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The Avengers - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Avengers
Directing: B-
Acting: B
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B
Special Effects: B

Bottom line, The Avengers delivers on its promises. A case could be made, however, that it never promised much. So why is it such a smash? Maybe it's just the geek joygasm of having four superhero franches merge into one. Roll call!

Iron Man: Let's cut to the chase and just put it on the table that Robert Downey Jr. rocks. He's the one superhero in this ragtag team of overblown egos who comes from a separate film franchise that has already proven itself both solid and enduring. If nothing else, Tony Stark brings a levity with his humor that is lacking in other superhero movies.

The Incredible Hulk: There is perhaps no other comic book franchise fraught with more box office peril than this one. We've now seen Bruce Banner in three different human forms in the past decade: first Eric Bana in 2003; then Edward Norton in 2008; now Mark Ruffalo in 2012. Honestly, Ruffalo feels like the best choice for the role. His CGI version as the Hulk looks just as hokey now as it ever did, but at least Ruffalo as Bana brings a surprising warmth to the character, which serves a pivotal (if blatantly inconsistent) role in this story.

Thor: Chris Hemsworth returns as a demigod from the world of Asgard, otherwise known as Second-Tier Superhero -- which, frankly, is kind of what the Hulk feels like as well. (It's tempting to say the same of Iron Man, but at least the Iron Man movies are good enough to make him seem better than second-tier.) Last year's Thor was entertaining but unexceptional; how can we expect any more out of The Avengers when the main villain is borrowed from this particular story? Also: a guy who wields a hammer. A hammer.

Captain America: Chris Evans returns as the guy frozen in ice during World War II and thawed in modern times, his anachronistic ideals often shoehorned into the plot here. There's a cheeky moment when Thor and Loki are referred to as gods, and Captain America says, "There's only one God, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that." Amusing? I suppose. Illuminating in any way? Uh . . .

Black Widow: We first saw Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff in 2008's Iron Man 2, which means she doesn't bring in a fifth franchise but just comes from a pre-existing one -- ableit a film in which she served mostly as part of a bridge between Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. Johansson has some of the better lines in this movie, but she's more of a superspy than a superhero. Curiously, she plays just as prominently as any of the superheroes, even though fundamentally she's not nearly as interesting.

Hawkeye: This guy, played by the generally reliable Jeremy Renner, is a newcomer among all these characters, also more of a superspy than a superhero, though his weapon of choice is a crossbow. He spends maybe half the movie under the villain's mind control. Somehow, Black Widow manages to knock him out of it with a nice blow to the head.

There's a clear problem with The Avengers: we live in a time of serious over-saturation with superhero movies already. And somehow a movie in which four different franchises get blended together is going to help? Well, audiences certainly seem to think so: they're eating it up. I'd say there's no accounting for taste, but I kind of ate it up too. It was fun, at least.

Much has been made of Joss Whedon being tapped to both write and direct this film; it really raised expectations. In the end, he actually brought all of these characters together with surprising finesse, and with a good helping of always-welcome humor. I laughed a lot, and usually the humor was about having fun with a movie like this, refusing to take itself too seriously. That's always a good sign.

That said, The Avengers remains just another superhero movie just like dozens of others. A Big Meanie comes and threatens to take over the world, blah blah blah. And this time it's Thor's brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) -- again. He's got an army! Oh no!

It's difficult to get emotionally invested in characters you already know are not going to die. It's perhaps because of this that The Avengers is largely saved by its meta humor. At one point a guy tells Loki he'll lose, and Loki asks how he can be so sure. The guy replies, "It's in your nature." Indeed. Characters like Loki are simply created to be losers.

And then there's the climactic set piece where the Avengers defend Manhattan (of course -- dammit, next time I want to see Los Angeles get destroyed!) on a nice sunny summer afternoon. The special effects here veer a bit into Transformers territory, although at least there's a continuity that Michael Bay never understood.

So. Let's just pretend that Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is the bar set for standard superhero movie excellence. By that standard, The Avengers falls way short. Nolan infuses his stories with real psychological depth, and you really never know how safe his characters are. Whedon's comic-book universe is completely different from that, where pretty much nothing is at steak, except the audience's ability to keep from being bored.

The Avengers never bored me; I was entertained. I even got a kick out of much of it. But greatness? There's none of that here. Just goodness, at best.

Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr, and Chris Evans clash the titanium in THE AVENGERS.

Overall: B
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