The summer movie season launches with a testosterone-fueled ‘Avengers’
When I was a kid, my favorite comic books were the ones where superheroes teamed up: Aquaman and Superman, Justice League, Spider-Man Meets The Hulk. But movies are something different. It’s one thing to draw such pairings; it’s quite another to wrangle movie-star egos into the same film.
Indeed, it’s almost Joss Whedon’s greatest feat as director of The Avengers that, in 140 minutes, he gives the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner each time to shine. This isn’t some ‘70s disaster flick where character actors take on supporting roles so they can die nobly — these folks are superheroes. Ain’t nobody dyin’ here.
Well, almost nobody. When you’re dealing with movie franchises, survivability is at least as important as plot, and Marvel has a whole lotta franchise built into this series, which capitalizes on the two Iron Man movies, two vastly different Hulk movies, and last summer’s one-two punch of Thor and Captain America. And there are more to come.
Each of those films was good in its way, but the magic of The Avengers is melding the diverse styles and tones into one unified action pic. Whedon fits the pieces together (from the powerful “tesseract” of Capt. A. to Thor’s nemesis Loki to Tony Stark’s peripatetic powers) into a cohesive storyline that never feels programmatic.
Fans of the Marvel universe have long preferred it to DC Comics because its heroes tended to be more complete human beings — flawed, and with complex backstories. In action movies, that’s often the first thing abandoned, and it certainly is here … at least for the first hour or so. After the heroes assemble following some set-piece smash-‘em-ups, we get more of the character.
One of the successes of Whedon’s screenplay (and casting) is the development of the Hulk’s alter ego, now played by Mark Ruffalo (after abortive versions with Eric Bana and Edward Norton). Ruffalo projects the perfect tweedy professor look; you can feel he’s suppressing his rage but believe he has it inside to come out. (His eventually transformation more than halfway through provides the first genuine pathos in the film.)
Another savvy decision is to keep the villain a moving target. Oh, it seems to be evil demigod Loki (Tom Hiddleston), but he hypnotizes Hawkeye (Renner), and SHIELD director Nick Fury (Jackson) seems to have his own hidden agenda. It’s as convoluted as a Cold War spy thriller at times, but also as unpredictable.
But for viewers like me, it’s the gay vibe of the superhero genre, gloriously explored with the casting of hunky Chris Evans as Capt. America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor (his voice alone oozes warrior-royalty) and Renner, plus Downey’s patented smarm which could easily get him a place in a drag show. You go, Iron Girl.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 4, 2012.