he’s the one with the most going on emotionally.

    Loki addressing a crowd of Germans in English. It was one thing for Asgardians to speak English with one another and to have no problem speaking it on Earth, but why wouldn’t he be just as inherently capable of speaking German? It was one scene. Surely, having a few lines of dialog translated isn’t that cumbersome or expensive. Related: In the final battle, Black Widow says, “This reminds me of Budapest.” Being a Russian, she should have pronounced it, “Boo-ta-pesht.” This was only on my mind because I’ve recently seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and that line just felt like a spy movie cliche.

    Also, I would challenge you on the following:
    Things You Liked That I Disliked
    The Long Action Take – That shot of Thor and Hulk on top of the, um, alien whatsit  was one of the most fake looking shots of CGI I can recall seeing in quite some time. It almost looked like rear projection work and that single shot took me completely out of the moment.

    Thor’s hammer vs. Cap’s shield – An iconic moment from the comics, sure, but that whole scene just felt shoehorned in to me, as though its whole purpose was to let geeks get to see that moment in a movie. It didn’t feel organic to me at all. Of course, unlike the heroes, I was mindful the whole time that Loki was left unattended. Later, it’s revealed he’s pulling a Joker by allowing himself to be taken into custody so he can advance his scheme, but at the time I was just as annoyed with Loki for not running off as I was with the heroes for not at least remembering he was there.

    We retroactively learn he was sizing up his adversaries, of course, but what bugged me is that none of the heroes even think to ask, “So, while we were all busy with our measuring contest, why didn’t you try to run?”

    Thing You Disliked That I Didn’t Dislike
    The opening at S.H.I.E.L.D. – It’s almost a universal complaint I’ve encountered that the opening was “boring” and “too long.” I didn’t mind it. I will say, though, that it felt like a combination of something from one of the Stargate shows that then turned into the opening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I’d be lying if I said I was in love with that section of the movie, but to say I disliked it is similarly out of sorts.

    • http://www.the-frame.com/blog Jandy

      I think Cap has a lot going on personally in terms of being brought out of frozen stasis into a very different world, but it wouldn’t have fit into this film. You’re right, perhaps another lead-up film for him would’ve helped that.

      I did also love the score within the film, good call on that. And also Black Widow. I don’t love her as much as you do, though. I don’t dislike Scarlett Johansson in general like some people do, but she’s fairly wooden here in terms of line readings. I’m choosing to put that down to a Ninotchka-like characterization of her Russian background, but that’s kind of a rationalization. That said, she came off better than 90% of women in comic book movies, so I’m definitely glad Joss was in charge instead of someone who has less care for female characters. And I’d definitely watch a solo film about her.

      Like I said, the entire long take is through a CGI fest, but I don’t mind that so much. I hear a lot of people complain about bad CGI and stuff looking fake, but I probably notice that 5% of the time other people do, apparently. Once in a while it bugs me, but generally I’m involved enough that it doesn’t take me out.

      Yeah, a lot of people have brought up the Loki being unattended while Tony, Thor, and Steve battle it out, and I do think that’s a bit of a plot hole. But I got suckered right into caring about the fight instead of Loki, and it didn’t bother me as much as it bothered everyone else. I could’ve included it along with Thor’s return as a nitpick, though. As far as the hammer on shield, I’ve never read the comics where that’s a thing, so I actually had no idea what would happen, and I loved it. So I guess it wasn’t iconic or a “geek moment” for me, it was just like I was seven years old and seeing something awesome for the first time. And it felt organic to me.

      As far as the opening goes, I didn’t dislike it while I was watching it, but if I rewatched the film, I would fast-forward that part. It’s definitely weakest, least interesting, and worst paced part of the film. I don’t know if I’d say it’s BAD, but it is the only part of the film that felt rote and by the numbers.

    • http://www.jonathan-hardesty.com movieguyjon

      I never really had a problem with Captain America’s lack of further development here only because it seemed like not a lot of time transpired between the Captain America and Avengers films. I got the impression that after he wakes up in the present, there’s only a month or two before he’s called into action for this film. Not really a lot of time to deal with stuff.

      • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

        I’m pretty sure if I was frozen for decades and then thawed out, I’d do more than sulk in a gym for those few months. I think the best template I could cite for how I might have been best mollified was the way they handled resurrected Spock at the beginning of The Voyage Home. We see him reeducating himself, but his friends aware he’s not quite “there” yet. No one other than Coulson seems to even really be aware of the fact Cap is even special in any way, and other than teasing him for being out of the loop, there’s no effort to explain what, if any, sense of progress he’s had with his re-assimilation into society.

