May 31, 2012

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Marvel's The Avengers

Shadowcon Reviews: Marvel’s The Avengers

Yes, this is indeed my third time seeing it, and while I may have been a little late to the party (I saw it on a Wednesday, five days after it came out in America), I still saw it, and am here now, three and a half weeks later to talk about it! And I’d like to welcome my cousin Danny, with whom I’ll be doing this review. Say hello.


Ha! Can’t even tell the difference in writing yet, can you? Well, don’t worry. That’ll soon change, as he and I will be covering different aspects of this film. In terms of characters, I’ll be covering Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr., Captain America, played by Chris Evans, and Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, and Danny will be covering Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, Hawkeye played by Jeremy Renner, and Bruce Banner/Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo. He’ll also be taking a look at SHEILD, and Nick Fury, while I’ll be covering the villain of the piece, Loki. Oh, and if your new to my writing style or setup (which, hey, I don’t blame you if you are; I’ve only garnered about 100 people to follow me) there are spoilers.

So, let’s get started. Expect much gushing and geeking out.

“Flying monkeys? I do not understand.”

“I do!... I got that reference.”

-Thor and Captain America exchange witty banter.

I suppose I’ll start with Captain America. I really had no problem with his movie, despite it not doing as well as some of its Marvel cohorts, and luckily, at least for me, Evans is able to carry the role through to this film with equal charisma. I particularly liked the little jokes about him being out of time with the rest of the people, with him missing references to people and colloquialisms and such. I liked that his role was somewhat diminished, though I would have liked to have seen him in a more leader-like position: it seemed to me that he was, up until the tail-end of the piece, not really in command, except to spout out usual military jargon, and instead was used for comic relief. Nevertheless, the dynamic between he and Iron Man was really nice to see. I liked that they weren’t automatically allies, and Joss Whedon’s quirky banter really solidified their personalities.

“Guys, I’m bringing the party to you.”

“I… I don’t see how that’s a party.”

-Iron Man and Black Widow engage in pre-battle discourse.

Robert Downey Jr. again steals the show as Iron Man, the self-proclaimed “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist”, with his smug demeanor, suave attitude, and just plain hilarity onscreen. I love his upgraded Mark VI armor, with all its electric blue lights running through it, along with all the new weapons he has. I love his interactions with Captain America and Thor, and his quick repartee with Banner is a treat to see. I’m also thrilled that Gwyneth Paltrow was in the movie. While not playing a huge role (she unfortunately did not become Rescue as I, and probably a whole three other people wished), her presence onscreen helped established continuity and also gave Iron Man’s heroics at the end just a touch more meaning. Iron Man’s Mark VII armor is possibly my favorite of the seven released onscreen. Its slick and combines what I loved about the Mark IV and V into a single suit of kick-ass armor. I love the homage (intentional or no) to the Ultimate Avengers film with the little missiles that popped out of the armor’s right shoulder a la the War Machine armor of that film. Iron Man did steal the show but that, surprisingly, wasn’t a bad thing.

“What’s the matter? Afraid of a little lightening?”

“I’m not overly fond of what follows.”

-Captain America and Loki on Thor’s power.

Thor is as awesome as ever, able to provide wit as well as muscle onscreen. Much like Captain America, he never really does more than fight, but he does get his moments of insight. I like that the chemistry between he and his brother Loki is carried over in this film, and that the writers were able to stay true to the idea that Thor feels responsible for Loki, and still considers him his brother. Thor’s fights with Iron Man and Captain America were great to see. I love when Captain America’s shield and Mjolnir collide. It reminded me of when, in Superman Returns, the bullet hits Superman’s eye; it was just a scene that catered to the fan’s curiosity and answered that question of “what if that happened”, and it answered it quite nicely. I really want to talk about Loki, because I love Loki. Loki is just trouble. As soon as he comes on screen, he’s in total control of the situation. He’s just a fun character to handle, because, while we don’t sympathize with him, we are at least given motive for why he’s doing what he’s doing: he’s misguided, and power-hungry, but he also firmly believes that what he’s doing is because he wants to make the world his. He wants to rule something, and if not Asgard, then why not Earth? His deal with the Chitari isn’t made because it has some strategic purpose, its made out of desperation; Loki’s desperate to matter, and his ego is desperate for acknowledgment.

Handing it over to my cousin Daniel now.

“That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.”

-Bruce Banner explains why he doesn’t do Pilates.

(Note: If you haven’t seen the finale to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, skip the italicized sentences at the end of Hulk’s post.)

