Monday, April 30, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers

Genre: superhero
Director: Joss Whedon
Rating: ***** (5 out of 5)

Débuted in 1963, The Avengers was Marvel Comics’ answer to Justice League, a successful DC Comics series featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and other flagship characters. The Avengers matched that with its own line-up: Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Spiderman. The team roster grew over the years and took on new recruits like Hawkeye and Black Widow. After half a century, the series is still in print and remains one of the most popular comics under the Marvel brand.

The Avenger by Joss Whedon

Director Joss Whedon is best known for his cult TV series Buffy the Vampire and  screenplays like Speed and Toy Story. Marvel Studios tasked Whedon with bringing The Avengers to the silver screen for the first time. The challenge is to tell a coherent story out of a hodgepodge of loosely connected characters and to manage the Hollywood royalty who play them. Whedon rises to the occasion and pulls it off brilliantly. Not since X-Men and Batman: the Dark Knight have I enjoyed a superhero film so thoroughly. The Avengers has raised the bar for the entire genre. Michael Bay (Transformers) and Tim Story (Fantastic Four) had better be taking good notes.

I admit I had my doubts when I paid the $100 for the movie ticket. The Avengers could easily be one of those typical “ensemble movies” with a star-studded cast but a dud storyline. The underwhelming opening sequence did little to allay my worry: an exiled Norse god bursts through an intergalactic portal and steals an all-powerful energy source from a secret government agency. He wears a black trench coat, carries a silly scepter and trades corny one-liners with the agency director played unimaginatively by Samuel L. Jackson. It was the same save-the-world story all over again. But I spoke too soon. As soon as the delightful Scarlett Johansson (as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow) came on screen, the movie started to warm up. Then came Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/the Hulk), who delivered an understated and nuanced portrayal of a Jekyll-and-Hyde scientist whose monstrosity was none of his fault and all of his fault. But the movie didn't shift into top gear until Robert Downey Jr. (as Tony Stark/Iron Man) appeared and started pattering like an auctioneer, lighting up the screen and firing up the audience. It was all uphill from there.

An early issue of the comic book

The Avengers is a triumph. The movie turns an alphabet soup of characters from a liability into an asset and uses it to its full advantage. Each of the six superheroes is smart, likeable and unique not only in their supernatural abilities but also their intellect and motive. Each one is given equal weight in the film not for fear of upsetting one of the big Hollywood stars but because they all bring something different to the table. Thanks to Whedon’s strong screenplay, the cast becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. There is a scene half way through the film when all six Avengers are in the same room arguing with each other, unable to work as a team. Whedon takes control of the complicated scene and turns it into a beautiful sextet, pushing the movie to yet another climax.

The Avengers and their alter egos

Whedon carefully avoids the use of hackneyed comic relief, one of the common pitfalls in the superhero genre. Instead, Downey is appointed Comedian-in-Chief and delivers his lines with such effortless accuracy that you wonder if he has written some of them himself. His humor holds the movie together and allows it to not take itself too seriously. As a result, the audience is willing to forgive even glaring plot holes, such as why the extremely volatile Hulk who almost killed Black Widow just a few moments ago would suddenly cooperate with the other Avengers to save New York City from destruction. 

The hardest part about a superhero movie is the ending. The plot line keeps escalating and  the stakes get higher and higher. The easiest way to wrap things up is to throw in an epic battle: good guys and bad guys go at each other in a tiresome, drawn out fight sequence,  those 20 boring minutes of crumbled buildings and severed limbs. Whedon avoids that common pitfall too. The movie's finale is complex but not confusing, uplifting without being over-sentimental. 

In all, The Avengers is two-and-a-half hours of pure entertainment. It is celluloid escapism at its best. No wonder the film grossed US$200 million in the opening weekend in America alone, smashing the record set last year by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows - Part 2. My $100 was very well-spent.


  1. Jason,

    Your comments totally took me by surprise, and the reaction of all my friends too. All of them were waiting with greater anticipation before watching this film than before watching Lady Gaga. And I thought what on earth...

    Right, being the docile convent-schooled girl I am (stop roaring, I can hear you) I wasn't in the least interested. Superman, Batman, Spiderman and the like never interest me (indeed, I thought Batman movies were slightly scary at times). Still, after reading your review, I do feel very tempted to go and watch the movie now. Not for the Hollywood stars, nor the superheroes characters, but for the plot and intricacies and the innate characters woven into them. Somehow you've added a meaningful (almost philosophical) streak to the whole movie. Maybe I should check it out when I thought absolutely nothing would have gotten me off the seat to go and watch it.

    On another note, maybe the production company should pay you royalty for selling this movie so well (my usual cheekiness, apologies)

    Christine : >

  2. Your review is as lovely as the movie itself. You didn't mentioned one word :" Special effects " indicates I am not going to watch a demo tape of SFXCGI. I'm ready to go and curious about the treatment of the last Act.


  3. Great review Jason, and I wholeheartedly agree. As a huge fan of Joss Whedon, I was expecting it to be good, but even my expectations were greatly exceeded.

    I do have to argue one point, however: "Director Joss Whedon is better known for his screenplays. He was the genius writer behind Speed, Toy Story and X-Men."

    I would say that Whedon is most well known as the creator of several cult television shows (Buffy, Firefly) rather than screenplays. Indeed, I had no idea he was involved in Speed (and he was, in fact, uncredited for that work) and from what I can tell, his involvement in the X-Men was negligible.

    This movie is finally pushing Whedon into truly mainstream entertainment, and I'm thrilled at the response he's getting. Fans of his work will recognize his signature writing style in the dialogue (it's an absolute snark-fest, and I mean that in a good way).

    Sorry to nit-pick. Other than that, it's a great review!

  4. Thanks, Divy. I tweaked the relevant sentence as per your comment. Very helpful.