This is the Stephen Strasburg Debut of films – The Avengers
Back in June of 2010, Washington, DC experienced one of its more stunning sports spectacles. Stephen Strasburg, a much-hyped phenom of a pitcher, a #1 draft pick with a blazing fastball and pinpoint control, made his Major League debut for the Washington Nationals. The buildup to this was unbelievable. The expectations were off the charts, and the media crush was stifling. How would he bear up under the pressure? He couldn’t possibly meet the lofty hopes of fans. Could he?
I was there that night, when Strasburg struck out 14 batters in his major league debut. (Of course, his arm exploded a couple months later, but let’s just ignore that.) The expectations were surpassed. It was amazing, one of those nights where the impossible comes true.
I’m here to tell you that The Avengers does the very same thing. Expectations. Surpassed. It’s a much hyped phenom that’s coming to town and mowing down the competition. THIS. MOVIE. RULES.
I’ve already discussed the decades-long buildup to this film here. I’ve reviewed Thor and Captain America. Now it’s time for the main event. Here are my talking points for the movie — this is a general discussion and no plot spoilers are within, but if you want to be pure as the driven snow on first viewing, you might want to come back to this post later:
- Much of this film is pure wish-fulfillment. Perhaps you once looked at the roster of characters and thought, “You know, so and so and so and so probably aren’t going to square off in this installment. Not enough time.” Wrong. Almost every X vs. X contretemps that you could possibly want can be found within this film’s runtime. And none of it feels crammed in. I once wrote that Transformers: Dark of the Moon should have been called Transformers: Just Because, since things were jammed into it, yes, just because. Not so here. Everything feels organic. And it’s not only conflict that’s well represented. The team-ups you want to see are there too.
- It’s a shame that Edward Norton couldn’t have been along for the ride simply for the sake of consistency, but Mark Ruffalo gives us the best Bruce Banner/Hulk yet. Many of the reviews say that the Green Goliath steals the show. He does. There were any number of Hulkasms that had my audience roaring their approval and laughing. And for a guy who communicates mostly through primal roars, he might have had the line of the night.
- Loki. Tom Hiddleston deserves our gratitude. A comic book movie — really, any movie — is only as strong as its villain, and Loki is even more rich a stew of evil than he was in Thor. There’s a scene where he’s talking through glass to the Black Widow that I’m sure will for many call to mind Hannibal Lecter taunting/quizzing Clarice Starling. “Tell me about the lambs.” Loki calls her a “mewling quim,” which, translated to modern English, means “whiny c–t.” It’s such a viciously perfect piece of dialogue for him. He’s every bit a wounded, jealous, and utterly dangerous God.
- I’ve never liked Joss Whedon’s stuff. It was always far, far too cute for my taste. Too much smarm. (Even his name sounds like it needs to get slugged.) I had a roommate in college who never missed an episode of Buffy. He’d park himself in front of the TV before it started like Ed Norton (the sewer one, not the Hulk one) getting ready to watch “Captian Video” in Ralph Kramden’s apartment. I used to mock him for it. But I’m eating a modest plate of crow now, because Whedon — pulling double duty as director and script-writer — nails so much of this movie. The action is superb, and the relationships between every single character are beautifully handled. And this is mostly an incredibly witty and funny film (at times the humor can get a tad thick, but it never approaches the annoyance factor of the talking-over-each-other dialogue in Iron Man 2), and a thoughtfully-conceived piece. Yes, The Avengers has a brain, with a script that soars along like a cloaked Helicarrier.
- There was a time when a lot of people were afraid this flick would turn into Tony Stark and the Avengers. It doesn’t. Robert Downey Jr. might be the brightest bulb in the marquee, but this is a true ensemble. (Stark always has new and better ways to get in and out of those suits of his, though. It takes on a “what’ll they think of next” life of its own.)
- I love Thor. I love him so much. He should be the hardest Avenger of them all to capture, and Chris Hemsworth still manages it. And I never thought Chris Evans would make a great Captain America, but he does. I’d follow this man into battle, and it’s refreshing how he uses “sir” and “ma’am” without a trace of irony (and still holds on to that quaint old one-God cosmos). The casting of this Marvel Movie Universe really has been stellar.
- On the SHIELD side of things: Agent Colson at one point uses the terms “Near Mint” and “slight foxing” to describe some of his treasured collectibles. I was in a room full of dorks, and I wondered how many of us understood this pursuit of perfection. Cobie Smulders delivers line readings that will evoke Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels. Flat. Fortunately for her, her body isn’t flat, and squeezing said body into tight-fitting attire was the reason she was cast. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) gets short shrift, though for good narrative reasons, and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) gets fleshed out (no pun intended) a lot more this time around. I was dreading her clogging up the joyous sausage-fest. I needn’t have worried. She holds her own. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Mace Windu with an eye patch. He takes nothing away, but I’m not sure how much he adds. (Hey, Powers Boothe was in this too. How about that.)
- STAY THROUGH THE CREDITS. ALL OF THE CREDITS. Do people still have to be reminded of this? I was stunned by the number of wayward souls that headed for the exits after the “final” scene. And as for the “surprise” — again, no spoiler — the next three year wait will be even more excruciating than this one has been. ANTE. UPPED. Seriously, I thought the 400 lb. land whale sitting next to me was going to crap his pants. (By the smell of him, he might have upon entering the theater.)
- The big fight will be more than what you imagine it to be. There at one point is an unbroken shot that captures all the Avengers as they battle Loki’s alien army, and I wish I could put it on a loop inside my head for the next week or so.
- There’s a great final scene where the core Avengers — Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk — are alone together, totally exhausted from battle, still in costume and Hulked up. It’s a quiet, funny, tender moment. I loved it. As I loved this movie. (The Hulk steals that scene too, btw.)
It’s been a while since I’ve watched a film multiple times in theaters. I’ll be doing that with this one. I’ve earned it after sitting through drivel like the latest Ghost Rider. I’m not certain that it’s the best superhero movie we’ve ever had. It could be. The first Christopher Reeve Superman has always been my personal North Star in that department, but it might have to make room on the pedestal. Even more so than that classic, you can tell that everyone involved here was enthusiastic and, most importantly, proud to be a part of this. They bought in, and I thank them all so much for that.
This chunk of celluloid will blow you away. Like a Stephen Strasburg fastball.
I give The Avengers 4½ toothy Hulk smiles out of five. Only the mildest of reservations keep it from getting the full five. GO SEE THIS NOW.
Note: I saw The Avengers in non-3D. You do not need to see this in 3D. Please do not see this in 3D. Stop the 3D insanity.