Marvel’s The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers is the best movie of 2012 and possibly the best superhero movie of all time. It is, in fact, better than Spiderman 1 and 2 and the first two Dark Knight films. Here’s a preview:

Here are the deets:

Released May 4, 2012

Written by Joss Whedon and Zak Penn, based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Directed by Joss Whedon

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, Robert Downey Jr., Samuel Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgard, and Paul Bettany

Rated: PG-13

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The Avengers picks up where Thor, Iron Man 2, and Captain America left off, weaving their individual tales into one incredibly cohesive tale.

Loki (Hiddleston), since being foiled in his bid to rule Asgard, wants to rule Earth and has an army of baddies to wage explosive war on humanity. In order to get the baddies to Earth, Loki needs the tesseract, the blue cube that played such a huge part in Thor and Captain America. Currently, however, SHIELD, run by Nick Fury (Jackson) has the tesseract and is trying to figure out how to use it as a source of perpetual energy. He has the Black Widow (Johansson) along with Hawkeye (Renner) working as agents to help protect the tesseract, and his second in command is Agent Hill (Smulders). Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Coulson.

Loki steals the tesseract, so Fury gathers a team of super beings, namely Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor (Hemsworth), Iron Man (Downey Jr), Captain America (Evans), and Bruce Banner (Ruffalo). Banner is ostensibly brought on board in order to use his knowledge of gamma rays to help find the tesseract, but we all know the Hulk’s going to show up.

And boy is it great when the Hulk does finally show up. Hulk smash.

The team sort of assembles, what with individual dynamics and Loki’s machinations. The story unfolds on a truck, on a hovering and invisible battleship, in space, and mostly in characters. Everything culminates in a massive and truly awesome battle in New York City. Poor New York.


There are a lot of reasons why The Avengers is so extraordinarily successful. The first reason is probably that Whedon and Zak Penn clearly have done their homework and are sufficiently steeped in the lore of the correct marvel comics. Each character is very much an individual, with only Hawkeye turning out a little flat, and the characters pretty much travel their own road. The fact that each character comes to the team with individual and clear motivations cannot be stressed enough– this is why the film is so successfully engaging and solid.

The snappy, excellent dialogue stems from the authentic and vivid characters. Humor is a natural result of personalities and situations, rather than a forced ingredient. Of course Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark gets some of the best lines, but Hulk actually becomes the source of the biggest laugh. Don’t laugh too loud; you’ll miss the second punch line. Pun intended.

Yes, Black Widow wears rather silly clothes, and her sexiness is clearly on display, but she’s also a very good character– nearly the most developed and interesting of the bunch. The way she interacts with Loki is genius.

That’s the other thing. Nobody in this movie is stupid. Nobody makes dumb mistakes in order to move the plot forward conveniently. Everybody is smart, tough, and complex. The actors imbue each character with clear, individual, interesting motivations. It’s a wonder that Whedon not only knew how to write such a phenomenal script and direct a film with remarkable pacing, but he also knew how to let these actors turn in some very fine performances– in some cases you get the feeling that the actors wrote some of the lines, they are so natural.

Stop reading my review now and go see this movie. It is the best movie of 2012 and very close to the best superhero movie of all time.

Content warnings: Plenty of superhero violence (without blood), lots of explosions, very little language, no overt sensuality

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

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Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger is extremely effective at what it tries to do: tell the story of a guy with heart who is so determined to fight bad guys that he chances into the body of a superhero. This is the story of Steve Rogers and the people who turn him into Captain America.

And the film works because it is primarily a movie about people.

Preview? Make it so.

The deets:

Released on July 22, 2011

Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (McFeely was my nickname in high school.. j/k) based on the comic by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.

Directed by Joe Johnston

Starring Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, and Stanley Tucci

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Captain America is not simply a rock ‘em, sock ‘em film with a guy in blue and star-spangled spandex getting his shield and fisticuffs on. It’s filled with CGI, but this CGI is quite lovely and at times elegant. You could probably count the explosions in this movie on one hand.

But it’s a superhero movie! Fighting the bad guy is supposed to involve all kinds of action.

Actually, Captain America: The First Avenger is indeed a superhero movie, but because it focuses (a’la the first two Spiderman movies and Nolan’s Batman films) on the person behind the mask and the people involved in that character’s world, it transcends your basic slapdash film and ends up being effective on a remarkable number of levels.

