Monday, May 7, 2012

"And there came a day, a day unlike any other…

When Jeff saw a superhero movie and wouldn’t shut up about it for days.”

OK, that day is pretty much exactly like any other, but that’s not the point.

The point is - we got an Avengers film.

More importantly, we got THIS Avengers film:  the superhero movie I’ve been waiting my whole life to see.

The first comic books I bought with an eye on continued collection were from the Avengers’ family.  I followed Thor, Iron Man and the West Coast Avengers all through high school and into college.  (Stopping shortly before the whole Crossing mess made Marvel, amazingly, even worse than it already had gotten in the nineties.) 
Finding WCA #1 was also my first space filling quest.

The Avengers have always been what brought me back to Marvel whenever I’d sworn off that company.  Busiek’s “Ultron Unlimited”, and Johns’ “Search for She Hulk” both caught my attention at times when I had been exclusively a DC reader.
"Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in!"

My long standing association with the Avengers didn’t make this the superhero movie I’ve been waiting my whole life to see, however.

That honor came from building up to the Avengers through other films.  If a superhero team story is made from scratch, it ends up having to be an anthology of origin tales before any worthwhile group heroing scenes can occur.

Not so this puppy.

Marvel films started strong with Iron Man.  Robert Downey Jr. became the excessively talented intellectually unmatched, yet socially immature Tony Stark, whose biggest weaknesses are substance abuse issues and his own ego.  This may well be the most perfect casting decision ever made.  The movie made an (arguably) lower tier hero into a recognized and virtually household name.  More importantly, I got to see an actor older than I play the lead in one of these films for the first time in decades.

Right on the heels of Iron Man came The Incredible Hulk. 

Hulk Smashed! 

That’s what most of us really want from a Hulk story on the big screen when it comes down to it…unleashed, unbridled, destructive fury that can only be tempered by the woman he loves.  Sure, the psychological underpinnings behind the transformation can be interesting…but c’mon and break something already!  There was a distinct lessening of Sam Elliot and Jennifer Connelly from the previous cinematic Hulk, which normally would kill a film.  Fortunately having a climax that actually made sense offset those losses considerably. The credits cameo by Mr. Downey Jr. let us all know that plans for assemblage were afoot.

I liked Iron Man II as much as the original. 

Some didn’t.

I don’t care, it’s my blog. 

There was action and explosions, there were laughs and cheers, and there was an expansion of the toys in the Marvel sandbox, giving us War Machine and Black Widow.

They only used the former’s name in reference and the latter’s not at all, which made me talking about the film to non-comic fans even more confusing than normal…which is considerable.  On the positive side, they did call the new armor by its original comic book name: the Variable Threat Response Battle Suit.  Once again, I was the only old cheering geek in the theater.

IM2 had a more Rhodeyish Rhodey, and a tribute to my favorite Iron Man armor, the Silver Centurion, which was also the most logical (and I use the term loosely) representation of armor in a briefcase.  Finally, there were more wicked-awesome Samuel L. Jackson scenes adding to the SHIELD mythology. I’m sorry, but any movie that gives us large amounts of Samuel L. Jackson being wicked-awesome has to go in the good column.  (There wasn’t enough Mace Windu wicked-awesomery to save those other films he was in, but an increase could only have helped.) 

Last year the Mighty Marvel March continued impressively with Thor and Captain America. I’ve already yammered on endlessly about them, click on the links to bathe in the geeking out.  The important part to mention about those two is: besides being excellent and fun on their own, they continued adding bricks to the building toward the Avengers:

Introducing an extra hero, the villain and the MacGuffin in one movie

Explaining the MacGuffin and providing the world with a back story in the other.

All of the Marvel Studios’ films have been adding and expanding to SHIELD as well.  That organization, impressive and cool enough to be worthy of their own franchise, turned out to be the glue holding all those superhero bricks together.

The groundwork was laid,

The hype was heralded,

And the Avengers Assembled…

Indeed they did quite a great deal of assembling, over a decent sized fraction of the film.  Without having to spend time on the origins of the characters, the movie was free to explore the rounding up of each hero, and interactions and personality clashes between them.

Each member got their moment to shine, and their scene to steal. Also, since this is the Marvel Universe we’re talking about, the heroes had to beat the snot out of each other before they proved themselves to their peers, and gelled as a team.  The staging of these battles in highly entertaining ways demonstrated why we comic fans tend to delight in and obsess over them. (Hint: A large part is that when a hero fights a villain, it’s obvious who will win eventually.)

Just how much SHIELD was the glue holding the bricks together slammed home forcefully in The Avengers.  Nick Fury’s excessive sneakiness, but with his heart in the right place, added extra levels of wicked-awesome.

These varied elements added to this being the superhero movie I’ve been waiting my whole life to see, but were not the main reason. That reason came from something less tangible, building from the previous appearances.

Loki, as in the comics, served as the catalyst for the assemblage.  Gone was the victim of “Dad always liked you best” syndrome showed previously in Thor.  He was all villain, and truly a foe no single super hero could withstand.  Mind you, that was by himself, with only a small band of brainwashed servants, by the time he pulled his army in, the Avengers needed to become the Earth's Mightiest Heroes…

And they did, in spades.
In New it should be.
While each shined before assembly, once motivated to “Avenge” they positively radiated, both singly and in multiple cooperative battles. These ranged from simply showing camaraderie battling back to back, up to intricate group tactics and support.  They all displayed and expanded on the key traits that those heroes had in the earlier films, which are very similar to those known by generations of comic book readers.

Black Widow (They used her name…Squeee!) displayed brilliant intelligence and espionage skills as well as outrageous combat abilities, unarmed, armed, and with her widow’s bite. (Double squeee!)

