Feature Article

So, The Avengers opened this weekend in the US, not sure if you heard about it but…it absolutely killed the box office. It had the biggest opening weekend of all time with $200.3 million dollars in the bank, had a 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes and an A+ CinemaScore from audience members leaving the theater. Basically, it was a total slam dunk, grand slam or whatever your favorite sport metaphor is.

For those who have been checking out the blog, I’m sure you have noticed quite a few articles dedicated to The Avengers so you probably know how excited I was to see this film when it opened on Friday. In fact, ‘excited’ does not do it justice for me. The reason is because I have been a life-long Marvel fanboy; this is more than just a movie for me. It is, literally, a dream come true. Why?

Because for me, it all started with comic books. More importantly, Marvel comic books. When I think of my earliest memories I can recall, I first think of being in pre-school and the second memory is of me buying my first comic book, no joke. I was at a department store called Venture, that was within walking distance of my house, when I noticed a Weapon X comic that had Wolverine on the cover. The cover art was eye-catching, especially to a kid like me who had never been exposed to any kind of art before. The issue: Weapon X #84.

So I grabbed this issue and my mom thankfully bought it for me, perhaps not noticing the man on the front cover who was covered in blood. I was young and could barely read but as soon as I cracked open that cover, my whole world changed. I was bowled over by the art and the story (what I could read of it, anyway) hooked me. It was like watching a movie in my hands, much better to me than those other picture books I had been reading about ugly ducklings and other random talking animals. This felt more real than those and more importantly, it was exciting.
After developing an absolute love for comics, I decided to do something about that love by making my own. In kindergarten, I would take stacks of paper, fold it over, and staple it in the middle. Okay so yeah, many of my stories were not very coherent and featured fighting animals with 0% character depth at all. But it was a start, a 5-year-old trying to make his own hand made comics. I didn’t know it at the time but this would effectively start my lifelong career of writing.
I started reading more Marvel comics: X-Men, Spiderman, Iron Man, War Machine, Thor. This encouraged me to write and draw at a feverish pace and more importantly, it sparked another obsession for me: movies. I saw them as going hand-in-hand, with comics simply being the book-based version of a movie, complete with storyboards and everything. I wanted to be both an actor AND a comic book penciler as a kid.
Basically, I owe a huge debt to Marvel. Their comics opened the door for a life of creativity, encouraging me to pursue my passions in writing, and eventually, filmmaking. It is no exaggeration to say that I would not be the person I am today if I had not stumbled upon their characters and stories. But when reading those stories as a kid, I often wondered “Man, when are they going to turn these into REAL movies?”
X-Men was a great start, a shift from comic films being seen as campy sideshows to possibly taking place in a reality closer to ours. Spiderman wasn’t bad as well and of course, Batman Begins was able to show the world how elevated a comic book movie could be perceived as. The thing is, all of those examples were isolated into their own little worlds, shut off from the overall universe that took place within their original comics. The Avengers was a prime example of this.
When it originally debuted in 1963, The Avengers featured a team consisting of Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Ant Man and the Wasp (Captain America would not join until issue #4) who had to band together in order to defeat Thor’s brother Loki. As a kid, more than anything I wanted these comic book films to reflect this type of storyline, one in which multiple superstar superheroes must band together. For a long time, it didn’t seem like it would happen. Then, Iron Man debuted in 2008, which at first did not seem to be anything special, until I found out one huge point that made all the difference: Marvel owned the film and made it using their own movie studio. Fox Studios had the rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four while Sony retained the rights to Spiderman and Ghost Rider so there was little to no chance that they would crossover into other films. But with Marvel owning their own studio, was this a possibility now?
After Iron Man proved to be a blockbuster success, the answer was revealed by Marvel when they announced that not only would Iron Man 2 come out, it would be intertwined with the Thor and Captain America movies, all of which would lead to The Avengers movie coming out in 2012. They planted a scene after the credits of Iron Man featuring Nick Fury telling Tony Stark about the Avengers and that was all it took to get my heart racing. This obscure, impossible idea was going to be a reality.
But I was hesitant. Even though one of my greatest wishes appeared to have been answered, I realized that realistically, there was too much that could potentially go wrong. First thing is, will Thor even make for a good movie? It’s one thing to have Tony Stark build an Iron Man suit and have it portrayed realistically since he doesn’t actually have powers but a film focusing on a God who is also a superhero? I was doubtful but after watching it, I felt like they really nailed it. Captain America was also a wildcard since that comic was created as more of a propaganda piece during the World War II era. They smartly kept the film in that era which not only separated it from the other comic films but also kept it from being overtly corny.
As for The Incredible Hulk? Well, let’s just say that I wasn’t a fan. Although I like Edward Norton as an actor, I felt like he was merely playing himself and not Bruce Banner. The villain played by Tim Roth was incredibly one-note with no depth and the story was more of a man-on-the-run scenario that had very little to do with what Bruce Banner/Hulk actually meant. It was really the only misstep from Marvel but hey, 4 out of 5 ain’t bad.
The stage was set, the audiences were whipped up into a frenzy and Joss Whedon was hired on to write and direct. This was a smart and organic choice as, over the years, Marvel would send him drafts of the script (originally written by Zak Penn) for feedback since Joss had written several comics for Marvel and was a lifelong fanboy himself. At a certain point, Marvel just said “You know what, we like your ideas. Why don’t you just do it?” Still though, I was certainly excited but did not want to set myself up for disappointment. So how did Joss do?
