Tuesday, April 24, 2012

MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS - Whedon's Masterpiece

MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS (sci-fi thriller in 3D)
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul Bettany
Director: Josh Whedon
Screenplay: Joss Whedon, based on story by Zak Penn 
Time: 143 mins
Rating:  *  *  *  1/2  (out of 4)

Thor (Hemsworth) and Capt America (Evans) in 'Manhattan'

PREAMBLE: This is one of the most awaited movies of all time - and for the legions of fans in Malaysia, the wait is going to be over soon. For those who have not yet booked their tickets, I suggest that they do so, preferably at the IMAX cineplex where the action feels immersive in 3D.

I must say I was a bit sceptical that writer-director Joss Whedon (creator of TV's Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel) can pull off this six-in-one superhero flick. Will it be like assembling six major egos in a small room - and cramming their style? With the plot of 'six against one (Loki)', wouldn't that be overkill and unfair advantage? Will the storyline/plot measure up to the CGI and effects that take up a major part of its US$220 million budget? Will this Disney effort follow in the heels of John Carter and go downhill?

Hiddleston as Loki

All these doubts are dashed after 20 minutes into the movie - when we find Earth being threatened by demi-god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the head of S.H.I.E.L.D (for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) starts The Avenger Initiative. From here on, it is pure, Marvel-ous fanboy entertainment of the supreme order! You can bet this one is going to put Whedon among the ranks of top directors like Spielberg and Cameron.

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Those who have seen Captain America last year may remember the Tesseract, the all-powerful energy cube retrieved from the bottom of the ocean. Loki, the megalomaniacal brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) manages to get his hands on it and plans to use it to summon his army of outer space warriors to take over the world.

To stop him, Fury and his assistant Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) assemble the various 'superheroes' on his massive 'helicarrier' in preparation for war against Loki's forces. These include Steve Rogers' Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark's Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Dr Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor. Special agent Clint Barton, or Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) makes up the sixth member a bit later when Manhattan is being bombarded by outer space monsters.

Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill
HITS & MISSES: The climactic battle takes up almost all of the final half-hour but the whole movie is absorbing enough, thanks to a cleverly written script that incorporates a fine balance of sincerity and self-effacing wit. Indeed, before the Avengers battle the alien invaders, they fight one another, both physically and verbally. Like, Iron Man's quips when he first meets Thor: "What's this, Shakespeare in the park?" and "Does your mother know you're wearing her drapes?" Indeed, the punchlines are more powerful - and memorable - than the real punches.

Whedon does not waste time re-introducing his characters. We are already familiar with Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. The physical talents of Scar-Jo's Black Widow are 'introduced' in an interrogation scene where she later gets a phone call from her boss, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), puts him on 'hold' and proceeds to beat the brains out of her interrogators.

I have always wondered how Mark Ruffalo will fare as the Hulk - and I am surprised he almost ran away with the show. His Dr Banner is a mellow guy hiding out in India before being 'persuaded' by Natasha to join The Avengers. On board Fury's helicarrier, we can see him doing his utmost to keep his temper in check - "you must have been doing a lot of yoga" someone jokes. And yes, when The Hulk emerges, it is really Incredible. Also watch out for Marvel Comics' Stan Lee who gets a self-effacing one-liner during the action scenes.

Iron Man on the attack!

One of the 'misses' of this film is that Natalie Portman's Jane is left out of Thor's story - except for a picture. This is in contrast to Stark's relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) which takes up quite a few scenes. And even though he has to face-off against six superheroes, Hiddleston's Loki is formidable and menacing enough as the arch villain. Of course, Jackson finally has a proper role here after cameos in the previous Iron Man and Captain America films.

THE LOWDOWN: It really isn't about whether you're going to catch The Avengers; it's how many times you will want to see it. 


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