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May 10, 2012

The Avengers (Starring Robin Sparkles)



I popped out of my room this past Tuesday morning to tell my mom that I was going with my brother to see a movie.  “Oh?” she asked, stepping into the laundry room.  “What movie?”

The Avengers,” I answered.  Just saying it made me want to smile.

She turned to look at me.  “The Avengers?” she asked, almost teasingly so.  “Don’t you want to see that movie Think like a Man?  Why don’t you go see that instead?”

Now, let me be perfectly frank here.  I hold my parents in extremely high esteem; I never went through those “rebellious teenage years” because my parents were unduly good to me.  My mom took good care of me and my brother (the former being a broccoli-haired nutcase, and the latter being a slacker making a nine in Algebra II).  My dad worked long, hard hours at his job -- even if it meant going on extended trips -- just so we could have a stable, comfortable household.   I’d sooner rob a bank than speak ill of them.

And yet, when my mom suggested that I go see a movie besides The Avengers, I almost laughed in her face.


I knew instinctively that The Avengers wasn’t a movie.  It was to be an event -- from its May 4th release until its inevitable bowing out of theaters, it was a holiday.  A celebration that brought together movie goers, comic fans, nerds, critics both armchair and professional, and people just plain hungry for a good story.  I swore to myself that I wouldn’t miss it.  Just as I didn’t want to get locked out of the loop by passing on The Hunger Games, so too did I want nothing more than to be a part of the superhero festival.

But there’s a key difference between The Hunger Games and The Avengers.  Namely, in that The Avengers surpassed even my earlier definition.  It has surpassed being just a mere event.

The Avengers is The Avengers -- a production that, with its merits alone, has created a fantastic niche for itself.  It is pure enjoyment personified.

AND IT EVEN HAS ROBIN SPARKLES.



That’s right.  The How I Met Your Mother actress makes her appearance as Maria Hill, who -- in my limited understanding of the comic canon -- is actually a reputed SHIELD agent.  And she actually proves herself useful!  Not bad, Scherbatsky…it’s a shame that I’ve seen nearly every episode of HIMYM, and therefore can only see this as a crossover between that and Marvel Comics.  It almost reached a point where I expected Captain America and Iron Man to engage in a slap bet.

All joking aside, The Avengers is a fantastic movie.  Maybe even beyond fantastic -- all the hype was worth it.  All the critics’ positive reviews ring true.  All the excitement you feel from commercials and all the buildup that came from Marvel movies past have borne delicious, juicy fruit.  If you’re reading this blog, you’ll love the movie.

If you’ve seen any comic book movie in the past ten years, you’ll love the movie.

If you’ve ever read anything in your life, you’ll love this movie. 

If you haven’t read anything in your life and just want to see explosions and punching, you’ll love this movie.

If you live in America, you’ll love this movie.

If you don’t live in America, you’ll love this movie.

If you exist, draw breath, and haven’t been captured by the Ghostbusters, you’ll love this movie.

That said, I still can’t help but wonder: is it, because of my hyperbolic praise, now my new favorite movie?  Is it a revelation in the hearts and minds of mortal men?  In the case of the former…no, it’s not my favorite movie.  It’s arguably in the top five now (give or take), but it’s not my favorite just because of some awesome moments.  In the case of the latter…it’s KIND OF a revelation.  It’s very competent, but it’s also a very simplistic story when you get down to it.  Oh no, a bad guy!  Time to build a team!  Oh no, the team’s arguing!  No matter, when the chips are down you can count on the team!  Hnnnnnnnngexplosions!

What Avengers does best is “satisfy.”  It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t.  It keeps things simple, but it’s never to its detriment.  Think of it this way: you decide to make a sandwich.  You could take one approach, and get a multitude of impressive ingredients.  The finest culinary elements money can buy, and with your skills make it into something worthy of even Gordon Ramsay.  That’s fine.  But you could take another approach; you could just take the best ham, the best lettuce, the best tomatoes, and the best bread, add your own secret sauce, and give that to your pals.  Assuming that you aren’t a wealthy socialite, your pals might say “Wow!  This sandwich is amazing!”  And the emphasis would be on it being just that -- a sandwich.  Put in extra ingredients, and you COULD have an even better product, but there’s a subset that could argue it isn’t a sandwich anymore.  Make all the standard ingredients nice and tasty, put those on the forefront and you’ll have friends naming you as the king or queen of the sandwiches.


That’s all you need to know to sum up The Avengers -- it makes one hell of a sandwich. 

But that seems a little unfair; there are just so many little things that make the movie so great.  So I’m going to go through a few of them, and maybe enlighten you a bit in case you missed them.  (You’d best pack your bags, because we’re going on a road trip to Spoiler Hills, Oregon.)

--Robin Sparkles.  That’s it, that’s all you need.


