Wednesday, December 17, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘The Avengers': Well-assembled

With hundreds of scaly, lizard-like outer-space aliens wreaking havoc in New York, Thor (Chris Hemsworth, left) and Captain America (Chris Evans) find it difficult to hold their ground. If the invasion is to be stopped, they’ll need a miracle ... or helpful intervention from their other super-powered companions. Courtesy photo

“Marvel's The Avengers” Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) join forces in “Marvel’s The Avengers,” opening in theaters on May 4, 2012. The Joss Whedon–directed action-adventure is presented by Marvel Studios in association with Paramount Pictures and also stars Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson. © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

By
From page A11 | May 04, 2012 |

“The Avengers”

Four stars

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Gwyneth Paltrow

Rating: PG-13, for intense sci-fi action and violence

No doubt about it: This is Whedon season.

A few weeks ago, Josh Whedon helped redefine the entire horror movie genre, with the nefariously clever “Cabin in the Woods.” Today, he has kick-started the summer movie season with the witty, giddily explosive thrills of “The Avengers” … while deftly avoiding the many pitfalls that could have derailed this Summit Meeting of Superheroes.

The biggest challenge comes from stage-managing the antics of half a dozen dynamic Marvel Comics icons, four of whom — Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Hulk — already have their own popular film franchises, complete with established villains, supporting players and running plotlines.

This puts considerable pressure on the need to properly showcase each character, while preserving the existing narrative threads and granting sufficient exposure to the comparative newcomers — Hawkeye and the Black Widow — and the “guy in charge” (Nick Fury).

Whedon and co-scripter Zak Penn have done a marvelous job, with a sharp, savvy screenplay that lives up to — and surpasses — expectation.

The core plot is easy to digest, with the usual arrogant villain who intends to enslave our planet with the assistance of an armada of nasty, deep-space aliens; while the peril is serious, the action allows for plenty of snarky dialogue and the occasional droll sight-gag (as with, in one quick scene, the Hulk’s rather abrupt dismissal of Thor).

At the same time, Whedon isn’t afraid to show some teeth; the eyebrow-raising, Manhattan-devastating carnage includes some grim tidings. Let us not forget that a few beloved “Firefly” characters perished in the big-screen sequel, “Serenity,” much to the lamentations of that show’s fans.

Attentive superhero buffs have been prepped for this film since the post-credits tag scene that concluded 2008’s “Iron Man,” when the uber-mysterious Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tantalized Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) with a project known as “The Avenger Initiative.” Subsequent hints were dropped in the final moments of “The Hulk,” “Captain America” and “Iron Man 2,” while the core plotline — involving the glowing blue cube known as the tesseract — received early exposure at the end of last year’s “Thor,” when Fury revealed this cosmic artifact to an intrigued Professor Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), who appeared to be under the influence of the Asgardian god’s evil half-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

In between films, the tesseract has been examined and probed by Fury and his research scientists of SHIELD — the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division — the ultimate U.S. good-guy black-ops organization. Fury and his ubiquitous sidekick, the drolly straight-faced Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), have been hoping to exploit the tesseract’s power in order to beef up Earth’s defenses, given the ever-more-dire celestial menaces that have been popping up.

“The Avengers” begins as Loki, granted additional cosmic powers by the lizard-like Chittauri, a deep-space warrior race, blasts his way into SHIELD headquarters and steals the tesseract. He also absconds with Selvig and SHIELD’s high-tech, bow-and-arrow-wielding sentinel, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), having subverted both their wills and turned them into acolytes.

With Thor (Chris Hemsworth) off-world and therefore unable to deal with Loki, Fury and Coulson activate the Avenger Initiative. SHIELD operative Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, appropriately sultry), better known as the Black Widow, is sent to fetch Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, taking over from Edward Norton), who has been keeping a low profile as a field doctor caring for the poor. Natasha insists that Fury wants Banner only for his research expertise — and not for the uncontrollable rage demon that lurks within, like a giant green Mr. Hyde — but the good doctor sadly suspects otherwise.

Ruffalo smoothly elicits our compassion for Banner, as the pluperfect tortured soul: a well-meaning scientist who spends every waking moment trying to remain calm, lest he unleash the beast within. Ruffalo is far more vulnerable and sympathetic than Norton’s take on the same character, who was much too arrogant in the latter actor’s hands.

Agent Coulson goes after Stark and his wonderfully armored alter-ego, Iron Man; Stark rebuffs the offer, snapping that he’s “not much of a team player” — in Downey’s hilariously haughty flippancy — but gal pal Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, a bit sexier than she played this role in the two “Iron Man” films) successfully appeals to his nobler instincts.