Aside: For once, I'm choosing not to include spoilers.  The movie was simply too awesome to ruin the multiple cheer inducing moments. Many other geekly "squeees" happened, I assure you.
Hawkeye had unerring and unparalleled aim with his high tech arrows and an equal level of situational awareness. Plus he possessed the overwhelming cockiness and smartassery that could only come from being a guy with a bow and arrows chosen for a spot on a team with gods, super soldiers, monsters and technological knights.  (Yes, he’s my favorite Avenger…here’s hoping for a spin off where he tools around on a sky cycle!)

Captain America showed true leadership and the ability to inspire others.  His air of command backed up by action and fighting scenes at peak human athletic ability visually gave a reason why others would follow him so readily, while his “old fashioned” sensibilities and refusal to give up showed he deserved the respect and allegiance he received.

Iron Man was his normal arrogant, genius self, with insane amounts of technological surprises bristling from everywhere, but the true heart of a hero underneath.

Thor was truly, amazingly and unflappably mighty, godly, and …well…Thorly. 

And then there was the Hulk (Voiced by Lou Feringo…Ultra Squeee!)

Yes, Hulk did smash some more, and smash well.  But more than that…

They finally remembered that the Hulk is a superhero.

An ill tempered, difficult to control, extremely bad for property values to have around hero, but he is one of the good guys.  He was treated as such and became much more of a terror to the villains than to the common people.  This movie let the Hulk that has captured the imagination of children since the sixties come out to play.

All this awesomeness, with flashy settings, wild action and entertaining banter between the Avengers were the components of this being the superhero movie I’ve been waiting my whole life to see.  They key was: they all built from the previous movies, establishing a new continuity.

It really amazed me how the film managed to be a direct and consistent follow up to each previous Avengers member’s movie.  The tones of those movies were fairly diverse, meaning there were several tone shifts as characters and their supporting casts were introduced to the story and the other team members.  As the team formed more strongly, the combination of all those separate tones into a single “Marvel Universe” was created.

That is the most important part of why this was the superhero movie I’ve been waiting my whole life to see, and as a bonus, I got to share it as part of my daughter’s first exposure to the opening night excitement of a superhero film. (This also was a bonus because I got to see it with my wife on opening day.  Usually if my daughter says no, I hit the midnight preview. While my wife was crazy enough to marry me, she isn’t crazy enough to stay up all night to watch guys in funny pajamas beat each other senseless.)  They both enjoyed the film as much as I did, and my wife even commented that it was much funnier and more entertaining than she expected, and that many scenes came straight out of the comics.

Before The Avengers opened, millions of people had seen Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Thor, Hawkeye, Captain America, and their enemies and allies on the big screen.  They knew the relationships, the personality quirks and the world each inhabits.  The Avengers brought all those viewers back into that world they had seen built up in the individual movies. (Though there was enough dialogue and flashbacks to cover information for those who may have missed a film, much like the comic book footnotes “See Issue 37 of Ridiculous Man, True Believers.”) For the first time, millions of people got to see superheroes in the same way that I, and legions of comic book fans, have always seen them: 

We see a group of familiar heroes we’ve come to know and love, operating in an environment we’re familiar with, have both their narrative and characterization progress throughout an action filled adventure. 

The absolute best part of the cinematic Marvel Universe is that despite the struggles, hardships and tragedies, overall it is a lot of fun.  Modern comic fans and writers sometimes seem to forget how much wish fulfillment is built into these characters. Many of the most popular times in comic book history was when they were at their most fun.   Seeing that reproduced with all the power of modern movie effects and storytelling behind it was a beautiful thing.

I supposed no comic book movie review by me would be complete without rants.  However, their limited nature serves only to illustrate the quality of The Avengers.  Building off the earlier films meant that even when things were done “wrong” according to the comics, they’re already established in the new continuity.

Heck, I never even stood up or yelled, “NO!”

1)  My first rant has NOTHING to do with the content of the movie, but rather, the viewers. 
The film climaxed-
The credits started-
And ninety percent of the audience got up and left. 

Seriously, people, how thick are you? 

There have been five Marvel Studios films, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM has had either a mid or post credits scene, and that doesn’t count the Marvel films by other studios that often throw them in.  Avengers had both, one hinting at a future challenge, and one answering a question from the end of the movie.  Those bozos all missed them.

2)  There is a line that I waited patiently for.

I expected it at several points from several characters, and I never heard it.

Therefore, I had to yell it in my living room when we got home.

Why are you still staring at my toys?
(again, for many of you)

Seen it? Click here for spoilers I can't shut up about.


Linda said...

This is one of the only movies I waded through opening weekend insanity to see and was completely worth it.

For those of us who grew up, worked in and love downtown NYC, having the Avengers in the middle of it is second to none.

That and aliens blowing up those horrible cafe seats in Times Square makes this Bronx kid happy as anything....

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx much for commenting. I thought it interesting while the movies that led up to this one were tangentially connected to New York locations, the Avengers wouldn't have worked ANYWHERE but Manhattan.

Anonymous said...

<<<liked your review, made me enjoy the movie even more. now what about SW and Vision for the sequel?

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx! Unfortunately with the weird legal stuff of Fox still making X-men movies, they could incluse Vision and the Witch, but can't mention Wanda's dad. Although since we saw the Human Torch for a moment in Captain America: the First Avenger, the Vision is a strong possibility.

Brian said...

You sold it dude!! Awesome review and the fact that YOU loved it this much means it is the real deal. Thanks Jeff.

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx much Bri! I keep telling my wife I have to see these films opening day because other people depend on me. Thank you for expanding the myth!