--Okay, seriously.  Like I said earlier, Agent Hill does a lot to make a name for herself throughout the movie, even without superpowers, tech, or extreme training.  Holding her own in combat, and barely flinching at the sight of trouble; managing a few extreme feats even before a single superhero comes on-screen; it’s a perfect representation of Robin Sparkles on the big screen.  But more importantly…

--Even if you don’t know who Agent Hill is (and it’s only thanks to the Avengers cartoon and subsequent wiki-sniffing that I do), the movie does something incredibly vital: it tells us her name.  She’s not just some no-name soldier, or Fury’s gopher.  She’s essentially his right-hand woman, and is treated as such from her actions, to her proximity to the big boss, all the way down to giving her something to identify her by.  The same applies for Agent Coulson; we know him from a few other movies, but I admit that until this outing I had trouble remembering his name.  “Oh, it’s…that guy!” I thought to myself.  “Yeah!  I’m glad…uh…that guy’s back!”  But now I know his name, and I’m glad I do.  It’s the first step -- not the last, but a vital one -- in identifying with a character.

--“What do we do now?” Cut to Fury staring ahead…and then, the title card.  I lol’d.

--I like how the first hero we see (well, besides Hawkeye getting brainwashed by Loki at the start) is Black Widow.  In an ever-growing tally of “Smart Things The Avengers Does That Michael Bay Should Have,” we get to see her -- one of the few team members that hasn’t gotten her own movie -- in action.  I’ll get to this later when it becomes even more applicable, but it shows just what kind of work (in terms of subterfuge and combat) she’s capable of.  Also, I like how they make sure the audience remembers how probably buxom Scarlet Johansson is via Widow’s low-cut tanktop.  Because it’s not a hot-blooded American movie without a liberal application of bouncy bits.



--Nick Fury heads off to recruit Captain America (hell yeah!) while Widow goes after Bruce Banner, better known as the Hulk.  We see Cap in the same circumstances we left him in from the end of his movie -- punching a sandbag into dust.  To my surprise, he seems unusually angry and bitter, though I suppose I wouldn’t be in much of a mood for socializing if I’d woken up more than a half-century in the future.  On that note, it seems like a subtle implication -- given that he’s got multiple sandbags on hand -- that Cap’s been spending a lot of time in this SHIELD-tapped gym.  Between the old-timey look and the fact that there’s no one else around, I suspect that it’s a way to suggest that the “man out of time” is phenomenally more isolated than you’d expect, even with knowledge of his circumstances.

--Meanwhile in Calcutta, Widow meets up with Banner.  Now, I saw the other Hulk movies and didn’t have a problem with either of them (though my memory of the 2003 movie’s pretty spotty, which doesn’t inspire confidence); I’m still a little puzzled why Edward Norton didn’t return so he could put some bricks of money in his pockets.  That said, Mark Ruffalo was just as good, if not better.  He feels closer to what I imagine Banner being: a guy who tries to stay out of the spotlight and play nice with others, but has to keep a certain “Mr. Hyde” locked in his cage.  Also, I hope I wasn’t the only one that jumped when Banner suddenly shouted  at Widow.

--Side note: the movie goes to extreme lengths to explain that bringing out The Hulk in any situation is a bad idea.  This is important.  Remember it for later.


--I won’t speak for anyone else, but I enjoyed the Thor movie.  Part of that, I think, came from seeing Tom Hiddleston’s Loki do his thing: act like a scheming snake and slither his way throughout most of the movie.  But after seeing Avengers, I feel like there are two different incarnations of Loki now; the one from last year, where he had plenty of legitimate reasons to try and take Asgard/Midgard (to keep it out of the hands of his boorish brother, and earn his father’s praise), and the one from this year, where he’s an all-around nasty fellow.  They’re different, but equal more or less; I think I prefer the Thor version, but Avengers Loki serves his role well.  Someone has to be the reprehensible, lecturing villain, and it’s sure not going to be Robin Sparkles.  But…damn, wouldn’t that make an AMAZING movie?

--That said, I have mixed feelings about Loki’s treatment later on in the movie.  Considering that ultimately he’s only borrowing the toys of a bigger, nastier threat, and that he gets WRECKED and practically left a whimpering child before the climax, it feels like the snide, competent villain we know at the start gets reduced to comic relief.  I know he’s not the toughest god around, but did he have to be the jobber of two WrestleMania matches?

--You know what?  I’m not really a fan of Iron Man -- either his comic portrayal, or his movie incarnation.  I’m not slamming Robert Downey Jr. or his performance (on the contrary, he plays the role well), but I’ve had issues with Tony Stark since the original Iron Man.  In the first movie, he starts out as a reckless twat, learns his lesson, and becomes more heroic.  Fair enough…and then in the second movie he starts out as a reckless twat, learns his lesson, and becomes more heroic.  And then -- again -- he starts out as a reckless twat, learns his lesson, and becomes more heroic.  You would think he would have learned his lesson by now.  It also bugs me how he can act like a twat for so long, only to offhandedly fix whatever problem needs to be solved, or get whatever information he needs.  It’s not that he’s a bad character; he’s just my least favorite of the group, that’s all.