    • http://www.the-frame.com/blog Jandy

      We went back to see it again today, and I was mindful of a few of these things while we were.

      First, Natasha does say “Budapesht.” I was thinking she had when you first brought this up, but this time I was listening for sure, and she’s definitely got the Russian inflection going on. Incidentally, I actually liked her more this time around. I’d love to see them do a straight-up spy thriller starring her. Maybe have Hawkeye in that one, too.

      And re: Loki running off. Where would he go? As far as I can tell he doesn’t have the ability to fly or run really fast, so even if he had started to run off, Iron Man or Thor could’ve easily found and caught him again. Even if he hadn’t wanted to end up on the ship, it seems pretty pointless for him to have tried to run.

      • http://travismcclain.blogspot.com Travis McClain

        Re: “Budapesht” – 1) I feel better knowing she said that right and 2) must be that fancy shmancy sound system Jon was so enthusiastic about! Oh, well. At least I have a Cinemark where I can go see Cool Hand Luke next month if I wanna. ;)

        As for Loki, I’m kind of fuzzy about his abilities to cover ground. I got the sense in both Thor and this that he can appear unexpected in places. Even if that doesn’t mean he could just leave, at the very least he could have played a hell of a game of hide-and-seek. Of course, again, his plan was to be apprehended so it would have been contrary to what he wanted to do for him to take advantage of the situation. I just wish it had been clearer that someone in the movie was cognizant of the fact that Public Enemy #1 was unattended for several minutes while Thor, Iron Man and Cap read “My Pet Goat” very angrily.

  • http://patricia-elizabeth.com Patricia Elizabeth

    It’s the “does anyone really die in comic books” bit that I’m banking on. I’m really hoping Coulson’s not dead. I think the window is open for that to be true. We didn’t actually see his body taken away and Fury lying about the trading cards being in his pocket, to me, means he would have lied about more if it meant getting the team working together. But I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

    • http://www.the-frame.com/blog Jandy

      It’s possible, I suppose. It might depend on how much Joss is involved in later efforts – I would say he would leave him dead (he brought back Buffy, but even that certainly wasn’t all happy happy joy joy), but he may not have the final say.

      • http://www.jonathan-hardesty.com movieguyjon

        We need to start a “Save Coulson” campaign.

    • http://www.the-frame.com/blog Jandy

      On rewatch, you could very well be right. I still like the idea of him actually dying, though I’d certainly also be glad of seeing him again in future films. It’s a conundrum. But Fury definitely used that moment to rally the team (and Coulson knew he needed to – I didn’t catch Coulson’s last line being about that the first time through), so he could very well have been faking for the good of the team. We’ll see.

      • http://patricia-elizabeth.com Patricia Elizabeth

        Keeping him alive would be the easy decision but I’ll cop to wanting the easy decision this go around. That he went from having almost no lines to being the face (heart?) of SHIELD (even, as I understand it, actually making it into some comic books) to me is a good sign that we haven’t seen the last of Coulson. I can’t quite figure out from interviews/articles if he’s really dead and that’s bugging me. They’re doing a good job of keeping that under wraps.

      • http://www.the-frame.com/blog Jandy

        I was looking up Clark Gregg to see what else he’s been in, and it looks like Coulson is in the animated Ultimate Spider-Man TV series, too, so he’s definitely expanding his reach as a character. He’s rumored to be in an upcoming Nick Fury movie, but that looks to be a prequel, telling about how Fury formed S.H.I.E.L.D., so that doesn’t help with knowing whether he survived this or not.

  • http://bigthoughtsfromasmallmind.blogspot.com/ CS

     

    Though the special effects during the opening set piece were
    weak, I was not that bothered by the S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff.    I
    figured that they had to set up the S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff for the next Captain
    America film; especially since they play such a big role in the Captain America
    comics.    My favourite moments include:

    1) Hulk  

    2) Black Widow

    3) The long action take

    4) Loki

    5) The big argument scene

     

    Least favourite:
    1) Opening underground chase scene
    2) Scenes with the Skrull leader (too Star Wars for my liking
    3) Lack of
    Maria Hill development (she is great in the comics)
    4) Hawkeye goes to the darkside

    • http://www.the-frame.com/blog Jandy

      We went and saw it again today, and I expected to the S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff to feel really long and boring, but it didn’t. It actually worked pretty well for me. Almost well enough to take it off my didn’t like list, but it is still my least favorite part of the film, I guess.

      By “big argument scene” you mean in the lab just before Barton and Loki’s other men attack? Yeah, I loved that too. I remembered more things to add to the loved column on rewatch, and fewer things in the disliked column. I guess that’s a very good thing. :)

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