MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Review: The Avengers



Warning: Potentially minor spoilers here, but nothing that should ruin anything for you. Still, if you want to be totally blind going in, come back after you’ve seen it.

Comic geeks can collectively sigh with deep relief: Joss Whedon has taken their beloved Avengers and given them back a well-directed, action-packed, brilliantly written film. Note that I say “film” and not “movie,” a distinction I don’t always make with genre films, but it’s worth making the point here that The Avengers is not just action-explosion-capes-and-tights-and-muscles popcorn fare. If you are a Marvel fan, a fan of The Avengers, and a fan of Joss Whedon’s style of writing-directing, you are pretty much guaranteed to walk out of The Avengers feeling supremely satisfied. I don’t know that it’s definitively “the greatest superhero ever” but it comes pretty damn close for me, particularly for the Marvel properties.

This is a smart, well-crafted superhero fare that’s worthy of its source material, while taking advantage of adapting to film to enhance its storytelling. And you might argue that the superhero bar was never very high to begin with, but Whedon certainly raises it here. While he doesn’t frame his shots with quite the meticulous frame-by-frame, religiously adherent comic panel precision Zack Snyder used in The Watchmen, Whedon brings a crisp, brisk, graphic novel feel to The Avengers in the composition of shots and especially the use of light and shadow, while maintaining a flow and energy Watchmen sometimes lacked. And before any of you rabid Marvel fans jump down my throat, I’m not trying to piss anyone off here by comparing Avengers to a DC adaptation. It’s just a reference to the composition of shots, and Whedon’s obvious love of the comic genre, not a debate about Marvel vs DC. (But for the record? Marvel, of course. No contest.)

You don’t want to know too many spoilers going in, do you? Suffice it to say the gang’s all here — well, part of the gang, anyhow: Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, my absolute favorite actor who’s ever played this role, someone give him a movie with Whedon writing-directing — pronto, please), Thor (Chris Hemsworth — I warmed up to him considerably here, he’s got a charm about him), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans — ditto), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye/Barton (Jeremy Renner).

Basic setup: The Avengers are activated by Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D., in response to a missing tesseract and the presence of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who’s seeking vengeance on his favored brother Thor by bringing war, death and destruction to Earth so he can rule over it while wearing those awesome curved horns and cackle manically at the puny humans. The Avengers’ plan to thwart Loki gets complicated when Thor shows up to bring down the hammer on his recalcitrant, rebellious brother while once again trying to reason nicely with him (ah, Thor, will you never learn?) But The Avengers have dibs on Loki, so to speak, so everyone’s gonna have to learn to hold hands, sing Kum-bah-yah, and teach the world to sing. Or, they could all just kick some ass, which turns out to be a lot more fun.

I can’t say with certainty whether a moviegoer with no knowledge of the source material will find it difficult to follow this film, but I imagine you could come into The Avengers with zero knowledge of any of these characters or their backstories and still be able to keep up enough to have an enjoyable experience. Knowing the characters, though, does allow you to pick up on the little hints dropped here and there, breadcrumbs of future storyline and character arc that makes The Avengers part of a greater whole, certainly more than just one action-packed, spangled costume-wearing spectacle. The action scenes are fast-paced but purposeful, and there are a couple of non-dialogue one-liner-punches that are pretty clever, but there’s also a flow to the talkier bits as well. Parts of the film might be a little too talky for some of the fanboys who just want to see “Hulk smash!” but for me, these scenes were some of the most entertaining in the film.

Each of our heroes has to face and defeat an internal foe as well, which ups the conflict ante considerably when you put all of them in a big floating building together: Tony Stark’s unbridled arrogance, Bruce Banner’s fear of losing control and becoming a monster, Thor’s rather impressive ego, Natasha Romanoff’s demons (we don’t get as much of her back story as I’d like, but what’s alluded to gives us enough to start to wrap our heads around her), Nick Fury’s need to control and hold secrets, Steve Roger’s occasionally outdated sense of honor and squeaky-clean morality, Natasha and Barton’s long history of sexual tension and battles. That’s a lot of personal and interpersonal conflict to weave around a two-hour movie that’s also packed with tons of action and epic battle sequences, and Whedon, who reportedly tossed out Zak Penn’s script and wrote his own, pulls it off with a pretty remarkable economy of writing and some impressive direction of the actors, who all convey so much more than the words in the script by the energy and commitment each of them brings to their roles.

One thing: I’ve heard a few whispers of discontent here and there that Avengers is a sausage fest, but I honestly think most of those rumbles are coming from people who don’t know much about either Natasha Romanoff or Maria Hill. I actually liked how they’ve set up Maria Hill’s (Cobie Smulder) arc for the next film, subtly conveying the innate distrust of superheros that should drive her arc going forward. She’s pretty badass in the comics, so I’m hopeful to see that character grow, and to seeing more of Natasha and her own complicated origins as well. Johansson conveys just enough about Natasha to intrigue us and make us want to know more about her — and she does much of it without saying a word. I don’t care what any Johansson haters have to say about her, she is fan-freaking-tastic in this role. She oozes lethal sensuality and her curves couldn’t look better in her skin-tight costumes, but Black Widow is more than just a pretty face, she is a totally bad-ass superhero whose only powers come from herself, and Johansson brings her formidable acting talent in full force here.