My favorite of the five Avengers prequels were Iron Man and Thor. Not because of how fantastic RDJ and Hemsworth were in them (though that was probably a factor) but because I felt that, at the end of those films, I had a firm understanding of who the characters were. Tony is a slightly insane egotist with a conscience that demands that he fight for justice. Thor is a man who never grew up, and is just now coming to understand the consequences of his actions. But at the end of the Hulk movie, I didn’t have any greater an appreciation of Banner and the titular monster. The movie certainly delivered on effects, but the character got sidetracked. When I heard that one of my favorite actors, Edward Norton, had been fired and replaced with Mark Ruffalo (who?) my hopes of liking the Hulk plummeted. I resigned myself to the idea that the Hulk would be merely a tank of sorts for the team, nothing more than a plot device who would maybe spout a few science-y lines as Banner. Even when Joss Whedon cited Ruffalo as his favorite Banner, I remained skeptical. So it came as a huge surprise to me when the character I most wanted to talk about the moment I stepped out of the theatre was the Hulk. Because, out of all the characters, the one who got the most development, the most plot thread, was Banner/Hulk. He didn’t have the most screen time (that honor, if I had to guess, would go to either Cap or Iron Man) but he got the full story that I wanted to see in his solo movie. Because finally somebody addressed the fact that the Hulk is not a separate entity from Banner. I liked how Banner refers to the Hulk as the “Other Guy.” It shows that at the beginning of the movie, he is repressing the Hulk, all the time as we soon learn. When he fails to keep his cool on the Helicarrier, he goes crazy and nearly destroys everything in a mindless rage.

Tony, on the other hand, compares Hulk to his suit, an integral, life saving part of him that he can harness to do good. Stark is proved right in the end. When Banner ultimately realizes that he has been suppressing not a monster living in himself but his actual nature, and that by accepting who and what he is he can control himself and fight for good, he manages to become an actual hero. He fights smart(ish). Hey, he managed not to kill any civilians, he saved Iron Man’s life, and he cracked a joke. That’s pretty good for Mr. Hyde. In a sense, Banner was the ultimate Whedon character in the piece. Joss himself has drawn a parallel between Hulk and Oz from Buffy, but I would argue that he is also a lot like Buffy, Spike, Angel, and most significantly, Willow. He spends a considerable amount of time denying what he is, trying to fight and hide his inner power, being afraid of himself, before ultimately taking account of himself, harnessing his power to fight for good. His realization that he can control his rage and use it to save the world is similar to the way that Willow ultimately gets past her fear of magic to grant the power of the Slayer to all the potentials. I have to wrap this up so I have time to write about my other two favorite characters, but I just want to say that Ruffalo did a fantastic job of bringing the character to life, both in his quiet, subdued Banner and his energetic Hulk. Congrats, Joss, Ruffalo, and also whoever was responsible for the CGI, the Hulk looked really fantastic this movie. Just saying.

“Is this love, agent Romanov?”

“Love is for children. I owe him a debt.”

-Widow gets to take a step away from Bruce Willis.

“This is just like Budapest all over again.”

“You and I remember Budapest very differently.”

-That thing that we all want to see and probably never will get to.

I mentioned above that the first person I wanted to talk about when I got out of the theatre was Hulk. But after I went home (actually, while I was sitting in traffic) the characters that I continued to think about, analyze, geek out about, and generally have a great time dissecting and examining probably far more than they were intended to be analyzed were Widow and Hawkeye. These two got even less development than the Hulk in their previous appearances, which made sense since they didn’t have their own movies. I wasn’t a huge fan of Johansson’s Black Widow in Iron Man II, mostly because, while she did have a humorous fight scene at the end of the movie, she never really seemed to do anything. The character felt a little flat, and stereotypical. I wasn’t hugely excited about what her role would be in the Avengers. Experience told me to trust Whedon, and a clip of her interrogation scene perked my interest a little, but I wasn’t expecting anything like what I got.

