Monday, May 14, 2012

Escape by Grabbing Some Shawarma: The Avengers

 *spoiler alert*

I find that the smaller moments in films – intimate scenes between characters that deepen the story – can make a movie, even one with a huge budget that’s based on a comic book. The Avengers has these moments in spades. Hell, between Cap and Iron Man's conversations about sacrifice and being a soldier, Thor and Loki's lamentations on war, what it means to rule, and brotherhood, and Black Widow's talks with Bruce Banner, Loki and Hawkeye, the film almost reaches Tarantino levels of dialogue.

As of this writing I've seen the film twice, and I'm very satisfied with how the story and characters came together. The film was at an advantage compared to a sister movie like X-Men – most of the main characters had already been established in their own films. But the sword is double-edged. For every iota of story or character that these stand-alone films provided, it made this final amalgamation that much riskier and more difficult to create.

One of the aspects of the film that I like the most is how director Joss Whedon and the cast and crew brought these characters together as a team. The Hulk, Thor, and Hawkeye go from attacking the rest of the Avengers to fighting alongside them. Captain America, who has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and seems out of place for most of the film, ends up commanding the team. Black Widow goes from a spy to a soldier. 

And finally, Iron Man. Not only does Tony Stark make the big sacrifice - laying down on the wire so another soldier can crawl over it, as Cap would put it - his story within the film acts as a metaphor for the rest of the team finding humanity in a way.  There's a scene where Stark lists the members of The Avengers to Loki and informs the villain that he's pissed off all of them. “You also pissed off one other person,” Stark says. “And his name was Phil.” Recall that Stark started the film off by informing Pepper that Coulson didn't have a first name other than "Agent".  

The film had some great call-backs to the earlier stand-alone Avengers films. S.H.I.E.L.D. built weapons of mass-destruction because Thor and the Destroyer leveled a small town. Nick Fury references Stark learning about The Avengers Initiative back in the first Iron Man. Cap learns that Hulk was a result of Banner trying to replicate the super solider formula (Something I was surprised to hear actually. Banner wasn't just experimenting with Gamma radiation in this version of the story?).

There's so much about this film that I love. The one-liners. Stark's nicknames for the rest of the Avengers. The unexpected fight between Thor and The Hulk. The fact that almost all of the main characters interact one-on-one with each other. The way Cap takes charge near the end of the film. The Hulk beating Loki senseless. And that final, final scene. My God that final scene. Never has munching food in silence been funnier.

My problems with the film are minor but I'd like to list them:

Where were War Machine, Odin, The Warriors Three, Lady Sif and General and Betty Ross? I guess you could argue that the final battle, while devastating and a threat to the world and beyond, sort of came out of nowhere in a way. And this was the Avengers' film after all. Still, part of me would have liked to see the cavalry called in.

What happened to Cap being the main character? If anyone was, I'd say it was Iron Man. He makes the big sacrifice and the film more or less ends with a scene featuring him. I've heard that the DVD will contain more footage, mostly of Cap, so I suspect we'll be seeing a slightly different film come home video time. Scenes near the film's end seemed to focus on a waitress that appeared to have a connection to Cap, and I wonder if there was an earlier scene in the film featuring the two of them that was cut.

And just why does The Hulk go from being a mindless monster to fighting alongside the rest of the team? I was waiting for some sort of small scene focusing on Banner that would make him more in touch with the Hulk, but we never got it. He goes from point A, trying to kill his teammates, to point C, fighting with them, skipping Point B all together.

One big complaint I heard going into the film was that it was great, but sort of "TV". I didn't really notice that much. I might see that applying to one of Whedon's earlier films (err, his only other film to date?) Serenity. I think it's plain to see that he's grown as a feature-film director. 

I mentioned that I like smaller moments, even in big films, and it sounds like that's what Whedon's got in store for The Avengers 2. Some die-hard action purists may have a problem with that, but I say bring it on. Maybe the sequel can start right after the shawarma scene, when the team has to figure out how to split the bill.


  1. Nice review, and I too am glad to see that we are mostly in agreement. Tarantino levels of dialogue is correct, in terms of the amount, but no where near his cleverness. The one-liners are cute, but they’re just that… cute, you know?

    I’m really drawn to the smaller moments in films as well – moments where, on the surface, there isn’t a lot being said, but underneath EVERYTHING is being said. Really good review here.

    1. @Alex well, Tarantino cleverness compared to other superhero films. :) But yeah amount is what I meant. Glad all of the dialogue worked for the most part.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Yes, this Avengers movie was near perfect. Sure, flaws can be found. I agree that Banner's decision to join the fight seemed a little unnatural, but I feel like there must have been a cut scene or something that takes care of that jump. Stark seemed pretty sure he'd show up.

    Any flaws that do exist, I'm completely overlooking. This was a feat and the fact it was made in the first place was tremendous. The fact that it was done so well...that makes Joss Whedon mighty.

    1. CT - Hulk mysteries and other problems aside Joss nailed it. He's pretty much ruined other superhero movies for me. Hope he directs the second one.

  3. I've seen others ask about the Hulk's change of attitude, too. The answer lies in a couple of the small moments that you were mentioning make the film so great. In the conversation that Stark and Banner had, Tony tells him about the shrapnel in his chest that might kill him at any time, but that he looks at it as a blessing because it led to him creating all he has. He then tells Banner to not think of the Hulk as a curse, but an opportunity. Tony points out to him that he has actually seemed to be somewhat in control as the Hulk (referring to events in the second Hulk movie). Later on when Banner wakes up on the ground the guard points out that Hulk seemed to be deliberately avoiding hurting anyone when he landed. We see Banner adding this to what Stark has told him and coming to a decision.

    The rampaging Hulk we saw was a direct result of the attack and Banner doing everything he could to repress the creature. He failed and the result was what we saw. The big difference later in the film is that Banner has come to accept what he can do as the Hulk and this is key - he CHOOSES to change into the Hulk to help others. That is why we see his character transition, just like we see Stark's transition after his conversation with Captain America about sacrifice.

    As for the Hulk and the super soldier program, it was explicitely referred to in the second Hulk film, but it is what created the enemy in that one. I don't think the first Hulk film mentioned it.

    1. Chip - That's now definitely my line of thinking on the Hulk question. I kind of think of Banner's condition as alcoholism - the mood he's in when he transforms is amplified a thousand times over.