Saturday, May 5, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers

A lot of geek reviewers are saying Avengers is the movie they've waited their whole lives for; that they grew up with this comic, and they've always dreamed of seeing it brought to the big screen. Well, that's not me.

By my count, there are four teams in comics that have always stood above the rest: The Justice League, Avengers, X-men, and Teen Titans. And, of that bunch, The Avengers have always been my least favorite.

I'm explaining this to add some context: I am a geek and a fan of superheroes, but I'm not an Avengers fanboy. So, when I tell you I have never had this much fun watching a superhero movie in my life, it's because this movie is the simply the most awesome goddamn movie I've seen in a long time.

Actually, it might be the most awesome goddamn movie ever made.

Remember last year when I reviewed Thor? I got in some arguments over that one. I thought it was a great movie, but it really grated on me. I couldn't get over the sense that it was still timid; that it was a little embarrassed it was a superhero movie, and it compensated by playing down elements and ideas that would remind the audience where it came from. Avengers made me feel vindicated: this time there were no apologies for featuring gods, magic, spies, and super-science.

The fact this was directed by a genuine superhero fan is evident from the start. Whedon understands what makes teams work. Every one of the Avengers is essential to the team's success, and that includes the ones without powers. That doesn't feel forced either: this movie uses the characters' abilities right. Yeah, the scenes with Hulk are everyone's favorites, but it's the way they utilized Hawkeye in the final battle that seemed the most brilliant.

My god... the final battle. This is the first live-action superhero team fight that looked right. Lots of other movies have pulled off individual battles, but this is the first time we've seen a team fight together on the same field, interacting with each other, fighting together and separately, trading sparing partners, playing off each others' powers and weapons as well as their own.

This is the kind of movie that all summer movies try to be. Yes, it's light. Yes, the plot is relatively straightforward. This is blockbuster entertainment, not drama. But there's an art form in making a great summer blockbuster, and this may very well be the best ever made. Better than Star Trek, better than Pirates of the Caribbean, better than Iron Man, Captain America, X-Men 2, the Spider-Man movies, and Speed Racer.

The characters are fascinating, their interactions are wonderful, and their banter is hilarious. Each Avenger feels unique and intriguing; hell, the non-Avenger characters do, too. By the end of this, you'll want more than just Iron Man movies: you'll be ready to watch a Nick Fury feature, a Hawkeye solo, and about four Hulk films. And you'll be willing to kill for a Black Widow movie - her character is pitch-perfect, and everyone who complained about the casting back in Iron Man 2 is about to shut-the-hell-up.

This is new high-water mark for both big-budget summer filmmaking and for superhero flicks. It also might be a turning point in the trudge towards dark and gritty hero stories: this thing is fundamentally bright and optimistic. I like The Dark Knight as much as the next guy, but Avengers just demonstrated to an massive audience that there's more than one note to this genre.

It's amazing. And I fully expect to go again in a week or two. Hell, I really want to catch some of those lines I couldn't hear over the sound of the audience cheering.

One more thing: at the very least I want to see this nominated for Best Picture. There's a different set of skills that goes into producing, designing, and directing something like this, but Avengers is no less difficult, no less artistic, and certainly no less impressive a finished product than anything that's won recently. This isn't a joke: I will be legitimately pissed off next year if the Academy snubs this.

It's that good.