Wednesday, November 20, 2013

51. The Avengers (2012)

Code-name: Marvel
(what else, right?)

Director/Co-Writer: Joss Whedon
Type: comic book adaptation, action/adventure, dramedy, sci-fi/fantasy

Music: Alan Silversti (known for his work with Robert Zemeckis, but scoring "Captain America" was his previous Marvel connection).

OSCAR nomination: Best Visual Effects

Tony Stark/Iron-Man- Robert Downey Jr.
Steve Rogers/Captain America- Chris Evans
Thor- Chris Hemsworth
Bruce Banner/The Hulk- Mark Ruffalo
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow- Scarlet Johansson
Clint Barton/Hawkeye- Jeremy Renner
Loki- Tom Hiddleston
S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson- Clark Gregg
S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill- Cobie Smulders
S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury- Samuel L. Jackson
Pepper Potts- Gwyneth Paltrow
Dr. Eric Selvig- Stellan Skarsgard

(Aside: You know I'm crazy about a movie when I can list all of the cast members by heart, but not all of my favorite movies have this vast an ensemble of big names).

Tread lightly, there be spoilers afoot

Part One: The Story so Far

This picture (as well as the universe it represents) is so vast, it's probably best I write it over a couple days.

The biggest selling point of this massive franchise is how the story builds and remains consistent throughout the movies.
All the Marvel fan boys knew that this movie would be huge with all these big characters coming together under one roof.

Me, I knew I'd be seeing it because it was another Downey picture, but I wanted to do my homework on the other Avengers before seeing the movie. That way, I'd know the rest of the characters just as well as Tony Stark.
And to their credit, the rest of the films were done exceedingly well... with, possibly, the exception of "The Incredible Hulk." Sometimes, I wonder if the dysfunctional "Hulk" "franchise" isn't more complicated than amassing the Marvel universe as a whole.

I'll try to keep this short and concise, but going from all the films to this point, this is where we stand:
(Also, Feel free to skip down to "Part 2" for my discussion of "The Avengers" film)
  • Billionaire playboy Tony Stark was attacked, then kidnapped by terrorists in Afghanistan. In captivity, he not only constructs a self-sustaining electromagnetic (arc reactor) to keep the shrapnel out of his heart, but a body of armor to escape. This body of armor evolves into the Iron-Man suit, which Tony uses to "protect the people [his weapons] put in harms' way," writing the wrongs committed by his Stark Industries colleague Jebadiah. By the end of this movie, he reveals his "secret identity" and S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury pays him a visit to tell him about "The Avengers Initiative"

  • In the sequel (Iron-Man 2), Tony takes on a few new rivals while going through a mid-life crisis AND the government nagging him to turn over his technology. Nick Fury determines that Tony he doesn't qualify for "The Avengers" because of his [several] character flaws. Black Widow also makes her first on-screen appearance.

  • Dr. Bruce Banner was experimenting with Gamma radiation when something went terribly wrong. Now when he gets angry, he transforms into a big green monster known as The Hulk. After the events of The Incredible Hulk, including a relationship with Liv Tyler's character (when he's transformed, it reminded me of "King Kong"), he removes himself from society where he can work on controlling his transformations... (P2: replicating the super solider program)

  • Thor is a demi-god who hails from a realm known as Asgard. When he commits a major discretion, he's banished to Earth, stripped of his powers. While Thor learns humility (and finds love), his "adopted" brother Loki assumes the throne. Eventually he regains himself and overthrows Loki, who falls to his supposed death.
  • If you pay attention, you see Clint Barton (code-name Hawkeye) make a cameo in "Thor". (Thanks to my research, I caught that the first time 8-) ).

