Movie Review: The Avengers

 

Confession: I’m not a comics fan. It’s not a value judgment, I’m just not a visual reader. But I hope I can regain my lost geekchic-atude by being a huge movie and TV fanatic and an even hyooger Joss Whedon worshipper.

I went into Marvel’s new Avengers movie armed only with knowledge of the world from the Iron Man and Thor movies. That, and my faith in Joss as a gifted storyteller. And the Joss was with me and he didn’t let me down.

 

 

The story brings together various superheroes and gods connected to shady government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. They have to battle the crazed mischief god Loki, brother of Thor, and stop him from getting the tessaract or the unobtanium or the handwavium, or something. It doesn’t really matter. The MacGuffin in this case is the catalyst for showing us some supercool superheroes doing their thing and then trying to do their thing together. Needless to say, it’s a bumpy road to brotherhood.

Along the way, we get to check in with Tony Stark, king of snark, and his canoodling relationship with Pepper Potts. We find out Thor has been off somewhere else since his last adventure on Earth, and Captain America has a lot of pent-up frustration he’s taking out on gym bags. Bruce Banner is kind of Howard Hughes-ing it since last he lost it and Hulk SMASHED. Natasha is the only one of the good guys who still seems to be working, as she lets herself get beat up in order to gain info from a random bad guy. (Scarlett Johansson’s breasts get some excellent action work in that scene.)

We know these and the others will eventually overcome their differences in style and agenda to battle the Big Bad. It’s a great ride till then. We get to see lots of cool toys and watch as the A-Team pummel each other with snark and super-powered fists. Joss’s signature style is on display; a mix of funny and poignant peppered with pop culture references, great one-liners, and a winking self-awareness that lets the audience in on the fun.

Underscoring every scene is a true fanboy’s love of the art of comic book storytelling. The pathos mixed with supercool gadgetry. Gods clashing with genetically and technologically enhanced humans. An understanding of how thick, complex backstory can be used to build worlds and shape character much like mythology does. Joss has always approached his storytelling from the premise that pop culture matters and here, he revels in that truth.

Is it a perfect movie? No. There are too many characters and subplots to really focus on any for long enough. Some scenes zip along too quickly. I found myself drifting at times, to my total shock.

But allowances must be made for the difficulty level of trying to make this movie in the first place. I can’t think of another director who would have done a better job. And he never lets the hardware or the complex set pieces overshadow the most important element of any story of any type anywhere: characters.

I disagree with A. O. Scott’s sweeping dismissal of not only the movie but the whole genre:

The light, amusing bits cannot overcome the grinding, hectic emptiness, the bloated cynicism that is less a shortcoming of this particular film than a feature of the genre.

I think Mr. Scott is mistaking busyness for vacuousness. Don’t let the over-the-top sets and outrageously complex fight sequences fool you. Joss gleefully plays in the big-budget traffic, but this movie holds onto its heart.

Don’t forget to stay for the Credit Cookies. Two of them.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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