Action Adventure, 143 Minutes, 2012
Was there really any chance this would be a bad film? All of the prequel films (with the arguable exception of “The Incredible Hulk” [IMDB] which I personally felt was an unneeded remake) were top-notch. The studio enlisted geek God Joss Whedon to write and direct. The marketing machine has been running non-stop for months. Of course the best laid plans always have a chance to explode in one’s face but this was as much of a lock as I’ve ever seen.
Whedon was a risk that paid off gloriously. Some directors find their genius in their constraints; producing excellent work only when forced (most often by budget) to compromise. When given the keys to the kingdom there’s always a chance for complete implosion (a criticism, by the way, often and somewhat unjustly, levied at Ang Lee’s 2003 “Hulk” [IMDB]). Whedon, however, clearly is not one of those and rises handily to the challenge.
With the exception of Edward Norton all of the original actors reprise their roles. As somebody that never really understood the appeal of Norton’s Bruce Banner I saw this as a huge plus. Mark Ruffalo, a veteran of many excellent, often independent films, crafts the most believable Bruce Banner to date. He brings a wry-but-smoldering sadness coupled wonderfully with a disheveled Absent-Minded-Professer demeanor that perfectly captures the character. As I’ve said before casting Robert Downy Jr as spoiled billionaire Tony Stark is a master-stroke; it’s the role he was made to play. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki never quite struck the right chords for me, but the movie is more about how the characters face their problems, not what those problems are.
While it’s unlikely that the audience will be wholly unfamiliar with these heroes the film does a good job of making brief but meaningful introductions. Some characters, like Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, are absent but noted and certain dangling plot points (like how Thor gets to Earth after the events of his film) are given perfunctory but logical explanations. The actual plot, an alien invasion threatening Earth, is razor-thin but effective as a backdrop for the more meaningful interactions.
The core story details the relationships and the challenges that these powerful, self-reliant personalities have when forced to work as a cohesive team. The interpersonal conflicts provide needed insight into how these vastly different characters come to respect one another. While these exchanges are uniformly excellent they do threaten to become a bit formulaic as characters are seemingly paired off, say their piece and then swap partners like a dialog square dance. Being a DCU [Wikipedia] kind of guy I can’t speak with any specifics to the portrayals as compared to the comics but I’m assured that only the most pedantic of fans could summon up any real complaints.
The action in the finale is every bit as over-the-top as any fan could want even if the actual aliens being fought are rather cookie-cutter (which is fine because they truly are nothing more than cannon fodder). The pacing during the final sequences is excellent. The more conventional characters – Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye – are choreographed with a speed and finesse that counterpoint the brash physical brutality of the Hulk while the explosive light-shows of Iron Man and Thor punctuate the entire proceedings. Sure, the Hulk might have been played just a tiny bittoo much as a clown but you’ll still laugh out loud every single time. The short after-credit sequence, while wordless, is one of the most effective pieces of film you’ll see this year.
This movie is the culmination of a risky experiment by Marvel Studios to bring a complex, interconnected web of characters to the screen over many years. Amazingly they were able to deliver with almost no perceptible missteps (I only wish Time-Warner and DC could do the same). There is no possible way not to consider it a massive success, creatively as well as financially, and I fully expect it to stand as one of the best films of the year when all is said and done.