  • Steve Rogers was a young man from Brooklyn whose host of medical issues kept him from enlisting in WWII. He is recruited for a "Super Solider" project where he is injected with a powerful serum that enhances his physicality as well as the personality traits that set him apart. Captain America starts as a character he plays to sell war bonds, but soon he puts his new powers to great use... leading him to take on Red Skull of the evil organization HYDRA, who aspires world domination with the Norse artifact, the Tesseract. He's victorious, but his movie ends with him crashing into the ocean, preserved with the Tesseract for 70 years until they're found by S.H.I.E.L.D.

Part Two: "Avengers" Assemble

For the most part, I only included information vital to the backstory directly leading to this movie.

In his "exile," Loki finds new allies to exact revenge on Thor and the planet he'd fallen in love with, Earth. The Chituri present him with a weapon in exchange for the Tesseract and opening a portal for their invasion.
Meanwhile, the Tesseract is being studied at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters by Dr. Selvig (who worked alongside Jane Foster, Thor's love interest). Acting on its own, it opens a portal, bringing Loki to Earth... making for an action packed opening scene ending with not only his escape, but the brainwashing of Dr. Selvig and Hawkeye, now his allies.

Other than this movie running a little long (2 hours, 24 minutes), my only other gripe is the fact Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) spends most of the movie as a bad guy. His character is developed somehow through Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and how this turn of events affects her, but not enough "good" screen time for my tastes. 
I looked them up on Wikipedia previous to this and from what I gather, they have an interesting history that I'd love to see put to film. Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely.

For the most part, we find all of the main characters where their stories left off.

S.H.I.E.L.D. spy Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) gets the call when she's in the middle of an interrogation. Hawkeye is her main motivation for coming aboard, but it's more about her owing him a debt than anything romantic... or so she says.

Dr. Bruce Banner is in Calcutta, far removed from civilization. Black Widow insists they need him to trace the Tesseract's Gamma signature more than they need "the other guy" (aka The Hulk).

Steve Rogers is exactly where we left him at the end of "Captain America"... give or take a couple months.

Then there's Tony Stark, who's christening his new self-sustaining Stark Tower in NYC with his girlfriend, Pepper.
(I'm sure I'm not the only one who's noticed this, but isn't it interesting how she's the only superhero girlfriend in this movie?)

Although Nick Fury abandoned the "Avengers" issue, he brought everyone together out of desperation... and let's just say, given all the different personalities, it doesn't go over smoothly at first.
Heck, when Iron-Man and Captain America meet Thor for the first time, they're beating the crap out of each other :-P but that's what happens when Thor gate-crashes their plane and steals Loki, who'd they'd just taken hostage. It serves to give Loki a scope of the people he's up against, but I think these battles are here to indulge the fanboys.

The first half of the movie takes place on a flying fortress enveloped by a cloaking device. Absolutely massive and impressive to look at. I'm sure fans of the Joss Whedon series "Firefly" were pleasantly reminded of what once was. I knew very little about him and his work going in, but I did know "Firefly" had a strong ensemble cast.
For that reason, he's the perfect director for this movie because it's about all the pieces and how they work together.

Before going any further, the recast of Bruce Banner needs to be addressed. From how I understand it, the studio had a similar falling-out with Edward Norton that they had with Terrence Howard... minus all the extra drama that recently surfaced.
I thought Edward Norton did a good job balancing the aspect of his character, but Mark Ruffalo fit into those shoes rather well too.

I heard a rumor that he came on-board because Robert recommended him. The two had worked together previously on "Zodiac," granted they were on opposing sides.

For me personally, RDJ is in his prime in this movie, both physically (Tony Stark at his most attractive, lol) and with his acting prowess. The pace of his dialogue continues to be amazing and he cornered the market on hilarious one-liners.

If all that wasn't enough, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner together was a huge fangasm. I love both of these actors and their characters got along so well because they spoke the same language... complicated scientific stuff. I understood most of it, but I'd never be able to explain it :-P
Mark Ruffalo said in an interview he did with Robert that Tony Stark was the successful scientist he wanted to be.