But we’ll get there. First off, Scarlett Johansson did some fantastic work in this film. I haven’t seen her in any other roles, so I didn’t know what to expect, but her facial expressions really added some humor and humanity to the scenes. As for Renner’s Hawkeye, I had more initial hope. I had seen Renner in MI:4 and Angel, and he seemed like a good choice for Hawkeye. And while he has about two minutes of footage in Thor, during which his face isn’t even shown, I felt that he actually got to do a lot more than Widow in that time. His slightly cocky, off-the-books attitude was established in that little scene and I was intrigued. The trailers made it look like the character was going to get sidelined a bit, and I was glad to see that that was just an attempt to avoid spoilers (though if, like my sister and me, you froze the computer during Widow’s big fight in the trailer and really studied the left forearm of the guy she was kicking, you did go into it knowing that there was going to be a fight between those two.) But enough about prequels, let us take a look at the main attraction. So, I’m watching the movie, and Hawkeye is great in the opening, and Widow is great in her fight scene, but my warning bells go off when Coulson says “Barton’s been compromised.” Because all of a sudden I think I see where this is going. And I am less than pleased. Because the very last thing I want to see in an Avengers movie (other than Hulk hitting Thor with Mjolnir…so glad they got that right) is some sort of cliché “two agents fight together and fall in love and have a troubled and climactic romance while the world is ending that brings them together even as one of them is mind controlled, so the other is afraid of them getting hurt, and there’s crying and angst, etc.” Now don’t get me wrong, love stories can be done well. But I was sitting there thinking, wouldn’t it be better if instead they were two people who have a strong mutual respect for each other, who fight through the end of the world, and have a long and storied history. And what do you know! I guess I shouldn’t have doubted Joss Whedon. But as I thought about this more, I came to feel, even more strongly, that those relationships between characters like Widow and Hawkeye are truly important, and somewhat lacking in the entertainment industry. It isn’t unheard of to have a platonic male/female relationship built entirely off of mutual respect. DS9, ASOIAF, Firefly, and the X-Men all come to mind, but I think that the Avengers did it even better than those. Watching the film, especially the second time, I really felt that the relationship between these two was the quintessential one of the film. Sure, Tony and Bruce shared some jokes, and Thor and Loki had their complicated sibling relationship, and Phil had his idol worship of Cap, but it was the quiet, easy-going friendship between Romanov and Barton that resonated strongly with me. Their friendship is never bludgeoned in, but instead feels organic due to just a few scenes. Notably, when Barton wakes up it is Widow sitting at his bedside waiting for him. She calms him down, encourages him, and gives him advice. Later, in the big fight scene in New York the only characters who take the time to talk to each other for something other than basic strategy are the two SHIELD agents, fondly remembering a previous mission that they worked. When Hawkeye sees Widow doing something insane on a glider, his response is not to ponder the strategic implications, but to laugh at the absurdity of her plan, as only a friend can. He never doubts that she will be able to fly the thing via puppet alien, and when she asks him to take out Loki so she can land safely, she never even looks back to see that he did it. She just jumps. They know each other’s abilities, and more importantly, they know each other personally. In the final scene (not counting schwarma) they are shown riding off in a very fancy looking car, and the audience is left wondering what they are going to do next. Fight drug lords? Take down a terrorist cell? Enter an archery/mixed martial arts contest? What do people like them do on their off time? True, they may not have been the most important characters in the film, but for me at least, they were the most meaningful. And I do indeed have more to say about them, but that will be in my SHIELD section, which will probably be packed due to having to talk about five different named characters and an entire organization, so why don’t we get to that.

“This is magic and monsters and nothing we were ever trained for.”

-They don’t have D&D in Russia

The first time I saw the Avengers, I thought of that little exchange between Widow and Hawkeye as being one of the films quieter moments. I guess it was, but in addition to being one of my favorite character moments, I think it was also one of the most thematic. Basically, that line which I quoted above describes exactly the situation that SHIELD is facing. The organization has been keeping the world safe for a long time. The world has been saved countless times by those secretive agents from who knows how many human threats. But, like Nick Fury said in Iron Man, “the world is changing.” Where once highly trained human operatives were enough, now gods and aliens and all manner of unearthly madness are raining down on people, and no matter how good Fury is, he can’t compete with that. And he has to turn to the people who can, difficult as that may be. I love that scene where the agents are all watching on the computer, and Iron Man flies the nuke out of the portal, and they beat the aliens, and everyone just starts cheering. It really drives home how helpless they felt. These are the people who would normally be front and center, and instead they are having to wait just like everyone else while the next generation takes over. They just aren’t advanced enough for this. Which doesn’t mean they will go away of course. The final shot of the Helicarrier, with Fury looking out the window and Maria Hill walking off down the walkway, all the agents hard at work (except that one guy), we really get the sense that this organization has had our backs and will continue to have our backs. There is plenty that they can do, but in those situations when a supernatural being decides to change the rules, Fury has a contingency plan. It involves him giving up control, placing it in the hands of people of dubious merit. He gives them everything that they need, and has to trust that they will win. Samuel L. Jackson really put a lot into this, just in how subdued he was. (I use that word a lot). I was a little unhappy with some of his earlier performances, but I thought that he was great in how he conveyed his helplessness. He never looks scared or helpless, but at the same time you can see in his conversations with Loki and the Avengers that he knows that he can’t handle things alone. He is outgunned, which is why he had to bring the Avengers on in the first place.

