The Avengers: Joss has done good

After nearly five years of groundwork, Marvel’s super group of superheroes finally assembles onscreen for a terrific blockbuster. By Lance Harris.

Marvel’s master plan for an all-star superhero film with some of its most popular characters has finally come together in The Avengers, a rousing special FX blockbuster that delivers exactly what most comic-book fans will be looking for. It’s an enjoyable romp, crammed with eye-popping spectacle, sharp superhero banter, and plenty of fan service.

The Avengers draws together the strands of five films that Marvel has made since 2008: The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 1 and 2, Thor and Captain America. It assembles the iconic titular heroes of those five films for a high-stakes war against the slithery, petulant demigod Loki and his alien army, with the fate of the entire world on the line.

Director Joss Whedon wastes no time catching the viewer up on the characters and events that preceded The Avengers, so the film is best thought of as the explosive grand finale to the five earlier movies. But provided you’re already invested in Marvel’s cinematic treatment of its iconic comic-book characters, you are in for a real treat.

Let’s start off with the good stuff, of which there is plenty. Whedon, a fanboy favourite for TV shows such as Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as his work in comics, has a deep love for and connection with his material. Whedon is a dab hand at pacing and has a keen ear for tone.

He keeps things moving along nicely, knows how to undercut his action with humour, and juggles his characters and plot lines with skill and economy. Whedon also makes no apologies for the fact that he is making a comic-book movie, so the film is unburdened by portentous philosophising or antihero angst. It’s straightforward entertainment, shorn of pretension.

The earlier films gave each of the characters their back-stories, so there is not much need for character development in The Avengers. Instead, the focus falls on the collision of their personalities and motivations when superspy Nick Fury (played by Samuel L Jackson) gathers them into a crack team meant to save the planet from catastrophe.

They’re all given time to shine with wisecracks and butt-kicking in a film that runs for two-and-a-half hours. Even minor characters superspy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and bow master Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — puny mortals compared to the rest — are given meaningful roles in the story.

The actors are all completely at home with these characters by now. Unsurprisingly, Robert Downey Jr, as the snarky and charismatic genius Tony Stark aka Iron Man, has the best lines in the film. His billionaire playboy is the owner of a weaponised suit of hi-tech armour and a sardonic tongue that brings him into conflict with straitlaced super-soldier and patriot Captain America (Chris Evans).

Chris Hemsworth seems even more comfortable this time around as Thor, a powerful being from Asgard and step-brother to Loki. For the first time, Mark Ruffalo takes the role of Bruce Banner, who turns into the Hulk when he is angry. It’s the best treatment of the Hulk in a film to date, with Ruffalo giving poignant shading to the cagey Banner and the CGI showing why his rage monster alter ego is so feared by the world.

The Avengers is full of exhilarating action set pieces, climaxing with an alien invasion of Manhattan. Though Whedon doesn’t use the big-screen canvas as dramatically as Christopher Nolan — perhaps a betrayal of his roots in television — he shows a rare command of the geometry and geography of a good action scene. The CGI is mostly seamless and convincing, with only a few scenes that look plastic or suffer from weightless physics.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans)

There are a few quibbles with the film, starting with yet another uninspiring 3D conversion. The night time sequences — of which there are many — are as indistinct as they always are in a 3D film. Outside of the dark scenes, the 3D is unobtrusive and completely unnecessary. It’s probably better to see a 2D print if you can.

Perhaps the biggest weakness of the film lies in the strength of its heroes.  They are so overwhelmingly powerful when united into a team that you never really feel like anyone is in much danger, even as New York is being laid to waste by aliens. The aliens are anonymous and disposable, there to be smashed with impunity. That means the film lacks a sense of consequence as it builds up to its climax.

You will hear a lot of people calling The Avengers the best Marvel film to date. It certainly is one of the most spectacular. Though it doesn’t bring quite as much of the human element to its characters as Spiderman 2 and Iron Man, it gives them plenty of opportunities to show off their superhero stuff in ways that comic fans have dreamt of for years.  — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media

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