Monday, May 07, 2012

Why "The Avengers" Works

So you've probably already heard that "The Avengers" is a pretty good movie. You don't need me to tell you how awesome it is and that you should go see it- you've either already seen it or have plans on seeing it. I hope you see it anyway. In other words- a gushing review from me would be redundant amid all the other gushy reviews out there. The only thing I have to add to the conversation, at this point, is why I think "The Avengers" works and express my hope that more filmmakers will pay attention to this winning formula.

Each Character Has Their Own Moment in the Spotlight
The biggest challenge with an ensemble cast is how to balance the time each person has on the screen. The advantage "The Avengers" has over other films of this kind is that most of the heroes have already had at least one feature film devoted to their back story (or in the case of The Hulk- one too many films) so very little time has to be spent on the set-up.  I did wonder how Whedon was going to make sure the flashier characters, like Iron Man and Thor, weren't going to overwhelm the more understated personalities. But everyone is brought into the story in a staggered, occasionally overlapping, fashion that creates some fireworks while still allowing everyone to have some "me" time that highlights their unique abilities. There are moments where we get to love every character and marvel at their badassery-- including Black Widow and Hawkeye.

A Clean, Simple Plot
Plotwise "The Avengers" also gets a huge boost from having so many prequel movies to advance the story. We know our villain and we don't need to be sold on his motives. The only thing that needs to be established is how he's going to try to accomplish his taking-over-the-world schemes and how to stop him-- once that's done it jumps right into the action. There's no attempt to make any part of the movie too clever or convoluted and the story stays where it should- on the characters and their attempts to save the world.

A Sense of Humor
Not every comic-book movie needs to have periodic comic relief- just look at The Dark Knight series as an example. That said- "The Avengers" benefits hugely from some well timed humor. This is a movie that mostly exists as an action film that features some really cool heroes. It's not meant to be overly broody or thought provoking. Sure Bruce Banner wears his troubles like a badge, but it wouldn't make sense to see Tony Stark or Thor spend too much time on introspection- they're not built for it. Between Tony's snark and the excellent use of Hulk's "smash" the comedy flows naturally and provides some genuine belly laughs.

No Political/Social Commentary
I won't argue that politics should never be presented as part of a story in film, but a fast-paced actioner isn't the place to force it into the plot. What's great about "The Avengers" is the the enemy presented has no affiliation with any earthly religion or political party so there's no need to take sides or include preachy monologues. The characters do bring some of their personal beliefs with them, such as Captain America's old-fashioned values, but their individual quirks are not part of a prevailing attitude so there are no sucker-punches that take us away from the flow of the film.

Keeping it Kid Friendly

One of my biggest gripes about the Transformer films was the move away from the almost entirely kid-friendly vibe of the first movie to the crude, and unnecessary, adult content of the second. "The Avengers" doesn't make that mistake. It's a movie that doesn't forget that a good chunk of its core audience is children. There's a great balance between kid and adult humor without veering into anything cringe-worthy.

Knowing How to Use the Hulk
I wasn't a huge fan of the first Hulk film and didn't bother seeing the second because I'm getting worn out by Hollywood's tendency to constantly reboot everything. The impression I had in the back of my mind of Hulk was that of a CGI creation that was too cartoonish and huge to work in "The Avengers." But Whedon must have paid attention to the complaints of the fans because this Hulk, though large and angry, isn't the cartoon I was afraid would show up on the screen. The promise of the Hulk's appearance looms over the film as a vaguely threatening presence- so when he finally showed up it had to be good. And it was.

Keeping it Real With CGI
Making "The Avengers" without CGI would be impossible- but it would also be easy to kill the film with poorly constructed computer graphics. It's a given that there is probably some CGI in every scene but I never found myself too distracted by anything that didn't seem real. It's a big, brash explosion-heavy movie that sucks you in with the special effects and enables you to suspend disbelief all the way through. Quite a feat.

I could go on and on, and I'm sure other people will chime in with what they think are major points that I have left out (like whether on not the movie accurately keeps to the overall Avenger canon) but I'm approaching this as someone who just likes action movies and comic book heroes. And as a mom (like many others in the audience) that really appreciates the ability to be able to take my whole family to one film- which probably won't happen again until we make our way to "Brave" later this summer. Personally I think Whedon hit it out of the park with this one- and I can't wait for more.


James and Jacob said...

Is The Avengers your favorite comic book movie? I think it will be my favorite after I watch it soon.


SQT said...

It's right up there with "The Dark Knight" but doesn't surpass it.

Allison said...

Thanks for this! I was wondering how it would work with so many "main" characters possibly vying for the spotlight, and I'm glad that each character was given their moments. Looking forward to seeing this next weekend!

Allison (Geek Banter)

SQT said...

I hope you love it.

Snowbrush said...

People who hang out with me get to see movies that they never would have thought to see on their own (movies that I first watched alone and recommended to them). Sometimes, they bitch and whine about this, but other times they're pleased. If I hung out with you, I would certainly see things that I never in a million years would have chosen on my own.

Here's one that I recently enjoyed: "Tell Them Anything You Want" (a rather brief interview of Maurice Sendak). I loved this so much that I might have to buy it. As far as a genuine movie, I liked "Conventioneers," "Interview," "Rio Bravo," "The Hurt Locker," and "Doubt." None are new, but that's just because the newer the movie, the less chance the library will have it in on the shelf because the new ones are what most people want.

SQT said...

I think your taste is more like my husband's. Though I have to say I loved John Wayne as a kid. I haven't seen "The Hurt Locker" yet, though I've been meaning to. There's a couple on your list I've never even heard of ("Conventioneers" and "Interview") I'll have to check those out.

Elfy said...

I think giving Joss Whedon a big budget and plenty of free rein kind of helped. I'm hesitant to say that anything is my favourite, because these days something could come along the very next month and top it. However I saw The Avengers twice in a week, and I'd be only too happy to see it again this week, and I've never done that or been so inclined with any of the other superhero movies, and even in my comic collecting days I wasn't even really an Avengers person. I'd love to see Black Widow and Hawkeye get their own film, the on screen pairing of Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner just worked.

SQT said...

I could totally go see this again. I liked Renner and Johansson too, which surprised me because they hadn't really been given that much screen time before.

Snowbrush said...

Men often like things that women don't, so maybe I am like your husband. I'll just say that I tend more toward independent and low budget films than toward the big studio productions. I also like old films and some foreign films. I don't watch a lot of violence. I mean, how many shootings, fistfights and car chases does a person want to see in life, but I do like Westerns, although I fast forward through the shootouts. I also like war movies, but I want realism and not glorification. "The Hurt Locker" was directed by a woman, and it's more of psychological study than a typical war movie, so you might enjoy it. I recommend it highly, having seen it about four times by now.

Elfy said...

Sometimes actors just have chemistry, and I think that's what happened with Johannson and Renner. I keep wanting to know more about Budapest.

Maurice Mitchell said...

SQT, you are right on. Some have complained about the simple plot, but that simple plot allowed room for character development. Hulk was great too.

Fab said...

It just came out here in Belgium, Europe, so I'm very curious to go and see. But after this post, I definitely going tomorrow!

(Kind of annoyed that commenting from a Wordpress account prohibits my name from showing here! grrr).