--Incidentally, my brother and I were having an argument on the way back home on whether or not Captain America or Hawkeye were actually necessary for the final fight.  Obviously you know where I stand (and again, I’ll get to that), but I conceded that the movie probably could have gotten away without using Hawkeye.  Doubly so when you consider that Wasp very nearly made it into the movie.  Considering how consistently awesome she is in the cartoon, I’d say this was an unfortunate loss.


--Anyway, back to Hawkeye.  Yeah…arguably, he does the least out of the team.  He plays a part, but considering that he A) has no superpowers besides “I shoot arrows real nice-like,” B)spends a fair portion of the movie brainwashed by Loki, and C) misses a LOT of interaction between the characters, his presence is diminished.  C is especially important because -- while he does play catch-up by having canon-approved connections to Black Widow, he’s still an absentee for Avengers’ strongest suit…

--The character interactions and development are just as good as you’ve heard.  When Cap meets an un-Hulked Banner, they spend some time talking, trading civilities, and getting to know each other.  Cap gets along with him, manages to dissuade Thor’s onslaught, and cooperates with Fury willingly (and Coulson of course, but that’s only natural when you’ve got a fanboy on your side).  When Iron Man shows up, Stark and Banner get time to bond.  Thor and Coulson get time to bond.  Black Widow gets time to express why she cares about Hawkeye.  Thor gets time to express concern for the brainwashed Eric Selark and the safety of Jane Foster.  Cap and Iron Man get time to butt heads.  Loki starts screwing with people.  And that’s what’s important to note about The Avengers.

--It -- unlike Michael Bay’s productions -- knows how to stay QUIET.  It intersperses moments of meaningful exposition and character development with action scenes, instead of the other way around.  How do you know it’s meaningful?  Because elements that are teased early on, like Tony Stark creating free energy on his own or Loki’s talk of removing freedom, or why it’s a bad idea to bring Hulk anywhere, actually come to fruition.  It’s informative, effective, and oftentimes incredibly funny.  Add all that to the tally of “Smart Things The Avengers Does That Michael Bay Should Have,” if you would.


--I think my favorite scene is the rise of the SHIELD helicarrier.  I know enough about the comics to know that SHIELD has one, so when Cap and Banner get taken to their apparent HQ and it’s a big ol’ boat, I was a little confused.  And then it seems like it’s actually a submarine.  “Wait, what?” I asked myself.  “But I thought it was…”  And then you get to see the boat transform, slowly but smoothly (and clearly) into the infamous vehicle.  Moreover, it's symbolic; it's not only the heroes' HQ, but a hallmark of heroic ideals -- giving the platforms of freedom and justice a place to stand firmly.  When it takes off, there's a heroic swell of music; when it gets wrecked in an enemy attack, the Avengers hit their lowest point.  It -- like any good setting -- is a character in its own right.  Seriously, Bay.  Take notes.  This is how you use CG to inspire awe, not ire, in your audience.

--Okay, let’s talk about the fights for a bit.  There are roughly four of them before…the big one…and they all impress in different ways.  Robin Sparkles does her fair share in the first bit, as noted; Captain America and Iron Man manage to give Loki the “Welcome to Earth” treatment, Cap blocks an attack from the god of thunder with a blow that levels an entire damn forest (America!), and there’s a raid on the SHIELD Helicarrier that does a number on the team.  It’s all well and good, but -- and I can’t believe I’m saying this -- the focus isn’t on the action until the last thirty or so minutes of the movie.  You’ll know when it starts, but again it’s because so much time is spent developing the characters and events.  Think of it as “planting seeds.”  That’s not to say that the fights are boring or inconsequential, because they’re impressive too.  It’s just that compared to…the big one…they’re just teasers of what’s to come.

--There’s a scene when Cap’s about to go after Loki, and he says “There’s only one God, and he sure doesn’t dress like that.”  Er…that’s…hope nobody thought too hard about the implications of that line.  He’s from a different time, I know, but…it’s still very unfortunate.


--Now let’s talk about Hulk.  I went in expecting A) a standout performance from the new actor, and B) smashing to an unprecedented degree.  Both of those expectations were met and exceeded.  What came out of nowhere -- and I say this quite frankly -- is that The Incredible Hulk is EXTREMELY FUCKING SCARY.  The entire movie has been whispering in your ear “By the way, don’t bring out The Hulk.  You don’t want to meet The Hulk.”  This is the payoff.  From the transformation to his absolute wrecking of the helicarrier, or anything in his way…for a few moments, I thought I was watching a horror movie.  He doesn’t just smash things, he TEARS THEM APART.  In one instance, he runs through anything in his path.  In another, he rips a jet apart piece by piece.  And that roar…damn.  Just…damn.

