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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Avengers Assembled

A long time ago I reacted to the news that Marvel had devised a plan to produce separate super hero movies and then...ahem...assemble those super heroes into one blockbuster titled "The Avengers." I expressed both an appreciation of the ambition of this project but also a healthy dose of skepticism that this plan could be executed properly. As much as I wanted this plan to work I saw numerous pitfalls.
Now, unless you've been living under a rock, you know this plan had come to fruition over two weeks ago when The Avengers hit theaters. I saw it opening weekend and there are rumors I may have seen it twice. But the question is, did Marvel Studios' plan work? There were six total movies (so far). Since I'm such a fan of ranking, why don't I rank these movies from worst to best:

6. The Incredible Hulk: I'm not a fan of absolutes so I won't say it's impossible to make a good Hulk movie but, when I think about it, I don't see it happening. The Hulk is supposed to be an unstoppable beast of pure anger and rage. Unfortunately, that sounds more like a villain than a hero. And really, that's the interesting dynamic to The Hulk. But when the Hulk is the star of a movie it means he has to be more the hero and the consequences of Hulk's destruction is kept to a minimum. So what you end up with is a super hero who's indestructible. That tends to be boring.
This movie ended up being better than the 2003 Hulk movie, but that's feint praise. If you don't dive into the psychology and violence of the Hulk you're left with what this movie was, a fairly boring action movie. If you dive too far into the psychology of it all you end up with a boring melodrama. To make a truly good Hulk movie would require a deft and subtle touch that I'm unsure any director who would take on a Hulk movie would have.


5. Captain America: If, before any of the movies came out, I had to guess which hero (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America) would have the best movie I would have laid all my money on Cap. So it's quite the disappointment that Captain America became the second worst movie.
Part of the reason I didn't like this movie were my own hang ups. Chris Evans skews a bit young for me. Also, Captain America's greatest asset is his strategic and leadership abilities but this movie didn't do much to develop that part of his character. Oh, and Hydra killed more Nazis than Captain America. (And don't even get me started on Hydra breaking away from the Nazis...lame!)
Beyond my own issues, this movie just missed the mark for me. I could see what it was going for in its emotional climax but I wasn't feeling it. I don't know if it was the acting, plot, pacing or the fact that I REALLY had to pee at the end of this movie but I never felt emotionally invested in these characters.

4. Iron Man 2: After an excellent outing in Iron Man this sequel fell flat for me. The villain, Whip Lash, didn't make any sense. I had no clue why he was doing what he was doing. Also, I'm always opposed to long drawn out battles between protagonists. Yeah, you can have some friction or conflict between principals but you know when they're fighting that they'll eventually figure it out and work together so if the battle goes on too long you just get bored with it. Also, it kind of hurts the characters when they battle in super suits with no regard to collateral damage. And if that wasn't enough, half the movie simply felt like a set up for The Avengers movie. Even the climax of this movie was underwhelming.
So why did this movie beat out the two above it? Three words: Robert Downey Jr. He's awesome as Tony Stark. His humor and charisma alone almost makes this movie worth the price of admission.

3. Thor: If, before any of the movies came out, I had to guess which hero (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America) would have the worst movie I would have laid all my money on Thor. Could they make Thor feel like a super hero or would it just be a dense mythological film? How many changes would the studio make to the character and his origin in order to be more accessible to audiences? How can a movie about a Norse god mesh well with the other Marvel movies? It all seemed primed for disaster.
Much to my surprise, though, I really liked this movie. It somehow hit the perfect tone for its material. It kept the Norse mythology feel without taking itself too seriously. They made Thor an alien but he still felt like a thunder god. It was a movie laced with funny bits that ends with an epic battle between "gods" and giants. Seems like a win to me.

