Monday, May 7, 2012

Man on Film: The Avengers

About two weeks ago, I was a little down on Joss Whedon following my tepid response to The Cabin in the Woods, a film that he co-wrote with former Buffy scribe Drew Goddard. Today, I couldn't be more pleased with Joss Whedon.

It is with little hesitation that I say The Avengers is the best movie I've seen in this young year, and there has not been another one close.

Having written the screenplay and directed the film (with Zak Penn sharing a "Story by" credit), Joss Whedon took his first big shot at directing a big-budget feature*, and he fucking crushed it. Of all of the Marvel movies, this is the best. It's better than Spider-Man 2 and X-2. It's better than either of the Iron Man flicks.

*The budget for Serenity was just $40 million compared to the reported $220 million that The Avengers cost.

What Joss Whedon has done is crafted the most complete film of the Marvel adaptations. I suppose some of this owes to the fact that a lot of the origin legwork was done on the primary characters. After two Iron Man films, two somewhat related/muddled Hulk films, a Thor film, and a Captain America one, the origins of each of the main characters has pretty much been told. Sure, there's the matter of bringing them all together, which does require a good deal of exposition, but most moviegoers--even the non-comic book reading ones--knew the characters individually coming into the film. That said, there is just enough development of characters within the construct of the film as it stands to not turn off those who have seen the films while still establishing the characters for the viewer who may not be familiar with any of the characters, with Whedon having successfully toed that fine line.

The bulk of Whedon's success comes in his feel for each character. His strengths have always lain in his firm grasp of character motivation and development. While these characters already come developed for the most part, Whedon knows these characters so well that it's hard to fathom someone else taking a run at this film and being as successful. His grasp on Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and Thor is always evident. Moreover his love for these characters is ever-present. It is this love of character when combined with his sharp wit that brings this film to the levels it reaches. If ever there were trepidation about whether Whedon was best suited for this venture, every time Downey opens his mouth it is obvious that Whedon should be penning Tony Stark's dialogue and that this is the stage Whedon should be working on. More so than in either of the other films in which the Hulk was present, here he is finally drawn up in a way that gets to the heart of what makes the character interesting. Perhaps some of this owes to Mark Ruffalo's natural affability combined with his ability to approach the role without ego, but for once, the Hulk and his human counterpart Bruce Banner are penned in an engaging, and shockingly funny way.

Speaking of funny, holy shit is this movie funny. Downey's rapier wit is utilized at full blast. There are physical gags that read neither broad nor campy. There are countless character-driven jokes. There were moments when--in the very real need to cut tension--the crowd is left roaring with laughter. Whedon's work here is top-notch.

As for the glitz and glamour of the action film, it is at attention and is equipped with all the bells and whistles. When the lens isn't trained on Scarlett Johansson's bodacious curves (this is the best she's looked in quite some time, and at no point did she irritate me, a small feat), it is framing some pretty spectacular action sequences. Sure, there's a reliance upon CGI that leaves some of the shots ever so slightly cold, but at this point that's almost to be expected. The climactic battle scene over New York City used CGI heavily, but it didn't feel like the film suffered for it. That battle sequence was breathtakingly choreographed, and its grandiosity befit the scale it was trying to achieve.

I could continue to heap praise on the movie--I haven't even mentioned Chris Evans or Jeremy Renner or Clark Gregg or the improved Chris Hemsworth--but it would simply be more of the same. The Avengers, in a word, was awesome.

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