Monday, May 21, 2012

The Avengers

Although The Avengers has been out for several weeks, I just had the opportunity to take my 13 year old grandson to see it this past weekend.  I must admit that my expectations were low despite all the hype.  This anticipated ensemble piece bringing together Iron Man (Tony Stark), Thor, Captain America (Steve Rogers), the Hulk (Bruce Banner) as well as Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) and Hawkeye (Clint Barton) could have been a disappointment akin to John Carter, but it works.  Thanks to the creativity and vision  of director/writer Josh Whedon and solid performances of all involved  (including an established supporting cast), the movie is everything that a good summer popcorn movie should be—distracting, visually impressive, and entertaining.

The beauty of the film is that Whedon gives each character enough screen time to be personally interesting and adequate action time to show off their individual powers or skills.  He shows what happens when a group “plays well together.” Of course, the fact that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Black Widow have been introduced in previous films helps.  We know who they are and the strengths and weaknesses they bring to the ensemble.  There is a need to establish some back story for Hawkeye, and actor Mark Ruffalo is given the opportunity to redeem the Bruce Banner/Hulk character from previous film interpretations, but neither task slows the story at all.

Most of the Avengers were created by Stan Lee and Joe Kirby using the “superhero with a flaw” idea:  these folks may have great powers but they also have problems like the rest of us.  Captain America is the exception.  He was created in 1941 by Kirby and Joe Simon.  Steve Rogers was the original 90 pound weakling who became a real American hero.  In this latest incarnation, Steve has acquired a flaw.  He is the man out of his own time who struggles to make sense of the world in which he finds himself and is gets simple joy out of little things like understanding cultural references (“Flying monkeys!  I get that.”)

There are some nice themes in the movie, especially the bonding of playboy/philanthropist/ inventor Tony Stark and nerdy scientist Bruce Banner, and the manipulative ways of SHIELD commander Nick Fury, but Captain America gets some the best moments.  He is everyman, the outsider, who struggles to understand this mismatched group of heroes and his place among them.  He emerges both as the moral center and the natural leader of a group of people who usually function better as individuals.  His “take control” attitude during the battle in New York City is based on the “can do” attitude that we still expect of our military.  His values and attitudes may be old-fashioned but they serve as the glue that holds the team together.  It is a bit sad, however, to see him alone at the end of the film.  What does the future hold for this solitary hero?

Although Marvel Pictures has made its mistakes (such at the two Hulk movies) in bringing these characters to the screen, someone is doing something right to pull off this film, bringing together all of these disparate characters and leaving none of them shortchanged.    Let’s hope they can continue their winning streak.  See you at the movies!

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