--My only complaint about the Hulk out scene: he lands an attack on Black Widow and sends her flying.  How on earth did she survive that?  Hulk doesn’t seem like the type to hold back, nor is Widow anything more than a highly-trained assassin.  How did she not get sliced in half or turned into a leather-clad bloodstain before she even hit the ground? 

--Minor note: as Hulk does his whole rampaging bit, guess who comes in to try and stop him?  Clearly, the only one who can.


--Also, another minor note: I’ve always thought it was weird for Captain America to use a gun.  I’ll recognize that a shield -- often used as a super-Frisbee -- probably isn’t the most practical weapon when you’re in a war, but the shield is more iconic than any old gun he grabs from a soldier.  Also, I’ve always felt that the shield has a symbolic element to it; as America personified, Cap’s a defender first and an aggressor second.  Cross him, and he’ll not only withstand your attacks, but go on the offensive using his shield -- a defense turned into a counterattack.  With a gun, it’s almost like he’s taking the first shot.  I’m a bit prejudiced because I always thought guns were a lame weapon to use, but still…

--Well guys, you did it.  You magnificent bastards made me care about Coulson. ;_;  Goodnight sweet prince.  


--Okay, I think I’m going to wrap this up.  I’m not going to get into the big damn climactic battle because my words won’t do it justice.  What I will say is that each character does something that specifically relates to the personas as we understand them, both in the movie and comic canon.  Tl;dr: personality=roles played.

--Iron Man is the smart guy who takes it upon himself to find unique (if reckless) answers to difficult questions.  Therefore, he finds ways to deal with the flying Leviathans AND disposes of the nuke the only way he can.

--Captain America is the down-to-earth, experienced leader who knows how to handle a team and wants nothing more than to be the soldier the people need.  Therefore, he delegats on the battlefield to get everyone in position, deciding (wisely) NOT to fight a Leviathan in exchange for helping protect and serve civilians on the ground.

--Hulk is a force of nature that loves to fight.  Therefore, he engages in peaceful diplomacy with the invaders…by bashing the ever-loving shit out of them.

--Thor is a warrior who thrives in battle, and with his Asgardian might feels it’s up to him to tend to the problems that humans can’t.  Therefore, he tries closing the portal, and goes toe-to-toe with Loki to try and take responsibility for the woes brought on by his wicked brother.

--Black Widow is a cool-under-pressure agent dedicated to accomplishing the mission, or whatever operation comes her way.  Therefore, she’s the one who takes the most strides toward getting the tesseract under control.

--Hawkeye…shoots lots of arrows really well.  So he shoots lots of arrows really well.  (Side note: am I the only one who thought that Jeremy Renner looked like he’d been starved and punched in the face for two weeks straight while he was under Loki’s mind control?)

--For those counting the seconds until the climactic battle, know that there was a reason for the wait.  Not only is the final battle beyond amazing, but the fact that you know these characters intimately -- be it from their own movies, or the hours you spent with them in the movie proper -- means that the seeds have bloomed faster and more verdantly than Jack’s beanstalk.  You know them.  You can follow them.  You want them to succeed.  You cheer for them when they do their thing.  You’re worried when they get knocked down, or overwhelmed by enemies, or running out of juice.  You care.  YOU CARE ABOUT A MAN IN METAL PAJAMAS, A ROARING GREEN MONSTER, AND A SPACE VIKING.  And if that’s not a success -- if that’s not a reason to see this movie -- then I don’t know what is.

--Actually, scratch that.  Yes I do.


--GO SEE THE MOVIE.

3 comments:

  1. Perfectly sums up why the movie was so awesome! Although Stark was my favorite character... I guess I'm just a sucker for a Deadpan Snarker/Jerk with a Heart of Gold.

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    Replies
    1. I'd be lying if I said I didn't see the appeal of Stark; he's my least favorite character, yes, but I still find him curiously charming.

      Also, he's rich and important, so that's always cool.

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  2. I just couldn't stop laughing every time the movie tried to show that Black Widow and Hawkeye were useful members of the team. I distinctly remember watching Hawkeye get mind-raped in the first five minutes of the film and then shoot arrows at the alien invaders and laughing my ass off at how useless he was in general.

    And Black Widow? Admittedly, she did do a couple useful things, but at the part where she runs away from the Hulk as if he were some Gamma-Powered Jason Voorhees I snickered the whole time.

    All in all, the Avengers is what every superhero movie should be: it should have a clear plot and a big punch-out at the end, without any silly crap in the middle. I think that's the main reason why it worked and why you loved the characters, actually.

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