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Dan's Review: The Avengers

It's a movie that puts the "super" back into the superhero movie.
The Avengers (Marvel)

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference.

Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Written by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon, based on comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Directed by Joss Whedon.

GRADE: A

REVIEW:


This review is dedicated to a good friend of mine, who updated his Facebook status a few hours before the Avengers screening we would both attend later that evening. He said:

[E]veryone thinks I'm kidding when I say, "I have been waiting for The Avengers movie for more than 40 (sic)yrs. [N]ever thought I'd see it in my life time... Not. Kidding. Big moment for me.


I've known my friend for most of those 40 years, and remember reading comic books at his house, seeing countless science fiction/action movies together and engaging in several deep conversations over the possibility of actually constructing a lightsaber along with other salient teenage geek activities. I can attest that his statement was in fact, true. We were kindred spirits in a time when geeks like us weren't held in high esteem, like athletes and other popular people.

As such, it seemed like we were participating in a life event (like a wedding) by being able to attend the same screening of The Avengers last week. After the screening, we were kids again, speaking with same excitement of our teen years, overcome with pure geek joy.

We even hugged.

Judging by our collective reaction, it's a safe bet to say that the 40-year wait was worth it.

In case you've been out of the loop since 2008, The Avengers has been in the works in one form or another, signaled by the release of Iron Man. A few months later, another member of the Avenger team would make a somewhat quieter and less celebrated appearance through The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner. In the years that followed, Iron Man II kept the ball rolling, culminating with last year's release of Thor and Captain America (Black Widow and Hawkeye would make cameos in the films), rounding out the primary Avenger team.

I have to admit that I was skeptical about an Avengers movie when learned of Marvel's plans. Don't get me wrong; I've loved the Marvel universe for years (although admittedly not even close to the same level as my good friend), but I worried that a film with so many super stars might suck, much like an NBA All-Star game or NFL Pro Bowl affair with too much offense and lackluster defense.

But the Marvel folks played it right. They did not rush. The Avengers, I daresay, were "assembled" with loving care, piece by piece, one character at a time. The Marvel movie plan allowed audiences to get to know team members like Tony Stark with his "daddy" issues, narcissism, and brilliance. We got to know (and almost forgot) how important it was for Bruce Banner to learn how to control his rage. We got to understand why Thor's hammer answers only to a worthy master. We got acquainted with the pure and selfless patriotism of Captain America, who doesn't like any bullies. We also got a taste of how bad-ass Black Widow and Hawkeye can be.

By 2012, we were ready.

(Spoilers follow)

The Avengers picks up where Captain America: The First Avenger ended, after the super soldier is discovered frozen inside a glacier after more than 70 years. A mysterious glowing blue "Tesseract" cube once used for evil purposes by Cap's nemesis Red Skull (and recovered from the ocean floor) is under development in a secret underground S.H.I.E.L.D facility. When the cube becomes unstable, Thor's exiled half-brother and Nordic god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) appears and steals the cube, along with Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), both of whom he infects with some sort of mind control. Loki's plan is to use the cube (through Selvig's technological expertise) to develop a portal through which he can bring a Chitauri army, an alien race seeking to conquer the galaxy. Hey, he's an evil, pissed off god...what else would you expect him to do?

When Loki's plans are known, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) enacts the "Avengers Initiative," sending Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to recruit Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Agent Colson (Clark Gregg) to enlist Iron Man creator Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to the cause. Fury himself convinces (the since thawed out) Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) to join up.

The team sets off to capture Loki, who is hiding out in Germany. After Iron Man and Captain America grab Loki, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) makes a surprise appearance from the cosmos to settle an old score with his half-brother and to live up to an oath to protect the world from evil space lords (like Chitauri). After a little tussle over who gets Loki first, the superheroes retire to a giant Helicarrier; a flying, cloaked super-fortress that serves as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s home base.

But the team doesn't exactly get along, with differing opinions on the right course of action and differing levels of trust for Nick Fury's leadership. Complicating matters is their prisoner Loki, who shows particular interest in Banner's hidden Hulk powers, and stirs the pot of discontent among the team. Still under Loki's control, Hawkeye leads a team of evil minions in an attack on the Helicarrier, where he is captured and Loki escapes with the cube again.

Beaten and divided, the Avengers lick their wounds, swallow their pride and head to New York City, where Loki has opened the Tesseract portal for the Chitauri army. The Avengers arrive just in time, and a huge, awesome battle ensues.

Enough spoilers.

See the movie as soon as possible for the rest of the story.

The superlatives for this superhero movie may fail me, but I will attempt to express how awesome The Avengers movie is.

The Avengers is without a doubt the best superhero movie ever. Sure, The Dark Knight was awesome and the final chapter in Chris Nolan's trilogy (due in July) looks equally brilliant, but The Avengers raises the comic book movie bar to another universe.

The ensemble performance is anchored by the brilliant talents of Downey, who keeps Joss Whedon and Zak Penn's equally brilliant script moving along with his particular ability to turn a phrase. The rest of the cast compliments Downey's comedic abilities with fine performances of their own. Of particular note among the team is newcomer Mark Ruffalo as Edward Norton's barely noticeable and seamless Hulk replacement.

Speaking of the Hulk, if you were already a fan of the biggest Avenger, you will not be disappointed. If you weren't a fan of the big green guy, you WILL be by the end of the movie. Hulk truly steals the show and inspires the most moments of sheer, awesome power. It would seem that writer/director Whedon remembered that superheroes are supposed to use their powers and the Hulk's raw, unfettered display is what comic book fans have always wanted.

I could go on and on about so many other reasons as to why The Avengers is so awesome, but I will mention one particular and beautiful moment that truly inspired me. It comes at a time when Tony Stark realizes that in order for the team to win, he must defer to another Avenger for leadership, despite his infamous ego. Again, to see beloved characters actually develop makes The Avengers more than just a bunch of special effects and explosions. It's deeper than that, and it's something that will appeal to more than just the comic book geek crowd.

While my friend and I slipped into our teen alter egos during and after the screening, I came to another equally satisfying conclusion. Besides being able to share the moment with a buddy I've known since the 1970s, I was also able to share the Avengers experience with all three of my sons, aged 14, 17 and 22 years old.

It was a night we could all be teenagers; young and old, together...again.


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