2. Iron Man: This was the first of the Avenger movies. (I'm not even sure Marvel Studios had planned to assemble The Avengers yet?) I forget exactly how I felt going into this movie. I don't think I expected a whole lot but this movie ended up being pretty awesome.
As you saw in my Iron Man 2 ranking description, it's Robert Downey Jr. that's the heart and soul of this franchise. This was such a unique super hero movie in that the titular super hero took a back seat to the alter ego and it worked! But beyond Robert Downey Jr. this movie (opposed to Iron Man 2) has a very good plot and a sensible villain. The action is a little sparse and it takes a long time for Tony Stark to become Iron Man but Robert Downey Jr. carries what would otherwise be the slower parts of this movie.

1. The Avengers: I had a hard time deciding whether to rank this or Iron Man number one. But I realized that, aside from some extreme nitpicking, I have no real criticisms of The Avengers. When I first heard they would make an Avengers movie I was sure it would end up being overcrowded (or Iron Man 3 by another name). Instead, thanks to the superb directing of Joss Whedon, every character had a chance to shine.
Robert Downey Jr. is the anchor of the movie and keeps what would be the slow parts of the movie lively. Mark Gruffalo plays the best Bruce Banner to date and the Hulk is used in the best way he can for a movie: in an ensemble and not making an appearance until near the end. Captain America got to be the strategic leader (even if it did feel a little bit out of nowhere thanks to his leadership abilities being absent in his solo movie). Black Widow more than held her own despite not being super powered. Hawkeye managed to be badass and not look ridiculous. Thor felt a little out of place (and I wouldn't have minded seeing some more of the humor with him that we got in his solo movie) but he did get some cool action sequences...and made for a good punching bag.
They decided to go with the sole villain being Loki. This makes sense since the movie's focus is on a team of heroes and any more villains would have been too much. Loki was simply a driving force for the Avengers to gather. He eventually gets an alien army so we can get some great action at the end of movie.
All in all this is about as good of summer blockbuster as you're going to get. It was simply a lot of fun.

So, was Marvel Studios Avengers plan a success? Financially it was home run. If you look at the final product (The Avengers movie) it's a grand slam. I suppose I could say that 3 out of the 6 movies I wouldn't recommend and 50% is a failing grade. But, really, none of the movies were completely terrible and I don't regret seeing them. With the final product being so good not only must I applaud Marvel's ambition but I applaud its execution as well.
The only question going forward is if Marvel can keep up the same quality going forward. I would think that eventually, as the sequels mount, the quality will take a nosedive. Let's hope Marvel can prove me wrong once again.

11 comments:

Teebore said...

Excellent post (wish I'd thought of it...)!

I might be tempted to swap Captain America and Iron Man 2, because Iron Man 2 was kind of a jumbled mess at times, and I agree that the whole Tony/Rhodey fight with the suits in the middle was really awkward and problematic. But then again, as you said, Robert Downey Jr. can smooth over a lot, and it really bugged me that Cap didn't fight more Nazis, and I too would have liked more emphasis on Cap being a strategist/leader.

That said, I think the Cap sequel could easily end up being a better movie than the first - taking him out of WWII makes the lack of Nazi-punching okay, and as long as they handle the "man out of time" stuff with a deft touch, I think it could be a lot of fun; a James Bond-ian super hero movie, almost.

I'm not even sure Marvel Studios had planned to assemble The Avengers yet?

Well, they obviously teased it at the end of Iron Man, so someone was thinking about it, but I'm sure that if Iron Man
had tanked they would have just quietly moved on...

it takes a long time for Tony Stark to become Iron Man but Robert Downey Jr. carries what would otherwise be the slower parts of this movie.

It's amazing how much I don't mind the general lack of Iron Man in a movie called "Iron Man". RDJ's Tony Stark might be the first superhero character in a movie where the alter ego is more fun than the hero.

But, really, none of the movies were completely terrible and I don't regret seeing them.

Agreed. Even the least of these movies aren't awful, some just have bigger problems than others. But all of them are at least solid, well-constructed, fun movies, and that's pretty impressive.