Some comparisons, to get us started:

Thor is very clever and nicely acted fun. X-Men: First Class is stupendously acted (setting January Jones aside), outstandlingly scripted, and brilliantly paced.

Captain America: The First Avenger is intelligent, sentimental, character-based, fun, nostalgic and totally satisfying. I left X-Men with an exuberant grin. I left Captain America with a thoughtful frown, joy in my heart, and a feeling that I needed to see it again as soon as possible.

Because how did they DO that?


Steve Rogers (Evans) starts the film weighing in at under 100 lbs. He is scrawny, sickly, has an oversized head and all kinds of heart. He wants to join the war effort in Europe and squash the evil Nazis. The majority of the movie is set during what looks like 1943 or so, although some of the set-pieces are a little off. For example, the World Fair was in 1939-40, before the US got involved in Europe.

The thing is that there is a certain patina to everything in the 1943 world. Maybe it’s slightly sepia- but it really evokes a nostalgia of the ’43 hue that we see on propaganda posters. Admit it, most people see that era in our nation’s history through a bit of a ‘looking-back with fondness’ lens. That’s how this movie looks. It evokes a lovely feeling in the viewer. It also marvelously sets the stage for a world wherein someone like Steve Rogers can be Captain America- an unapologetically patriotic hero who doesn’t need to get all angsty about who he is and his role in the world.

He’s there to fight for the US of A and belt Hitler in the mouth. This is not a hero, however, who would kick Hitler in the jewels.

After being rejected for something like the ninth time, Steve Rogers gets ready to find a different recruiting station. He is too small and sickly to be a soldier, but he’s determined to enlist. Luckily, Dr. Erskine (Tucci, with a solid accent), a German scientist, sees something special in Rogers and signs the tiny guy up for Project Rebirth- a program intended to create vast numbers of super soldiers who will finish the war in a week or so.

My question is this: How did they make Evans look so freaking tiny? The guy is big, but through the first 1/3 of the movie, he looks as tiny as my scrawny 11YO son. It’s a wonderfully done effect, and Evans plays it right. Rogers is smart, mentally tough, and is filled with heart.

After undergoing the procedure, Rogers is unnaturally tall and is physically ripped. But also, immediately after the procedure is completed, Erskine is assassinated and the lab is destroyed; Rogers will be the only super soldier for a long time.

Two comments here: Rogers was wearing extra long pants before the operation, and they’re high-waters after the operation. Good. But his belt was tight before and after the operation. Meh. The other thing is that Atwell, playing Peggy Carter, has a moment of excellent comedic timing here that you don’t want to miss.

Rogers is dubbed Captain America, and since there’s only one of him, is relegated to the propaganda circuit. He becomes a performer to drum up support and recruits for the effort. But in Europe, Peggy shows up with Howard Stark (yes, Iron Man’s dad) and the three get together to rescue a regiment of captured soldiers, one of which is Rogers’ best friends.

Thus begin Captain America’s adventures. He becomes a hero after nearly single-handedly rescuing the regiment. At the same time, he peeves off Johann Schmidt (Weaving), who is the head of the Nazis’ secret research organization called Hydra. Schmidt was behind the killing of Erskine and he was after the same goal: superhumanity. Schmidt is also in possession of some kind of powerful alien technology that has enabled him to develop insanely cool weapons. Schmidt also has a red skull. He doesn’t possess a red skull, his skull is red. It’s great makeup.

Regarding the glowing blue cube that Schmidt has, go watch Thor again.


There is lots to laugh at in this film, stuff you’re supposed to laugh at, by the way. Great comedic sense in the writing gets it done. Indeed, on the issue of comedic timing, Tommy Lee Jones playing Colonel Chesty Phillips is brilliant. He is low-key and his delivery is perfect.

I can’t find anything other than the pants thing that I didn’t like about this film. I think its pace is good, its sentiment is excellent for its setting, and I love how the costume designers did Captain America’s get-up. It’s plenty blue and looks a lot like the old Captain America costume from the comics, but it is not spandex. It is leather and looks like a fairly practical military outfit.

Final notes:

Neal McDonough is underused as Dum Dum Dugan.

The romance is actually very nicely done and is not a throwaway storyline.

Notice the total difference in atmosphere from the 40s era to the modern era. I think this is very nicely done.

Stay to the end of the credits, especially you fanboys.

I recommend this movie without reserve.

Content warnings: There is violence, but it is not graphic. No sexual content and there is period-appropriate mild language.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4.5 

Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.

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