Early on, we see friction between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers because they operate on different wavelengths. Steve Rogers has that old military mentality, which was about following orders and careful planning... Tony's the opposite, more about attacking first and asking questions later.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the first half was that Loki more or less allowed himself to be captured at Stuttgart, Germany, and nobody could figure out how to get answers from him about his motives.
You can't 100% take him seriously so his level of villainy is subliminal. He likes to gather information and use it to his advantage, pushing buttons and such. When Black Widow pays him a visit in his cell, he explains how much Hawkeye told him about her and uses it to threaten her... what he doesn't get is that he divulged something he didn't mean to:
he wants to "release The Hulk."

Everyone starts coming to terms with that, but an argument between these personalities ensues after Tony Stark and Steve Rogers's investigation (using different methods) leads them to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s "Phase Two"... using the Tesseract to make weapons of mass destruction. According to Nick Fury, all of that was put into motion after the events of "Thor" occurred.

Which brings us to the first of two HUGE battles that encompass the second half of the film:
Hawkeye and the rest of Loki's forces find the fortress by using the Tesseract to track his scepter. He cripples the controls of the ship as well as destroys one of its four engines. While Captain America and Iron-Man come together to fix that, Banner transforms into The Hulk and Black Widow can do nothing more than escape his rampage. He and Thor also get into it. Interestingly, The Hulk is stronger, but he's incapable of lifting Thor's hammer.

Black Widow also gets into a good fight with Hawkeye, both of them being equally matched. Finally, he got a good smack upside the head that knocked him out... and allows him to finally come around (seriously, he spends roughly 90 minutes of this movie playing for the wrong side... that sucks).

Thor and The Hulk get hurled back to Earth. As Loki makes his escape, the last line of defense he has to get through is Agent Coulson. He put up a great fight, but his death was such a sad moment in this movie.
We got to know him in "Iron-Man" as well as "Thor"... in this movie, we even learned that he was a huge Captain America fanboy.
But as we all know now, he was resurrected for the TV series "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.". The only trick is we don't fully know in what matter he was brought back.

As for the avengers, post-confrontation, this tragedy manages to do exactly what Fury hoped for: it brought them together.
And so we get "The Battle of New York"... ironically with Stark Tower at the center of it.
It's hard to imagine, I know, but there is actually someone in the universe that's more vain than Tony Stark :-P

It goes without saying, but the battle is pretty massive, taking up a huge chunk of this movie. It's pretty cool out all the different superheroes and their abilities come together to handle the Chitauri invasion. Amidst all the action, there's still room for a little humor every now and again.

Captain America has a great scene where he's giving cops a few orders about handling the crowd control. The cop's like "why should we take orders from you"... something happens and his skepticism immediately vanishes :-P
Loki isn't entirely absent from the action, duking it out with Thor and later, The Hulk... most likely the one moment people couldn't stop talking about after seeing the movie.
Loki can act tough all he wants and he plays a good mind-game, but he's not the kind of villain you can take seriously. Nonetheless, he likely has a good sized fanbase all to himself.

Final Remarks

I'm borderline on parodies, but "SNL" did a hilarious one when Jeremy Renner was hosting. The main plot: what can Hawkeye do when he runs out of arrows? (which he does at some point during the battle).

When putting together my list, I thought it might have been soon for me to consider this among my favorites... but the fact is that it's my favorite theater experience of 2012, maybe among my favorites in my lifetime. It's literally built for the big screen and it helps to have a lively audience who laughs at all the right places.

After "The Dark Knight" trumped the box office success of "Iron-Man" (and the following year's Oscar race... yeah, I'm never letting that go), part of me will always worry about whether they'll ever make "The Justice League" happen in the same fashion.
Because Superman and Batman are really huge, iconic, comic book personalities, I think it's highly doubtful they can pull it off. 

Ultimately, "The Avengers" was the third biggest box office hit of all time... with "Titanic" and "Avatar" as super-stiff competition. And I'm cool with that.

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