Of course, SHIELD isn’t hands off all of the time. I really liked the way that Joss captured the efficiency of the organization. Maria Hill (can you believe that’s Robin Sparkles?) leaping behind a wall and shooting at a mind-controlled Barton with a moments notice showed extreme levels of adaptability. Coulson’s final moments showed that he, and the rest of SHIELD recognize their own place in the order of things, and that the fate of the world is so much more important than one life. He seems almost excited to know that, while he is dying, his death will mean that the Avengers finally get their act together and beat Loki. And how could I not mention the casual way that Fury just starts packing up the Tesseract and preparing to get out of Dodge when Loki shows up and starts mind-controlling people. Or Widow pushing past her fear of the Hulk to answer when Fury puts out a call to take down Barton. Or the way that Barton, faced with an angry god with a super-powerful spear of death, decides to just try and shoot him in the head. Loki had no idea how right he was when he said that he had heart.

Finally, I want to talk about Widow and Hawkeye again. As if, you know, I hadn’t just been writing about them. Can you tell that I liked these characters? These two are the only ones who are both SHIELD agents and Avengers. They are just normal humans (though I hope that Widow got to keep that spear) but they held their own with a god, a super-soldier, and a man with “breathtaking anger management issues.” But, while I’m sure I could talk endlessly about how cool Hawkeye’s quiver was, or how Widow so seamlessly figured out how to use alien tech, or just go off again about how great these two were together, what I really want to talk about is the dual nature of spy and super hero. This is not the first time these two have saved the world, but this is the first time they did it like this. They are dealing with forces bigger than SHIELD, as mentioned above. And they can’t do this using their secret agent techniques. They have to become heroes. When Cap tells them to suit up, they do. They stop hiding in the shadows, the place of comfort. They head out and become legends. We know that Widow has a lot of bad in her past, and Loki comments that Barton is just as bad. These people are killers, and have probably done a lot worse than that besides. But now they have to stand up and be heroes, and they do it so well. There is that moment where they are lost, that scene where they talk things over, and realize that they are in over their heads. And so they adapt. Even more than Fury, even more than the other four Avengers, these two start fulfilling a role that they never saw themselves in before. And they did an awesome job at it. One has to remember that they are going through intense trauma throughout that whole final fight scene. Widow has just stared down the Hulk, the only thing in the whole movie that broke through her shining level of calm. Hawkeye has only now recovered from being used as a puppet by a demigod. Yet when the chips are down, they not only get past their personal issues, they fling themselves into the spotlight. It isn’t a coincidence that we never saw Barton’s face in Thor. It isn’t a coincidence that both were introduced in dark rooms in this movie. This movie deals with change, the change form the “intelligence agency that fears intelligence” to the one that fronts a superhero team, one that relies just as much on inspiration as skill. This really is a SHIELD movie, even as it is about the four main Avengers. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

Alright, I’m done geeking out about all this now. Thank you, Luke, for letting me write about this here, and for letting me write about my three favorites. Thanks also for correcting all those hideous spelling and grammar issues, and Americanizing everything. (What’s wrong with “u” I say?)  I hope a few of you got through this wall of text to get here. Daniel out.

Happy to do it, Dan. Oh, this is Luke, by the way. Not sure if you remembered that I was still here after those three and a half pages of Daniel talking! Anyway, I don’t know if any of my readers could tell, but we both really like this movie. I loved how it was shot, loved the characters, and I loved all the little quirks and nifty dialogue the Whedon was able to cram into this two and a half hour geek fest of awesometacularness and wicked cool effects. This film was, I think, the best that they could have done on a first attempt, and I think had they done anything else, it would have made the film either too cluttered, or it would have detracted from some of the other awesome scenes that happened. Overall, this is a great way to begin the summer movie season, and Joss Whedon should (and has, as the box office numbers make clear) be commended for his work on Marvel’s The Avengers. Thank you Danny for contributing to this review, and here’s to Iron Man 3, Captain America 2, Thor 2, and the second Avengers film.

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