Group Effort: Steve Recommends The Avengers

There are folks proclaiming that The Avengers is an incredibly awesome movie. If they mean that it is awesome in its ability to make money, they are certainly correct. After all, it did shatter the opening weekend money record. However, if they mean that it is a great movie, they are wrong. It is not a great movie. There are others lamenting that it is terminally boring. I understand where they are coming from since I found last year’s Captain America to be as dull as its muted color scheme and Thor to be, well, terminally boring. They are currently ranked at 56 and 62 on my list of 2011 movies. Given that they were both lead-ins to The Avengers, I did not have huge expectations as I walked into the theater, despite the fact that the trailers looked fairly good. I was pleasantly surprised. No, it’s not a great movie, but it is quite good. I found it to be fun and entertaining. I know that won’t be near enough to earn it a spot in my top ten for the year (or most likely even my top 20), but in this case it was enough for a satisfying movie experience.

So, what worked here that didn’t in Captain America and Thor? As it turns out the difference was the group effort. When I heard that they were making this movie, even before CA/Thor nearly turned me off of superhero movies for good, I thought that it could never work. There were just too many characters to give them all their due. I figured the story could only turn out to be a jumbled mess. I knew Joss Whedon had good credibility as a writer, but his resume didn’t seem impressive enough to make me think he could pull off writing and directing something of this magnitude. Although the overall story that Whedon and Zak Penn came up with is hardly special in any way, there is enough good writing here to keep things moving along quite nicely. In fact, even at two and a half hours, the movie did not feel too long. The writing provided some good humor and even attempted to add some depth by pondering such things as the nature of freedom versus the human need to feel connected to (and protected by) a greater power; the irony of attempting to achieve peace and security through war and violence; and self-centeredness versus self-sacrifice. True, none of this was deeply profound, but at least they made an effort. Where the writing was at its best was in giving each of the Avengers (with one exception), along with the villain Loki, an adequate amount of screen time to establish some sense of character. Again, there was no deep character development, but what I thought would be the movie’s downfall turned out to be its strength.

Although there will be no Oscar nominations, the group effort of the cast saved the day. I know I was not in the minority in thinking that having Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man brought this movie its greatest hope of success and he did not disappoint. I’m not tired of his Tony Stark schtick yet. Actually, he was better here than in Iron Man 2. I was underwhelmed by Chris Evans’ performance in the movie that introduced Captain America. On his own, the noble nature of Captain America was bland, but here it worked well as a counterpoint to Tony Stark’s self-centeredness. Samuel L. Jackson provided a Nick Fury who showed strength with an undercurrent of mystery. (Sidenote: Jackson threw a twitter hissy fit over a lukewarm review. Sam, I love most of your work and you do a good job here, but do you really want to put your professional record on the line for this movie? I don’t think so.) I was one of those who was bummed when Edward Norton got bumped as the Hulk, but I must admit that Mark Ruffalo did a fine job as Dr. Bruce Banner. He gave the movie a much needed grounding in human compassion, along with his struggle with the other one living in him. I’m still not sold on Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Maybe it is just hard to play a god. (Although, are Thor and Loki really gods or is that just the human perception? Hmmm. My son also raised an interesting point, why does Thor have that strange accent, but Loki does not? I know Loki was adopted, but he was raised in the same family.) Speaking of Loki, Tom Hiddleston was one of the few highpoints of Thor and he is up to the task again in this one. I especially like Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Her fighting style is fun to watch and her cleverness was captivating, but is she a superhero? That question applies to Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, also. He is the one that the script is not kind to. Renner gets little chance to do much more than brood. He’s good at that, but hopefully he’ll do more than that in The Bourne Legacy.

The strength of the movie is the group effort, but it is certainly no surprise that there is conflict when this wide range of personalities first comes together. The verbal sparring between Stark and Captain America is especially fun, much more so than the various physical fights between the characters. It is also no surprise that when push comes to shove and the Avengers are needed to save the world, they come together as a team. Sure, it is expected, even inevitable, but, if done right, even what we expect can be nearly as satisfying as a cinematic surprise. I was satisfied. The group effort here can teach us something. My co-blogger, Bill, has written a piece on The Avengers and the Church that can be found below. If you haven’t read it yet, by all means do so. Also, use this movie to ponder why we are drawn to superheros and what that might say about the human need for God, especially a God who comes as a savior. I may write a few thoughts on that later this summer as we anticipate the arrival of both Batman and Spiderman.

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