Skip to main content

Review: The Dysfunctional Four (The Avengers)



The concept of teaming up Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and Thor was a dream years in the making for most film fans. Then, finally, in 2010 proto-geek Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly, Cabin in the Woods) was named director of The Avengers.

For comic book enthusiasts The Avengers proves to be everything wanted from a team-up. For those who are less familiar with these heroes and their storylines, the film is a proverbial menu to choose from. Enjoy history and the limits that one man will go for his country? Captain America, at your service. How about Norse mythology? Thor, at the waiting. Eccentric billionaires with an addiction to thrill-seeking? Iron Man is around here somewhere. Rage problems? Hulk, please don't make him angry.

Really the only major roadblock for The Avengers is one Whedon similarly handled for Serenity: these are characters who already know everyone in their own universe, but now find themselves introduced into new ones. A fine line has to be drawn between making the introduction scenes informational enough for those unaware of the Avengers and witty enough for devoted fans.

These four heroes are members of a team, but instilled is a tension that can only come up with grave consequences. They are all successful in their own right and see no reason to coalesce with others. Tony Stark is a star in his own right and takes being given orders in a poor light. Captain America, however, recognizes this behavior from several decades ago. And they do not get along.

To make matters worse, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is a master manipulator of the mind. These heroes are already fractured, but Loki wants to break them; prove that mere mortals are not fit to face him down. Loki has made a transition from Thor and it is indeed a nasty one. What was once a man conflicted by his loyalty to family and his true nature gives way to a Machiavellian villain. Loki is feral now. The Avengers needed a villain large enough to deserve the team up of these heroes and Tom Hiddleston performs admirably.

It is an oddly precarious situation for these heroes to be in. They found themselves pushed into making frighteningly real decisions and the choices they make won't necessarily be likable. However, decisions that gave Bruce Wayne pause about making in The Dark Knight are made without hesitation by Nick Fury when dealing with Loki. The Avengers are well-meaning, but they are still tools for S.H.I.E.L.D. The Avengers is not a deconstruction of the comic book genre that The Dark Knight was, however it was never meant to be. And scenes in which Thor and Iron Man bicker, "do not touch me" and "then don't take my stuff" remind the audience that this is nothing more than fun. Despite the fact that these men are nearly God-like in their power, they are still boys with (extremely dangerous) toys.

Speaking of dangerous, the Hulk finally gets his chance to shine in his third effort on the big screen. While Eric Bana and Edward Norton were limited in what they could do with the character Mark Ruffalo inhabits the character as something more than a villain lurking in a hero's body. A potential stumbling block, Ruffalo's Hulk manages to supersede everything before it. Several scenes are made by a line delivered by, or a look that encapsulates the scene. Ruffalo is the embodiment of the Hulk that was made for the silver-screen.

Verbal barbs exchanged just as often and as intently as uppercuts, the dialogue that Whedon is known and loved for is on full display. More importantly, the action in the film is truly spectacular. The dramatic conclusion to the film can only be described as awesome. Every conceivable scenario discussed in school yards during playtime is on display: Hulk tangles with Thor, Iron Man takes on an army, and finally, Thor's hammer (mjölnir) meets Cap's shield (vibranium).

The Avengers proves that superhero team-ups are possible, but only if they are as well developed as the characters and universes crafted by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and the always cool, Samuel L. Jackson. This is for every comic book-loving-ten-year-old that grew up and still kept those geek tendencies. This is for us.

***1/2 out of ****

Popular posts from this blog

Herman Melville and Office Space

Just from gleaning the surface of Office Space one would assume that there isn't anything simmering below the surface except for a raunchy work-comedy, but they would be wrong. After the harsh critical reception of his greatest work Moby Dick Melville wrote a collection of short stories called Bartleby and Benito Cereno perhaps the greatest slam at the time against industrial America. Bartleby is the story of a Wall Street copyist who has his three employees proof-read and copy law forms. Shortly into the story Bartleby starts responding to work commands with, "I would prefer not to." Frustrated by his employee's subordination the Narrator tries to have him fired but Bartleby refuses to leave the office. The Narrator comes back the following morning to find Bartleby living inside his office. Bartleby becomes increasingly less apt to perform basic functions as eating after he is jailed for trespassing and dies in a jail cell. What at once starts out as a comedy

The Best of the Decade

Over the last ten years, the cinema has given us a great deal to be thankful for: a rebirth of the Batman franchise, a series of examinations of what it means to live in this particular decade, and a mass of character studies whether they be animated or popcorn thrillers. As much as I have enjoyed the offerings, a list must be culled together for the end of the year. Except this year is different, this year ten films must be selected from hundreds. Below are some of the best of the aughts. Enjoy! 10) There Will Be Blood Paul Thomas Anderson's magnum opus, a scathing look at extremism in America and the evils of greed and profiteering from religion. It also features the best performance of the decade with Daniel Day-Lewis as oil-man Daniel Plainview. 9)  Up A beautiful tale that entrances all ages,  Up managed to captivate children and tell a tale that adults cherish as well. 8) The Dark Knight Maybe just a comic book film, but it is the best comic book film

The Vault: PCU (1994)

It's fair to say that a lot of comedians, and people in general, have had issues with political correctness, particularly when it is taken to extremes. People worry, and rightfully so, about cultural movements that aim to limit freedoms. PCU was released in 17 years ago, in 1994, when public worries about political correctness were cresting. It's a standard college comedy with the standard cast of characters: the everyman, Jeremy Piven plays the Van Wilder archetype; the stoner, Jon Favreau puts in an early role as the oft-confused Gutter; David Spade takes a turn as the wealthy elite; we also have the frosh, the love interest, and other standards. PCU fails to make a coherent argument against political correctness. The premise is that all the tolerance of different groups is fracturing society, while it would be better if we were all as one. You know, e pluribus unum and all that jazz. It's a pretty weak thesis, considering that political correctness originated as a