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'The Avengers': Just what we wanted

Posted: May 10, 2012 - 9:13am
AP Photo/Disney
In this film image Iron Man, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., left, and Captain America, portrayed by Chris Evans, are shown in a scene from “The Avengers”

"The Avengers"
Marvel Studios
2 hours, 22 minutes

As a proud comic movie geek/nerd/fanboy, I have to admit I never thought I'd see this day. "The Avengers," as a concept seems less like a viable big-budget Hollywood film than a kind of breathless fan-fiction. I remember as a kid when Spider-Man would fight alongside the X-Men on Saturday mornings, and it was great. I even remember some really terrible Hulk television specials where Thor or other Marvel heroes would appear. I loved those too, but there was a cheesy-ness about the whole thing, a feeling that the very idea that all these heroes could co-exist was just silly -- a feeling reflected in the finished product. It was a cool idea to join all these disparate characters together, but it couldn't actually work, no matter how much the fans begged for it.

Dealing with toddlers at home, I often find myself singing that old Rolling Stones hit, "You Can't Always Get What You Want." For years, that was an appropriate sentiment with regard to big budget superhero cross-over possibilities. Now, with "The Avengers," it's as if Marvel Comics -- now Marvel Studios, said, "You want us to take this seriously, OK. This is what you say you want. Now put your money where your mouth is."

And boy did we. This weekend's domestic box-office take was a measly $200 million -- peanuts compared to the over $700 million this film has made world-wide. And here's another shocker. As well as being monumentally popular, "The Avengers" is actually really good.

I could try to catch you up to speed on the plot, but I think it goes without saying that if you skipped "Iron Man" and "Iron Man 2," as well as "Captain America," "Thor," and "The Incredible Hulk," you're probably not one of the people waiting in line to see "Avengers." I think I'll just dive right in.

At the opening of the film, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury is experiencing some problems with the Tesseract, the cosmic cube of doom from "Captain America." In attempting to harness its power, the agency discovers the cube's other major function -- that of a doorway. In a flash of light, Loki, Norse god of mischief and brother to Thor, appears and proceeds to either co-opt (via a kind of magical mind control) or kill just about everyone in the room. He steals the cube and makes his getaway, leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters a shambles and director Fury, well, furious. It's just about time to enact a crazy plan that no one thinks will actually work. Fury takes a recently thawed American hero, an alcoholic playboy genius with a penchant for iron outerwear, and an outcast nuclear physicist with a Jeckyll and Hyde complex, stirs in a couple of unstoppable assassins, and, just for good measure, tosses in a hot-headed thunder god looking to take his errant family home for trial.

This is the back-up, the Hail Mary, the plan that no one expected to really be enacted. But Loki's got an extraterrestrial army, and it's all hands on deck.

Not that this is a detriment, but there are really no major hidden surprises or twists in the film. Director Joss Whedon leads his cast down a fairly straightforward path, though one that leaves plenty of time for character development amid the explosions and aerial scooter chases. It's that character development that sets Whedon apart from other directors of his ilk. Even with the previous films to guide us, it's the filmmaker's careful attention to detail that sets this film apart.

Of the major star-power in this film, Robert Downey Jr. perhaps shines the brightest, though this film was truly an ensemble. The amazing thing about a director like Whedon is that he allows the story to build, giving each character their time in the sun. Of all of them, the inclusion of the Hulk seemed the iffy-est, but, surprisingly, he gets the film's most emotional resonance, and, arguably, the movie's single best scene.

Each of the other characters are handled masterfully as well, and it feels as if Whedon, who is kind of a genre impresario, has allowed each of the actors to supersede his particular directorial stamp with their original take on the character. That is to say that Chris Hemsworth's Thor brings a little Kenneth Branagh into the film, and Chris Evans' Captain America still bears the stamp of director Joe Johnston.  But under Whedon's steady hand, the mix of styles and characters never flies out of control.

This is not to say that "The Avengers" is a perfect movie. It's not. There are some problems. Thor and Loki's inclusion seem a little easy, considering how they were left in their last film. The Hulk, though a great character, has inconsistencies of his own.

Can the Hulk fight alongside a team of other heroes, or is he an uncontrollable product of pure rage? You wouldn't think you could have it both ways, and yet "The Avengers" does just that.

Also, not surprisingly, the dialogue's a little quip-heavy. These issues are minor, however, when you factor in just how much fun the film is. At two-and-a-half hours, this could easily be a slog, and yet it clips along, keeping you on the edge of your seat.

The biggest worry I had coming out of the film wasn't a problem with what I'd just seen, but with how they could possible top it. Where do you go from here? The reveal of a mysterious new villain shortly into the credits suggests the next path. My instinct is to be skeptical -- this character's scope is massive -- but I was skeptical that "The Avengers" would ever happen, and here it is, in all its comic-book-geek glory.

Sometimes, you can always get what you want.

Grade: A-

"The Avengers" is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and mild language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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