Welcome to the golden age of superhero movies.
The era actually began just over a decade ago when Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” (2000) and Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” (2002) flung from the decaying and confusing corpse of the retro Superman and Batman films.
These films, and the many others that followed suit, arose from that corpse bringing to life a tried and weary genre that was a step ahead of technology. The original animated superhero cinema has been outstanding, however, having created such giants as “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Superman: The Animated Series” among many others.
For those raised in the 90’s and having watched special effects in movies gradually increase throughout the years, it was and is hard to watch the old Superman live action movies and take it serious. No disrespect intended to Christopher Reeve and all of those who made those movies possible. The Batman series from the 90’s, however, is not comparable in anyway. No respect for them.
Thank you Christopher Nolan, for allowing us to forget the 90’s batman.
Thus, for superhero fans (especially the CGI and iPhone generation), the arrival of the 2000’s and the ‘golden age’ couldn’t have come soon enough.
The latest flick from Marvel, “The Avengers,” has confirmed the golden age is as strong and ambitious as it ever has been. It is a culmination of five major Marvel films and a thrilling climatic milestone for both Marvel and all superhero series, having captured and unified six incredibly diverse characters in one coherent movie.
Despite beginning with a rather cliché evil alien who-is-devising-an-evil-plot intro, the film immediately rockets out of the scene and never returns to cliché characters or lazy screenwriting.
It is immediately brought to the audience’s attention that something more sinister is brewing. Scientists at a remote research facility have lost control of an energy source called ‘the Tesseract,’ who’s power and abilities are unknown. In the ensuing confusion, the Tesseract creates a portal to another dimension which brings over none other than Loki, the outcast son of Odin, ruler of Asgard, and a fountain of rambunctious aliens.
Loki’s arrival causes immediate chaos that gets worse when he escapes with the Tessaract. This leads Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a high-tech government organization), to assemble a band of painfully diverse superheroes.
Called “The Avengers Initiative,” the plan was previously canned because of the heroes themselves. There is a martial arts virtuoso who carries a bleeding backpack of guilt (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow); a master archer who struggles with his place in his job (Clint Barton/Hawkeye); a throwback, classy WW2 hero who is dazzled by the modern world he now lives in (Steve Rogers/Captain America); a self-described narcissist, genius and ladies’ man who has the emotions of a child (Tony Stark/Iron Man); a proud and stubborn god of an alien world who strikes first then speaks (Thor), and finally, an intensely intelligent scientist who suffers from an inner monster who craves to escape when touched off by anger (Bruce Banner/The Hulk).
Yea, I wouldn’t want to tell these guys (and girl) to keep their hands and feet to themselves, either.
But, as Nick Fury said, war has started, “and (the earth and humanity) are hopelessly outgunned.” They must come together.
Director and screenwriter Joss Whedon, previously famous for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” masterfully portrayed the desperation of Nick Fury and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. as they scramble to locate the superheroes and convince them to give the Avengers idea a chance. This is no easy task, and it is powerfully portrayed through verbal, emotional, psychological and most enjoyably physical confrontations. Ever wondered what happens when Thor’s hammer slams into Captain America’s shield or the panic that ensues when Bruce Banner feels too much pressure from the rest of the gang whilst on a ship (that is flying)?
The first half of the movie focused on the electrifying clashes such as these between the superheroes. However, the viewer is fed with plentiful doses of action from every angle. Essentially, “The Avengers” is a movie of two wars: the civil war that threatens to tear the group apart and, of course, the war against earth.
“We’re not a team,” said Bruce Banner, “we are a time bomb.”
Just as much as the ‘civil war’ represents only half of the movie, the aggravating and bickering characters of the heroes are only one side of their intriguing personalities. Whedon’s writing draws out their worst and blends it in with the gravity of the situation and offers an immensely satisfying conclusion, leaving out most of those nagging clichés. No spoilers here, but let’s just say each character conquers a new mountain, all while keeping to what their fans know them as.
Loki, who was introduced in Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor” in 2011, was the ironically the glue that held flick together. His role was essential to the success of the film, as he continually brings a central conflict, from the gnawing problem of the Tesseract to the more destructive inner war he creates between the heroes. He sets the time bomb which Dr. Banner alluded to and we see the raw jealously and revenge ooze out of the pores of his ghostly white skin as he basks in his success. With Loki, there are no forced lines or motives but a sincere desire to prove to earth and especially his archrival brother Thor, and he does so with utter cruelty.
A surprise performance on the heroes’ side was Agent Coulson, who previously played two-dimensional roles in the previous Avenger-linked films. Here he is thrust into, literally and figuratively, a three-dimensional and crucial role in both the plot and the film. His character doesn’t bask in the attention grabbing scenes that the heroes have, but his well-paced entrances and exits draws the heroes from Loki’s destructive magnet one conversation at a time. He believes—more than Nick Fury who suffers a spell or two with doubt—that the earth will be saved, because, as he courageously tells Loki, “you lack conviction.” Coulson saw what each hero was capable of becoming long before the films conclusion.
But perhaps the most impressive feat Whedon pulled off aside from the believable villain, the character development and the heart-pounding action was the character and portrayal of Bruce Banner and “the other guy,” the Hulk. Finally, amidst the disappointing cloud of the previous two portrayals of the Banner/Hulk alter-egos, the Incredible Hulk is finally incredible. He is funny. He is likable. He has a personality. In this flick, the Hulk is more than a simple brute who says “hulk smash” and freaks out about the next time he will turn green and mean.
Iron Man doesn’t disappoint, peppering the dialogue with his usual relentless witty humor. Captain America plays the role of the peacekeeper fueled by 40’s morals, and his character lives up to his name during the toughest fighting as he takes command of the battlefield. Finally, Thor’s ego still matches his swing, and his naivety of earthly things brought fresh humor to the dialogue that complimented Captain America’s delayed knowledge of modern times. Action and dialogue from the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) fills in any gaps and delightfully compliments.
The special effects were breathtaking and seamless. One could count the times a scene was obviously CGI, and everything from the Hulks eye-popping transformation to the panoramic shots of a crippled New York City (I did say there were some clichés) appeared as real as if the screen were but a mere window.
Though I am highlighting the drama and the characters in this review, do not think for a moment the film lacks explosions and high-flying action.
In the end, the golden thread was the unity, achieved by the plot, the characters and the resolved conflicts. “The Avengers” brought six heroes with six opposing personalities, five major films in the past four years and an enormous burden to succeed with 12 years of live action superhero films behind it. It transformed that burden into a satisfactory prize for the fans of each individual superhero while uniting each personality in the middle of a chaotic, explosion-filled earth; a textbook example of the marriage of action and dialogue in film.
It is quite honestly the most ambitious and meticulous portrayal of a superhero film since Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”
The best part is there is more to come.