Fury, finally, approaches the displaced Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), whose Captain America was a WWII hero before losing half a century in suspended animation and being revived in the 21st century. Rogers — still a man out of time, and constantly puzzled by the culture and technology we take for granted — jumps at the opportunity to once again serve his country.

The major problem, as Stark put into words, is that these guys don’t play well with others; they’re prickly alpha individuals who like to call their own shots, and don’t respond well to authority figures. Indeed, Stark actively distrusts Fury and SHIELD, and of course Thor — when he finally joins the crew — has the imperial aloofness one would expect of a Norse god.

Fortunately, Loki’s machinations become so dire that collaborative good-guy action becomes imperative, however reluctantly it might be embraced. Then, too, Rogers’ inherent patriotism — so earnestly expressed by Evans — can’t help touching hearts and minds.

Whedon certainly knows his Marvel Comics lore, and he recognizes — and exploits — the long-standing tradition of impatient superheroes who, at times, wind up battling each other through needless misunderstandings. Thus, Iron Man foolishly gets in Thor’s face, while a hopelessly outmatched Natasha tries to survive a close encounter with the Hulk.

These warm-ups, mostly in good fun, are mere prelude to the devastating climax; it probably isn’t spoiling anything to reveal that the Chittauri do eventually invade New York.

Along the way, longtime comic book fans are rewarded with marvelous moments large and small, from the Hulk’s effort to lift Thor’s hammer — which can be wielded solely by the Asgardian god — to the big-screen debut of SHIELD’s totally awesome helicarrier … and let’s just acknowledge that this film’s special-effects team delivers the goods, and then some.

All these skirmishes are accompanied by droll dialogue, often slightly mocking, but never so arch that things descend into parody. In their previous films, Downey, Evans and Hemsworth have demonstrated a talent for playing these fantastical roles with conviction; Ruffalo, Jackson and Johansson are just as capable. Renner doesn’t have quite as much fun, since Hawkeye spends so much of the film in a brainwashed state, but he makes up for lost time in the final act.

While “The Avengers” lacks the emotional gravitas of “Spider-Man 2” or “The Dark Knight,” it’s only a near-miss; besides, Whedon’s goal is a bit more larkish than the brooding claustrophobia of Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. Whedon wants us to care about his characters — and we do — but he also wants us to have a good time.

And we do.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    GPAS and test scores up for UCD’s newest undergrads

    By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A1

     
    Million Cat Challenge aims to rescue shelter felines

    By Pat Bailey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Everest visit fulfills judge’s lifelong dream

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Supervisors remove Saylor from First 5 Yolo Commission

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

     
    Water officials fret over rain’s effects

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    Bob Dunning: Not enough hours in the month

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

     
    Fatal Capay crash leads to driver’s arrest

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    U.S., Cuba seek to normalize relations

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Donate to STEAC at Original Steve’s

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Beer and film tour boosts bike group’s coffers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Yolo Crisis Nursery in full swing

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Creative women share food, friendship

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Overeaters get support at meetings

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Fibro Friends will update their journals

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Input sought on county’s facility needs

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Traditional carols service is Saturday at St. Martin’s

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Have coffee with the mayor on Friday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Stockings brighten holidays for special kids

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    Evening tai chi classes start Jan. 6

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Name Droppers: Law prof earns peace prize for nonfiction

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Community menorah lighting set Wednesday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Latest immunization data shows little improvement locally

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A5

    School board will vote on repairs, new portables

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A6

     
    Study: National monument could boost local economy

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Round up at the registers for Patwin

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    Parent/toddler art and music program offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Libraries will be closed around the holidays

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    Cloudy — yet safe — tap water adds to negative health effects

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    Come Worship with Us

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Forum

    This ought to teach her love

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Defying Western academic norms

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

    Boycotters are our future profs

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

     
    Many thanks to The Avid Reader

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

    Language failed me that night, but not now

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: A8

     
    Steve Sack cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A8

    Grand jury function clarified

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Sports

    UCD reveals a challenging softball schedule

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Tumey talks about state of Aggie athletics, where they’re headed

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Davis gets Rio Linda as Curry Invitational starts Thursday

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: Former Aggie Descalso inks deal with Colorado

    By Staff and wire reports | From Page: B8

     
    Westbrook, Durant lead Thunder past Kings

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    Some vegetables just can’t be beet

    By Julie Cross | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Rena Sylvia Smilkstein

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6