Let's hope Marvel can prove me wrong once again.

Hear hear!

Sarah Ahiers said...

I prefer the Cap movie over the Thor movie, but i can't really say specifically why. They're pretty similar in tone, etc. I also enjoy the Incredible Hulk. Probably more than i should.
I've only seen Iron Man 2 once, and i have a hard time remembering anything about it other than small scenes here and there. I'd probably make that one last.
Otherwise, though, great post.

I would recommend this post by a pal blogger of mine to both you and Teebore. It's awesome:


An Open Love Letter to Joss Whedon

Matt said...

I agree almost exactly with this list; the only difference being that I would swap Captain America with Iron Man 2. I also only saw IM2 one time, on opening night, but I recall that it just didn't really work for me.

(Oh, and there are rumors that I've seen Avengers twice as well.)

Teebore said...

Two times Avengers for all!

Sarah, thanks for the link - that was a great post.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Wasn't it? It, dareisayit, makes me want to see Avengers for a *gasp* THIRD TIME??!

Dr. Bitz said...

@Teebore - "Well, they obviously teased it at the end of Iron Man, so someone was thinking about it, but I'm sure that if Iron Man
had tanked they would have just quietly moved on..."

That's right! I totally forgot about that scene at the end of Iron Man. It feels like forever ago...

@Matt - Yeah, I thought about swapping Iron Man 2 and Captain America. Maybe I ranked Iron Man 2 higher because of my man crush on Robert Downey Jr. or maybe I ranked Cap lower because of the pee thing...it may have been the pee thing.

@Sarah - Listen, you can like the Captain America and Hulk movie over Thor, but that does mean you have something against whimsy, charm, humor, godly battles, golden locks and chiseled physiques.

Teebore said...

@Sarah: It, dareisayit, makes me want to see Avengers for a *gasp* THIRD TIME??!

I just might, too.

Sarah Ahiers said...

@bitz - i've never been a fan of long hair on men. And since both Cap and Thor are blonde (my hair color of choice) and both their biceps bulging, i'll take Cap, thanks.

Jeff said...

I'd probably go:

6. Incredible Hulk - I actually prefer the Ang Lee movie it's slow, but this one was so mundane I thought it was more boring. And I don't think Norton makes a good Banner, honestly.
5. Iron Man 2 - Brought down by some pretty weak villains.
4. Thor - This is the point on the list where I'd say we're getting good movies.
3. Captain America - I liked this a lot more than anyone else here did apparently. But I loved the 40s setting and the idea of the costume coming from USO shows.
2. Iron Man - Started everything and showed that these Marvel movies could work.
1. The Avengers - Watching this one gave me the exact same feeling that reading a Marvel comics as a kid gave me. The last hour is some of the most fun I've had in the theater, maybe ever.

Teebore said...

@Jeff: But I loved the 40s setting and the idea of the costume coming from USO shows.

I really liked the 40s setting as well, and was really, really glad they were willing to do a Cap movie set entirely in WWII, but the lack of Nazis, especially given the setting, just bugged me. Basically, I really liked the movie overall, but there were several this little details that just bugged me. Usually I can look past that stuff, but for whatever reason, they nag at me with this one.

Watching this one gave me the exact same feeling that reading a Marvel comics as a kid gave me.

That's a really good way to describe it. I felt the same way.

Matt said...

Jeff -- "3. Captain America - I liked this a lot more than anyone else here did apparently."

Don't get me wrong, I really did enjoy Captain America. After initially doubting his casting, I thought felt Chris Evans nailed the part. He had the determination, the earnestness... it was all there.

I just happened to like Thor more, and that really surprised even me. I've never been a huge fan of Thor's solo adventures in the comics, while Cap is one of my favorite characters. And all the pre-release stuff I'd seen about both movies had me thinking the movies would be the same way. I was honestly extremely surprised that I loved Thor so much more than Cap.