May 17, 2012

MOVIES: The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)

For two-thirds of the way, The Avengers is an unusually entertaining comic-book movie. Writer/director Joss Whedon has always had a knack for writing about groups of misfits forced to work together, and the part of the movie in which the team is assembled works the best.

The characters aren't deep, but most of the actors bring just the right energy to them -- Chris Evans' square-jawed wholesomeness as Captain America, Robert Downey's arrogance as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth's ability to deliver Thor's pompous, archaic dialogue with a straight face.

And in the first half of the movie, when most of the action scenes are fights among the Avengers, the personality clashes work very well. But then the invading alien army shows up, and the last act is the standard loud, frantic, blow-it-up-real-good action movie, which I found significantly less interesting (though even this part of the movie is somewhat better than the standard for the genre).

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow aren't given as much to do, and their characters aren't as well-developed. But the most problematic character is the Hulk, and for all the reasons that the Hulk has always been a problem.

Mark Ruffalo's performance as Bruce Banner is quite good, but the movie tries to have it both ways on whether or not the appearance of the Hulk is volitional or not. For most of the movie, we're told that the transformation into the Hulk is something that happens to Banner, and that anyone in the room at the time is going to be the victim of the Hulk's undirected rage. But then the final battle arrives, and suddenly Banner is in control of the transformation and the Hulk is channelling his anger towards specifically chosen targets.

Worth seeing for the first two acts, when the movie is a banter-y bit of character comedy disguised as a superhero flick, even though the movie falls closer to the ordinary when it finally becomes a superhero flick.

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