Frankly, he knocked it out of the park (another sports metaphor for ya). I will start off first with the unbiased portion of my brain. It started off with a huge bang that effectively set the stage for the film as well as the tone. It picked up where the end of Thor left off with Loki arriving and really showing how dangerous he is. Tom Hiddleston is absolutely perfect as Loki and portrayed him as an evil, conniving and mischievous fellow who takes pleasure in watching weak humans deservedly suffer. Already, I was hit with a twist to a certain Avenger that was totally unexpected and the full power of the Cosmic Cube/Tesserect was displayed.
Whereas some critics complained about the first act of the film to be slow or uneven, I would have to disagree. After the first big action sequence, it definitely goes into story mode but it takes its time introducing each character and rightfully so. Black Widow has a fantastic introduction and we get to see how Tony Stark’s romance with Pepper Potts plays out after their first kiss at the end of Iron Man 2. It was a beautiful and revealing scene showing their perfect chemistry with each other and at the same time, showing the pathos behind Tony Stark and how diligently he works on things. Steve Rogers/Captain America also had a nice scene showing his frustrations and sadness building up within. He is definitely not a happy camper but feels a bit lost, and this is part of why he joins the Avengers.
Bruce Banner/Hulk is done better in this film than ever before. I am happy to say that Mark Ruffalo makes for a very interesting, realistic and true-to-character version of Bruce and, for me, beats Edward Norton, Eric Bana and Bill Bixby in several different ways. The choices that he makes as an actor here are pitch perfect, showing a character who is filled with rage in a very unassuming manner, a quiet ticking time bomb of a person. He has grief and sorrow hidden underneath, unsure of himself and his life, and yet, strongly attached to his work. You really feel for him and come to understand him more than you ever have in any of the other films.
One of the best things about The Avengers is how each character has ample time to show their characteristics, what makes them tick and what makes them special (well, everyone except for Hawkeye although he has other things to focus on). Some of the best scenes revolve around character interactions, whether from within the group, with S.H.I.E.L.D or even Loki himself. These interactions are incredibly engaging, humorous and push the movie forward to a point where you forget that there may be action scenes coming up! And when the action scenes DO in fact come up, they are that much more memorable because of the story that has been built up to it. The action actually MEANS something and has a purpose; there aren’t mindless explosions for the sake of eye candy.
And while we’re talking about it, the action sequences here are some of the best in any of the Marvel films. One of the sticking points that has been mentioned by critics over the years is how the final battle of the recent Marvel movies have been less-than-climatic and I am the first one to agree for the most part. Iron Man 2 is the worst at this; Ivan Vanko/Whiplash confronts Iron Man and War Machine in his new upgraded suit and as soon as it starts, the battle is over, lasting all of about one minute long. Iron Man and War Machine do a kamehameha and it’s over; I was definitely disappointed. Well, guess what: Joss was too. The final climatic battle is not only very epic but it lasts 40 minutes long! It’s emotional, bigger than life and more than what any Marvel fan could have asked for.
So now, what were the things that didn’t work? For starters, Hawkeye. He got the short end of the stick in this film in some respects. Although you can’t argue that he wasn’t utilized (he most definitely was) we just did not get to learn anything about his character other than noticing that he prefers bow and arrows over guns (even though it is never explained WHY he favors this). You learn a bit about his relationship with Black Widow but that is as far as it goes. Granted, with so many heroes and with the film already clocking in at 2 1/2 hours, this was bound to happen to one of the Avengers. And honestly, I will admit, I would rather this happen to Hawkeye than any of the others since he is probably my least favorite Avenger. But, it would have been nice to get some depth to him, especially since he was surrounded by characters who consistently had layers and layers peeled off.
Although I loved Loki as the villain, I wish his reasoning for coming to Earth was a little more fleshed out. He explained it a few times but it wasn’t very coherent, a bit unconvincing and even a bit flat. His relationship with the alien race he worked with was also a bit murky and could have used some defining lines instead of broad strokes. Thor’s arrival was also barely touched upon and Jane Foster was mentioned only once. Considering how much Thor missed Jane at the end of his own movie, I would have figured that Thor would have at least asked someone about Jane or tried to reach out to her somehow. I am almost positive this will be addressed in Thor 2 but for this film, it seemed a bit odd that he acted like their relationship never even happened.
Okay, so what does my biased side of my brain say about this movie? Well, this is what it said while I was watching The Avengers:
I will not lie, I got very emotional during the screening. This was a dream come true, on par with having a successful career and all those life goals that people hope to achieve. It exceeded the tremendous amount of hype built up over the years but for me, it fulfilled a dream I had as a little kid several decades ago. I honestly never thought I would see this happen but it did. Movies, for me, have been changed now. By creating an arc of five films that lead into one, The Avengers has accomplished something more akin to the comic and novel world by creating a shared universe that pays off in spades. It is very encouraging to try something new and have not only the fans love it but the critics and non-die hards as well. It is a success on all fronts and really sets the bar high for entertainment to follow.
For me, the world is now divided into two parts: Pre-Avengers and Post-Avengers.
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