Monday, May 07, 2012

Review: Marvel's Avengers

As a movie, "The Avengers" seems like a no-brainer. But it was also a huge gamble.

Yes, Marvel has earned a lot of good will via its movie offerings over the past few years. The Iron Man, Captain America and Thor films were all entertaining, well-executed and financially successful.

But after so much success with the solo films, this was a grand opportunity to disappoint and screw everything up on a grand scale.

How do you tell a story with so many players?

How do you match and surpass what was great about the earlier films?

How do you deal with all the big Hollywood egos involved?

Thankfully, Marvel put the right guy in charge.

When it comes to stirring together multiple characters, mixing in great dialogue and character details, and blending it all into a story that's entertaining and generally makes sense, Joss Whedon is a master chef.

He's a whiz with ensemble casts. Heck, the Scooby Gang on Buffy is essentially a Marvel Comics-style super-team, anyway. They have issues, drama, failings, wisecracks and, when the moment demands it, they come together and kick ass. 

Whedon learned much of his craft via funnybooks, and now he's returned the favor by making sure the Avengers got done right.

Essentially, the Avengers movie is like a really great issue of the Avengers comic. The characters are brought together. They have great, Marvel-style getting-to-know-you brawls. They tenuously get along and give each other a bad time. They have a few quiet, vulnerable, character-revealing moments. And, when it's time for the epic battle, they demonstrate that, despite their failings, that they are heroes.

Is it all perfect? Probably not. But, for me, it was so surprisingly not-a-disaster that I can't find much to complain about.

The individual characters are all well-played by likeable actors. Each gets a few moments to shine: Even Black Widow and Hawkeye. In just few moments, Whedon manages to tell us a lot about these two characters and their shared back story. It's only a few minutes of screen time, but enough to set them up for their own film(s) if Marvel chooses to go that route.

Whedon also manages to do what two previous big-budget films have failed to do: Make the Hulk fun.

In Hulked-up form, the Green Goliath depicted here is the most enjoyable CGI character since Woody the Cowboy and Buzz Lightyear. He scares the heck out of everyone, breaks a lot of stuff, grunts a few hilarious phrases and is generally all you'd want the Hulk to be.

In Bruce Banner form he's pretty great, too. Mark Ruffalo isn't the tightly-wound, constantly-on-edge Dr. Banner we've seen in the past. He's fairly affable and funny, but you know that he carries a burden.  The back-and-forth banter between Banner and fellow super-scientist Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony (Iron Man) Stark, is hilarious.

Also to be commended is Tom Hiddleston for his performance as the film's villain, Loki - Thor's evil step-brother.

Loki never struck me as that menacing. I doubted he was big and bad enough to warrant all these heroes teaming against him. But, as played by Hiddleston, he's just right. He's a pathetic character, but formidable. He's just disturbed and desperate enought to do something that causes big trouble for everyone, and he does.

I'm sure the nits will pick. But if you'd told 10-year-old me back in 1975 that there would be a big-budget Avengers film and that it would be great, I'd never have believed you.

Marvel's recent run of films have been very entertaining and mostly true to their comic book roots. We're lucky to be watching these things. They aren't masterpieces, but they're great fun. I'm glad they're around and I'm glad Joss Whedon didn't screw up. I bet he is, too.

More pulp cover parade





Music new releases May 8, 2012: Dark Shadows soundtrack; Sherlock 2 soundtrack; Damon Albarn; Julie Andrews and Carol Burnette, more!

Click the links to order discounted items from Amazon.


Dark Shadows: Original Score


Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett: The CBS Television Specials


Dr Dee by Damon Albarn


Sherlock: Original Television Soundtrack Music From Series Two


Da Doo Ron Ron: More from the Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry Songbook

DVD new releases May 8, 2012: Underworld: Awakening; Chuck season 5; Doctor Who; Fantasy Island!

Click the links to order discounted items from Amazon.


Underworld: Awakening


Chuck: The Complete Fifth Season


Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden



Doctor Who: Dragonfire


Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol


Fantasy Island: The Complete Second Season


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Avengers Week: Original comic art

Here's some original Avengers art by some of the series' classic artists.

George Perez:



John Buscema:

Don Heck:

 
Jack Kirby: