By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers,” a superhero answer to Kellogg’s Variety Pak featuring Captain America, The Black Widow, Iron Man, The Hulk, Hawkeye and Thor, is like a 4th of July celebration, except that its fireworks finale lasts about sixty minutes. This is mostly dessert with little main course, a cacophonous sugar rush of special effects.
Any more of a plot than its simple, villain-from-outer space-come-to-dominate-us scenario would more than likely get crushed in the relentless whirligig, if not suffocated by the unremitting phantasmagoria. All of which makes it perfect for viewers who, since toddlerhood, have imbibed little else but total sensory onslaught for their entertainment.
Technologically speaking, we are formidably informed that cinema has finally caught up with, and is at long last capable of depicting, the full breadth and width of the genius comic book pioneer Stan Lee first unleashed when he penned Captain America in 1941. The icon serves as one of the executive producers. The filmic realization is authentic.
Pity is, as if beset with a juggernaut of a demon from another world he’d’ like to harness for the good of mankind, director Whedon faces a tragic dilemma. Forsake some of the lore and legend attending The Avengers in the cause of a more concise film, or just let it all out for everyone to mull? He compromises. That’s good in politics, not so good in art.
Thus, along the path of colorful, sometimes even beautiful rubble he strews across his motion picture landscape for a full two hours and twenty-two minutes, the more patient viewers will be able to pick and choose among the often un-cohesive parts. A glibness, provided mostly by Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark, helps to keep matters buoyant.
But the real challenge to this convocation of superheroes is in adapting the accepted style to more than one champion. Traditional form dictates some back story for each hero, including origin and idiosyncrasies. Now you have to add the gossip and group dynamics, the stuff inherited from their literary templates, the gods of Greek myth.
This all takes time. But hopefully not too much, because if ever there were a moment we needed these great forces of good to stop quarreling and congeal, it is now. For hark, a villain worthy of their strengths has reared his head and informed that he plans to conquer the Earth. Loki, played by the classically trained Tom Hiddleston, is one bad rat fink.
Channeling the Führer, whose master race ranting surely inspired Lee’s original impetus to create a world-saving superhero, the fiend contends humankind begs to be subjugated. Oooh, we just hate the vacant-eyed…oh, I don’t even want to say what he is. Possessing not an iota of good, he’s eviler than even that unfair H.S. teacher you’ve never forgiven.
This is a job for Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. The proverbial brains behind the world-saving operation, S.H.I.EL.D., he’ll have to make like the NBA coach who must redirect his players’ egoistic dysfunctions if they’re to be a winning unit. It also means staving off the hindrances of a myopic government council. Yep, even world-saving has its red tape.
Patch over one eye, holding court at the control center in near floor-length black leather coat, he helps facilitate the film’s character exposition, apprising of his charges’ strengths and weaknesses, and in the process weaving his own web of power. No one is entirely exempt from scrutiny, which is probably the appeal of the Marvel Comics franchise.
There is always a suggested dark side. Late at night, under our covers with flashlight, we enthralled in these adventures of great import, and yes we found saviors. But they came with baggage, foibles that an adolescent reader in search of identity and meaning could find heartening. This translates to the screen, albeit arduously and with much obfuscation.
But individual portrayals are entertaining and almost save the day. Robert Downey, Jr. is a whip as Iron Man, a.k.a. billionaire genius-industrialist Tony Stark; handsome Chris Evans exudes perhaps the movie’s only undeniable font of virtue as Steve Rogers/Captain America; and Mark Ruffalo as both Bruce Banner and The Hulk is tons of contradiction.
Providing feminine charm, mystique and notorious deceptiveness is sexy Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, the Russian operative known in climes of skullduggery as the Black Widow. Rounding out the crew are Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye and muscular Chris Hemsworth as Thor, part god, part apologist for his half-brother Loki.
You see, each is a metaphor possessing a unique attribute, affirming that we are all special. I.e. – Mr. Stark is a techno-wiz; Captain America is brave beyond doubt; Hawkeye has unrivaled vision. And I, in my role as CriticMan, have the super chutzpah to think I can convince you to save money and wait until “The Avengers” plays Netflix.
“The Avengers,” rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Joss Whedon and stars Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Tom Hiddleston. Running time: 142 minutes
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