Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Real Marvel - "The Avengers" Review

I want to apologize right off the bat for my review of Joss Whedon and Marvel's new film The Avengers.  There are many reasons why I feel that it is necessary for me to apologize for this review (one that I considered not ever writing) but first and foremost I want to apologize for my breaking of the established style of reviews that are featured on Grind My Reels and in my work as a whole.  I rarely if ever use the first person when I'm writing for a number of reasons that I won't get into but I felt it necessary for this review of The Avengers.  If you are looking for an introduction to my writing style, body of work, and quality of writing this won't be that article.

That is because this review isn't coming from Dan Gvozden, the film critic, but from 5-year-old Dan Gvozden, the unapologetically dorky film and comic books lover.

At 5-years-old I was in kindergarten and encountered my first experience with bullies, a problem that would plague my life for quite some time.  Some of my earliest memories of my childhood involve me hiding under a desk while the teacher did roll call so as to avoid the attention of our classroom bully, conveniently also named Dan.  I was bullied for a number of reasons, namely that I was small and displayed behavior very much along the lines of Asperger's Syndrome.  Whether by coincidence or by fantastic parenting, it was at this time that my father introduced me to Star Wars and to Spider-man and I was instantly hooked.

In Peter Parker I discovered a character that was going through very similar situations to what I was going through.  Here was a ridiculed and bullied science nerd that held a deep dark secret that he couldn't share with anyone.  I've always held that my intellect, personality, and good nature were my superpowers and through the valuable lessons I learned from his adventures I was able to shape much of the person that I am today.

In short, the Marvel universe of characters are ones that I hold very closely to my heart because they aren't just a passing interest or fad but are a core part of who I am and how I was brought up.  These characters live inside of me in a place that is almost pre-intellectual, right alongside my childhood feelings, and so I wonder if I can approach this review objectively at all.  I hope that I can, but I felt that a warning was in order.

That being said, I found The Avengers to be one of the most entertaining theater-going experiences that I've ever had.  Is it a deep character study? Nope.  Does it push boundaries in terms of visual aesthetic and design? Double nope.  Is the story intricate and emotionally compelling?  Triple nope.

However, there was not a single moment that I wasn't entertained by this movie.  Not a single second.  I was cheering.  I was clapping.  I was laughing.  Best of all, I was invested in all of the actions of the characters and each of their unique plights.  This is blockbuster escapist entertainment at its best and should be the benchmark for films of this type going forward.

Much of the success that I attribute to The Avengers can be directly attributed to the work done with each character in the movies leading up to The Avengers.  While I didn't' find all of those films to be terribly amazing (Iron Man 2, Thor) they all work as strong character pieces that allowed me to fall in love with these characters again on the big screen.  Much of this has to do with the casting that, from Chris Hemsworth to Robert Downey Jr., is just so stellar.

The Avengers wastes none of this and allows each and every character to not only have their own unique storyline but possibly their best moments ever on screen.  This is especially apparent for the Hulk and Black Widow, who have been finally interpreted correctly and utilized to their full extent.  I, personally, cannot think of another movie that has managed to take so many characters and combine them in a way as successfully as this movie does despite their wildly different tones and character attributes.  The way these characters trade not only physical blows but verbal spars is electrifying and constantly adapting.  This is director Joss Whedon at his finest, proving once and for all that he is the master of team dynamics.

Once again Tom Hiddleston as Loki makes for a compelling and threatening villain, playing strongly off his fantastic development in last year's Thor.  His army of space aliens isn't quite as interesting and really only serves as a punching bag for the team.  However, the real conflict of the film isn't whether or not these heroes can defeat this invading force but whether or not they can work together to do so.

Joss Whedon's script and direction choose to focus on this idea and in doing so create what is almost an origin story for the Avengers team.  Oftentimes in comics characters feel thrown together just so that the publisher can sell a few more copies of that particular issue and the same could have been said about this movie but that just isn't the case.  Whedon crafts a story that feels deserving of this team-up and once the team is assembled, after many trials and tribulations, it feels completely earned.

This understanding of team dynamics also works its way into the action as well.  With Captain America fulfilling his militaristic role of dealing out orders, the team of heroes utilizes each of their abilities in a realistic and efficient way on the battlefield.  When aliens are destroying New York City the sniper takes to the roofs, the non-flying combat heroes take to the streets, and those with flight take to the skies above. The way the camera moves between each of these characters is fluid and never obstructive, fully allowing the audience to observe every action that each character makes.  Seeing the heroes mix their power sets is more than half of the fun of a movie like this and The Avengers has more than its fair share of those moments.

Not everything in The Avengers works as well as it should though.  The idea of Samuel L. Jackson playing the ultimate super-spy Nick Fury is a great idea in concept, stemming from the pages of Mark Millar's "The Ultimates", but in practice he has never been able to pull off the character.  Jackson adds nothing to the role and is wholly unconvincing when spouting his over-the-top action hero lines.  This is unfortunate because the beginning of The Avengers chooses to focus on his character for an extended period of time.  This starts the film off on the wrong note but is quickly corrected once the main heroes begin to get introduced in a particularly strong series of vignettes.

The film is also a bit unevenly paced with a bloated action sequence in the second act which, while stunning, deflates a bit of the momentum of the film and distracts from the heroes' goal at hand, to reacquire the Tesseract.  Also, the Tesseract itself isn't the greatest of macguffins, beyond being a cube of energy.  There is never a moment like the one in Raiders of the Lost Ark, with its great reveal of the Ark of the Covenant, where the power of the macguffin is explained in all its horror and power that makes one revel at the importance of its acquisition.

Despite its flaws and the inherent nature of its existence as a giant Hollywood blockbuster, The Avengers is a miracle.  Nothing in this film should work as well as it does or be nearly as fun as it is.  The mere idea that there exists an institution in place wherein The Avengers could have been made is stunning and almost unbelievable.  The Avengers isn't a film that asks any tough questions or pushes the superhero genre into any new territory narratively.  Instead it is the purest distillation of what makes comic books fun and why I fell in love with them in the first place.  Now all I could wish for is a time machine so that I could invite my 5-year-old self out to the theater with me for when I inevitably rewatch this film.  It would certainly blow his young mind.

For a full discussion of The Avengers (including SPOILERS) please listen to THE FILM GRIND.

3 / 4 Reels



  1. The one thing I like about movies like this that get seen and reviewed by *everyone* is that it often brings out personal touches or quirks to help a review stand out from the pack. I enjoyed that personal touch here, but also liked the fact that it still didn't end up being just a fanboy gush-fest.

    1. Thanks for reading Bubbawheat! Glad that you felt that my review was able to still be somewhat objective and that you enjoyed the personal touch. I think I'm going to have to do the same thing for when "The Amazing Spider-man" is released.

  2. I feel like Loki and Black Widow were much better than in their previous movies. This movie seemed relatively impossible in that it breaks many of previous renditions of super hero movies by making it more like the comics and still succeeding. Hopefully more superhero movies can be more like the comics and still be good.

    1. I think Black Widow became a character in this film, instead of just an attractive person who can kick people. She has the most interesting scene in the film, between her and Loki. I'm not sure I liked Loki better in this, his storyline is definitely far more interesting in "Thor."

      I'm wary about trying to make superhero movies more like their comics, I do think there is a strong difference between what works on screen and in a comic book. I do think this movie proves that that line is a bit weaker than I had once thought. The real difference here is in terms of time and ability to tell the story. "Watchmen" is just like the comic and that allows it to both shine and fall flat depending on the situation at hand.