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Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ is the best comic book movie yet


Joss Whedon, the beloved director of character-driven superhero TV, brings his superior storytelling to a collection of Marvel comic book characters.Avengers movie poster: fanpop.com

Comic book movies are a special filmmaking challenge. The director needs to balance the desire to please the ardent fan boys/girls, but also make the story understandable for the audience members not familiar with the entire canon- even though the Avengers debuted in 1963.

During the past couple of summers, I happily went to see Iron Man, its sequel, and Captain America.  I caught Thor and the Hulk movies on video. The Hulk movies were a miss; their Banner was dour, and their Hulk, a CGI mess. Thor was fun, and I appreciated that Loki was a villain with a simple yet primal motivation – sibling rivalry.

I was a bit skeptical about having a movie with so many superheroes – but I had a vague sense of faith in Whedon’s abilities. The same care he took to crafting the misfits of Buffy and Firefly can be found among this band of alienated superheroes.

Whedon and Zak Penn created a story that achieved balance by pairing off the heroes in combinations that felt realistic. Who else would appreciate Dr. Banner’s work but Tony Stark? Captain America and Thor dealt with being unfamiliar with the current American culture and idioms. Black Widow and Hawkeye shared a personal history, and were both looking to achieve some kind of penance for their violent pasts.

The story follows the plot line from Thor, and acknowledges some of the key plot points from the Iron Man movies. Each hero is given their proper introduction and brief back story to update the uninitiated.

Whedon’s known for blending humor with his dark tales – and I found my self laughing in delight because he shows a more human side to these people (and the demi-god).  Sure, they might be buff, but they still have their dorky moments. And there’s one gag at the end of the movie that left the audience at the screening erupting into laughter.

The actors were great – Robert Downey Jr. relishes his Tony Stark life, Chris Evans  who impressed me in Sunshine with an unexpected gravity (pun intended) – continues the tricky work of portraying Steve with old fashioned can-do dampened by the grief for his lost life. Mark Ruffalo rocked as the rumpled, jaded Banner. He brought a softness to the character that contrasted with the big green guy’s anger issues. I also think they scaled the Hulk down to a more realistic size, so he doesn’t appear like Godzilla next to the others. 

Another thing I love about Whedon is how he treats his female characters – and Scarlett Johansson benefited with several scenes that elevated her role from the spandex clad eye candy of Iron Man 2. Her Shield colleague, Hawkeye is a bit of a cipher. Jeremy Renner is adept at playing visceral men – but I wish he had a bit more to do, he is the hottest archer since Katniss, though. 

Even though Chris Hemsworth ended up with a bit more face time due to his (adopted) brother being the villain and all, I do think his character had a bit less going on emotionally. Perhaps that’s because his love interest (played by Natalie Portman) didn’t return. As Loki, Tom Hiddleston’s magnetic with a regal air as he plots to take over earth.

Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson  and Cobie Smulders  rounded out the Shield team. Buffy alum Alexis Denisof portrayed The Other, but as he was an alien bad guy, you might only recognize his voice.

While I thought some of the fight scenes went on for a bit too long, Whedon kept decent control of the pace. Also, the denouement provided a sense of closure as well. The Avengers is the best comic book movie yet.

Contact Diane Cooney at dcooney@philly2philly.com

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photo and thumbnail: fanpop.com