Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
The Avengers

And check out our Pop Rocks take on whether The Avengers is for everyone.

Title: The Avengers

Who Would Win in a Fight: Thor Or The Hulk? Look, I'm a busy man; I don't have time for this geek crap. And Hulk is the strongest there is.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Four and a half Mjolnirs out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Earth's mightiest heroes (and Black Widow and Hawkeye) battle alien race led by Loki to conquer Earth. Millions die. Okay, maybe not, but it seems likely.

Tagline: "Some assembly required."

Better Tagline: "Goes to 11."

Is There a Post-Credits Sequence? There are two (one's really a "mid-credits sequence"); the first is a gift for serious Marvel fans, and -- if you are one -- it'll make you squeal like a Skrull. The second is more cute than anything else.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: At a secret facility in the New Mexico desert, the mystical Tesseract suddenly creates a portal in space-time and allows evil (or perhaps just misunderstood) Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to enter. He steals the Tesseract (why aren't we calling it the Cosmic Cube again? Too '70s?) and brainwashes Selvig and Clint "Hawkeye" Barton (Jeremy Renner). S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) reactivates the "Avengers Initiative," summoning Tony "Iron Man" Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Bruce "The Hulk" Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Steve "Captain America" Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and, uh, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Now all these superheroes have to do is overcome their significant personality conflicts in time to thwart an imminent invasion of Earth by the alien Chitauri, led by Loki himself.

"Critical" Analysis: I think the expression "widescreen comics" came about with the DC/Wildstorm series The Authority, which dealt with a superhero team sharing many elements with the Avengers (and the Justice League, and S.H.I.E.L.D.) and engaged in titanic battles depicted in large panels and impressive detail.

The term comes to me because I can't imagine seeing The Avengers on anything but the big screen. For all the (legitimate) complaints about the modern moviegoing experience, there are still movies that need to be watched in a theater. This is one of them. Starting in the first ten minutes and barely letting up for two more hours, this movie is heavy on epic violence, but also spends a surprising (and welcome) amount of time developing the heroes, each of whom is working with their own set of issues (Thor's guilt at inadvertently unleashing Loki on Earth, Romanoff/Barton's post-Cold War malaise, Banner's...Hulkness). This isn't just a series of action set pieces followed by ten minutes of visual effects credits (*cough* Michael Bay *cough*), these are characters with whom we actually empathize.

I have to hand it to writer/director Joss Whedon, he's 2-for-2 this year (Cabin in the Woods was his baby, too). And while I've had my issues with his past stuff, his own nerd past serves him well here. I mean, it's all well and good to have Iron Man fighting Whiplash (Mickey Rourke channeling Boris Badenov) or the Hulk squaring off against Abomination, but Whedon knows what we all want to see, at least temporarily, is how the big kahunas of the Marvel Universe match up against each other.

[Verbal sparring is one thing -- and nobody can really beat Tony Stark at that (best out-of-context TS quote: "No hard feelings, Point Break.") -- but Mjolnir vs. gamma radiation? Repulsors vs. vibranium shield? This is the fuel for a thousand Usenet arguments.]

Do you think Edward Norton regrets being such a prick to work with? I don't really care, because I'm solidly pro-Ruffalo. Nobody in the cast is really off their game, though Downey seems to be gritting his teeth at times. Hiddleston delivers again as Loki, and even Johansson expresses emotion, but Ruffalo really shines, playing Banner as much more twitchy and socially maladjusted than Norton or Eric Bana ever did. The Chitauri, our conveniently nonhuman cannon fodder, are many in number, but their real purpose is to allow us to see what Hulk can do when he's finally let off the leash. The answer, of course, is "smash." Of the half dozen solid "fuck yeah!" moments in The Avengers, at least half are Hulk-derived.

My complaints are minor. One is addressed here, the other is the feeling that the catalytic event motivating these disparate personalities to finally come together didn't ring true.

Unlike DC (the Nolan Bat-films aside), Marvel has mostly struck all the right notes leading up to The Avengers (we'll forget Iron Man 2 for the moment), a film as true to the spirit of the original comic book as you can imagine. Which means if watching a couple scientific experiments, a billionaire gadgeteer, a nigh-immortal and a couple jacked-up former covert operatives kicking the shit out of aliens and destroying a decent chunk of lower Manhattan isn't your cup of tea, go check out that new Judi Dench movie instead.

The Avengers is in theaters today. See it with your own personal Agent Coulson.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar