Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Of course, it was almost five years in making and built up over six films, so the comparison between this and every other comic book movie might be unfair. This was less of a film and more of an event. But still, best is best, and I can't think of any other comic book film that can compare with this epic. This was absolutely, 100 percent, bad ass.
If you go in expecting an adaptation of The Ultimates, that is. As an adaptation of The Avengers, it leaves a little to be desired, although even then it's a lot of fun, very cool, and contains some of the best comic book action ever put on screen. But most people who read comics these days are probably more familiar with The Ultimates than The Avengers anyway, and those people who don't read comics at all won't understand or care about the distinction between the two, so why should I care? Marvel made a movie that will be loved by fans of the current comics and those that just love great action movies, so if the eight year old me sheds a tear over the changes to the beloved characters he grew up reading, his beef is with the comic book company, not with the people who made this movie. And, anyway, the 35 year old me got to finally see a live-action fight between Thor and the Hulk*, so he's not going to complain either.
In case you're curious, the Avengers comic debuted in 1963 and had been published consecutively since then. In the early 2000s, the entire series was redone in a more "realistic," contemporary style, and renamed The Ultimates. If you saw the previous films based on Iron Man, Thor, and Captain American, you pretty much saw The Ulimates version of the characters. The Ultimates was a well written series that was certainly successful in bringing a lot of attention back to the characters, but that wasn't the team I grew up reading, and a lot of the changes they made to the characters were unsettling and rubbed me the wrong way, so when I see them put on screen instead of the characters I know, well, it makes me sad. But I'll be damned if these aren't great films, all culminating in The Avengers, which, as I said, was the best comic book movie ever made.
That isn't to say it's perfect, since the story is actually pretty weak and makes very little sense. The script by Joss Wheadon was also typical Joss Wheadon, in that it was overwritten and filled with too many witty jokes by every character, regardless of the tone of the scene. No matter what was going on, it was a safe bet one of the characters was going to crack a joke. This style or writing got tired around season three of Buffy, but at least his jokes are occasionally funny. Also, Wheadon's dialogue is definitely better when it's performed by an actor like Sam Jackson or Robert Downey Jr., as opposed to, say, Alyson Hannigan or Summer Glau.
Speaking of the cast, let's look at our principal players:
Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr.
Everybody has seen at least the first Iron Man movie, which was great, and some people have seen the sequel, which was terrible. Not my favorite character in the movie since he seems to me to be the least faithful to the comics, but Downey Jr. is a brilliant actor who is great at reading Joss Wheadon's dialogue. This isn't the Tony Stark from the comics, but this is the one we got for the films, and at least he's always fun to watch. And when he puts on the Iron Man suit, well, he's bad ass. There is more and better Iron Man action in this film than there was in both of the solo Iron Man films put together. No joke.
Captain America: Chris Evans
My favorite Avenger, and probably my favorite actor in the cast. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance in the Captain America film, even though the film itself was somewhat lacking. He's given a pretty great role here, and Evans manages to rise to the occasion as the team's defacto leader. Evans has amazing comic timing, is as handsome a leading man as I've ever seen, and he has the conviction and sincerity needed to pull of this kind of serious yet fantastic character. I can't say enough good things about this guy. He was Captain America. And his costume is way better here than it was in his previous film, but it's still not great.
Thor: Chris Hemsworth
If you had asked me yesterday to name my all time favorite comic book movie, maybe I would've said Thor. That movie was a masterpiece, in my opinion, with much of the credit going to Hemsworth's perfect portrayal of the Thor, the God of thunder. Part of the fun of Thor's solo film was watching his journey from God to man back to God again, but in this film he's just a God... and that's fine, since watching him punch stuff is fun too. Hemsworth was great and had some of the best fights in the movie, but I still wish he was given a little more to do since he's a wonderful actor. But still... great character, great actor.
The Hulk: Mark Ruffalo
They keep recasting this character, but luckily for us they keep recasting him with some of the best actors working today. First we had Eric Bana, then Ed Norton, and now Mark Ruffalo. I'm not sure whose performance was the best, but Ruffalo's portrayal was probably my favorite, if only because he was the closest to the character in the comics. At least, he was allowed to be a scientist who was smarter than everybody else in the film. Oh, and the CG on the Hulk was freaking amazing and his fight scenes were the absolute best things about the movie. Here's something I've learned over the course of three films featuring the Hulk: Nothing is more fun to watch than the Hulk smashing stuff. Seriously. The Hulk is without a doubt the best character in this whole movie... or, at least, he's the most fun to watch smash stuff.
Hawkeye: Jeremy Renner
Off casting, but not all together bad casting either. Renner is a fine actor, but not one I've ever found myself overly fond of. He's just... a little boring, which is a shame because Hawkeye is anything but. Renner is an actor who seems to specialize in being grim and brooding, while Hawkeye should be fun and exuberant. But even still, Renner did a good job even though I thought he was miscast and the character poorly represented. But he was good at shooting arrows and had a few stand out moments.
The Black Widow: Scarlett Johansson
Maybe the sexiest woman on the planet, and maybe a good actress. She was certainly fun to watch, and not just because she spent the entire film in a leather cat suit. Anyway, I liked this character more than I thought I would, even though she's not somebody I'd consider to be an essential member of the Avengers. I'd rather have seen The Wasp, Tigra, or She Hulk, but Johansson did a good job with the character.
Nick Fury: Samuel L. Jackson
Awesome. This wasn't the Nick Fury I grew up on, but this was perfect casting for the Nick Fury featured in the Ultimates. The Nick Fury I grew up on was cooler, of course, since he was a grizzled, battle hardened vet from WWII, but this Nick Fury was played by Sam Jackson. What's cooler than that? I'm also not a huge fan of the S.H.I.E.L.D. portrayed in these films, since they seemed to drop the cool, epic team from the comics in favor of a clone of the Men in Black, but at least they have Sam Jackson.
Loki: Tom Hiddleston
Our villain... and he's a good one. He was also the villain of the Thor film, but while he was a bit weak there, he's way cooler and scarier here. He is the only real villain of the whole film who isn't a CG monster, and he managed to carry much of the picture based on his charm and evil grin. This guy was a good villain, and I hope he makes a reappearance in the sequel. Oh... and stay after the credits for a very cool look at who the sequel's next villain might be.
But the real star of this film are the action sequences, which are amazing. This film was definitely the best I've ever seen at capturing the real over the top thrill of a true Marvel comic. The last twenty or minutes or so in particular was probably the greatest extended action sequence I've ever seen, and I don't say that lightly.
So... just go see it. I'll probably see it again, maybe in 3D or IMAX, since it's a visual spectacle that will probably be worth the money. And then I'll probably see it again, even if it isn't The Avengers I grew up on, it's still the Avengers. At the end of the day, this film works because it's the first film I've ever seen that really captures the feel of reading a Marvel comic. From now on when people ask me why I read comics, I can say, "You know that action scene at the end of The Avengers? Well, that's what comics are like all the time."
*Yes, I remember that TV movie where Thor fought the Hulk. Doesn't count because it was awful.