Sunday, May 17, 2015

#1,735. The Avengers (2012)

Directed By: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson

Line from this film: "Puny god"

Trivia: The film was promoted at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con International, during which a teaser trailer narrated by Samuel L. Jackson was shown

With 2012’s The Avengers, Marvel brought “Phase One” of their Cinematic Universe to a close, a collection of movies that included Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger

Having already established each hero’s distinct personality, the challenge was to ensure they all had equal time while also delivering a kick-ass action extravaganza. It was an ambitious project, to be sure, but in true Marvel fashion, they not only pulled it off, but exceeded expectations, and in so doing set the bar for the entire subgenre higher than it had ever been before.

As the story opens, S.H.I.E.L.D. (which stands for “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division”), under the leadership of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is conducting a series of tests, headed by physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), on the Tesseract, a priceless gem that is also one of the galaxy’s most powerful energy sources. Suddenly and without warning, the Tesseract opens a wormhole, through which Loki (Tom Hiddleston), an Asgardian God and the step-brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), enters earth’s realm and steals the mighty stone. 

Using his power to control the minds of Selvig and several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, including archery master Clint Barton, aka “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner), Loki manages to escape with the Tesseract, which he will use to open a portal through which an alien army can invade earth. Once the aliens have taken over, Loki intends to set himself up as ruler of the entire planet.

To stop Loki, Nick Fury puts into motion the "Avengers Initiative", a plan by which he assembles the world’s greatest heroes, who he hopes will work together to end this global threat. With the help of Agent Paulson (Clark Gregg), Fury contacts millionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), better known as Iron Man; super spy Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson), who goes by the name Black Widow; and Captain America (Chris Evans), who is still trying to cope with life in the 21st century. 

Hoping to both stop Loki and hide the Tesseract on Asgard for safe keeping, Thor eventually joins the group as well, as does the recently rescued Hawkeye. To round out the team, Fury sends Natasha to track down Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), whose alter-ego, the Incredible Hulk, could prove a useful ally. 

But the question remains: can this group of heroes function as a team, or will they spend more time fighting each other than battling Loki and his army?

Along with its wall-to-wall action, The Avengers is also an exemplary character study, showing what happens when a group of individuals who have grown accustomed to working alone are asked to join a team. Some have no issues whatsoever adapting; once a soldier in the U.S. army, Captain America had already fought alongside others. A few, however, like Tony Stark, have relied on their own wits and have no idea how to function as part of a group. This leads to some intense showdowns within the ranks of the Avengers (Iron Man and Thor have a particularly violent fight at one point), which makes the moments they do work together all the more satisfying. When the chips are down, though, they come together to get the job done, and by the time the final battle is staged, Joss Whedon ensures that each and every member plays an integral part in it.

Having portrayed their characters in previous movies, Downey Jr., Evans, and Hemsworth are predictably strong, as are Renner (who had a bit part in Thor) and Johansson (whose Black Widow wowed Tony Stark in Iron Man 2). The real standout, however, is the new guy, Mark Ruffalo, who replaced Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner / the Incredible Hulk. Arguably the most complex member of the Avengers, Banner must live with the reality that there is a monster inside of him, one he himself cannot control. In those moments when he loses his temper, Banner / The Hulk becomes a wrecking machine, sending everyone - including the other Avengers - running for cover. Throughout the film, Ruffalo perfectly conveys his character’s inner turmoil, and as a result, his Hulk is, at all times, the most sympathetic and the most frightening member of this illustrious team.

Yet as intriguing as the group’s inner workings are, it’s the action scenes that make The Avengers such an entertaining movie. From the opening sequence, where Loki swipes the Tesseract, to the final showdown (which must be seen to be believed), The Avengers is a thrill-a-minute motion picture.

The fact that it offers something more besides?  Well, that's a nice bonus.

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