Gwyneth Paltrow pops in briefly as Pepper Potts, but she’s sadly not given much to do but sashay around in sexy jean shorts and flirt with Tony Stark. But can we talk just a bit about Mark Ruffalo, who brings such sweetness and vulnerability to Bruce Banner? He has won me over as the best Bruce Banner ever. We can see Banner’s suffering, sadness, and loneliness etched on Ruffalo’s features, echoing in his voice with the delivery of every line. He’s just terrific. As for our bad guy, Hiddleston owns Loki and seems to be enjoying himself immensely here; I enjoyed him in Thor but he is just deliciously evil, wicked, and amoral … while still being just sympathetic enough that a teensy part of me still felt sorry for him, even at his worst.

Actually, the biggest weaknesses of the The Avengers for me are all the bits where Loki’s chatting up bad-guy alien conqueror The Other, and the complete lack of character development on that end at all — why exactly are the Chitauri willing to fight a war for Loki again? Because he’s kind of a jerk, and he doesn’t really sugarcoat who he is. Is he offering a spectacular signing bonus, perhaps? I wouldn’t have minded more action, perhaps even an epic battle, in that world as well. How many times do I need to see NYC destroyed, really? The clean-up from a battle with aliens has to be horrendous, and I bet it’s not covered under NYC sanitation worker union contracts. And then the bad-guy aliens here are nameless, faceless drones there to do nothing but kill people, cause destruction, and get beat up by Avengers — they’re essentially a endless stream of bad guy red shirts, fodder for our heroes to take down one after another — with Loki the sole villain who has any development at all. He’s a good one, don’t get me wrong, and it’s a minor quibble, really, in what’s overall a really terrific job by Whedon and Co. Thank you, Joss, for not screwing it up.

P.S. Yes, you should stay through the credits, kids.

2 Responses to “Review: The Avengers”

  1. Jason says:

    It’s mentioned in the conversation between Loki and the alien, and Thor mentions it, that they are helping Loki in return for the tezzeract. They figured it’d be easy, so why not? It sounds like a good deal. They didn’t expect that it would actually involve work.

  2. Joe Shapiro says:

    Very well-considered, well written review as usual Kim. My only quibble is that you called the lack of development of the alien baddies a minor quibble. To me the alien bits – especially the beginning – felt like something out of TRANSFORMERS. I was worried until we got to the Black Widow sequence – and then I felt the sure hand of Joss Whedon in the writer/director’s seat and let the movie take me. I felt recurrences of this 2D plot-driven feel throughout the movie, intermixed with Joss’ brilliant writing and directing. On the whole I found the film satisfying but, with all the buzz, was expecting less “boilerplate” to allow the brilliance to shine through. I wonder how much influence the studio had on the final cut.

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Leonard Klady's Friday Estimates
Friday Screens % Chg Cume
Lucy 17 3173 NEW 17
Hercules 11 3595 NEW 11
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 4.7 3668 -55% 160.4
The Purge: Anarchy 3.4 2856 -65% 44.8
Planes: Fire & Rescue 2.8 3839 -57% 28.6
Sex Tape 1.9 3062 -68% 22.8
And So It Goes 1.3 1762 NEW 1.3
Transformers: Age of Extinction 1.3 2476 -54% 233
Tammy 1.1 2562 -54% 75.8
22 Jump Street 0.8 1613 -46% 183.9
Also Debuting
A Most Wanted Man 0.71 361
The Fluffy Movie 0.51 432
Kick 0.37 179
Magic in the Moonlight 0.12 17
She's Dating the Gangster 70,000 46
Alludu Seenu 29,100 86
The Divine Move 13,000 11
Happy Christmas 4,150 4
A Master Builder 3,100 2
Thirumanam Ennum Nikkah 2,800 13
Eyjafjallajokull 1,800 4
Come Back to Me 1,500 8
A Letter to Momo 1,100 1
Very Good Girls 1,100 9
3-Day Estimates Weekend % Chg Cume
It was supposed to be a horse race (notwithstanding Belmont) but at the finish line the singular teen romance The Fault in Our Stars left the competition in the dust with an estimated $48.1 million debut. Conversely, the frame’s other major release Edge of Tomorrow proved disappointing in a distant second at $28.9 million.
Exclusive newcomers were strong, including a solo Manhattan campaign of $9,400 for Citizen Koch. Much-ballyhooed abortion-themed rom-com Obvious Child proved fertile with $84,100 at four dispensaries.
In the niches, Indian import Holiday partied fair at $373,000 while Pinoy romantic comedy Maybe This Time grossed an impressive return of $552,000 on a trifling 51 screens.
Revenues for the session exceeded $160 million and ebbed 3% from last weekend’s tally. It was 8% improved from 2013 when the debut of The Purge posted $34 million and holdovers of Fast & Furious 6 and Now You See Me duked it out for place position with respective box office of $19.6 million and $19 million.
Industry tracking pitted The Fault in Our Stars against Edge of Tomorrow with the former demonstrating a slight edge as it picked up momentum toward opening day. The adaptation of John Green’s YA novel of teens who strike sparks in a cancer support group had a prognosis of $35 million.
The tide truly turned when Fault generated $8.2 million and Edge took in $1.8 million from Thursday previews. Crystal ball-gazers upped the ante to $55 million but the picture took another surprise turn with an unexpected 31% drop from Friday to Saturday business. Strong WOM in exit polling bodes well to broaden the opening weekend crowd, a predictaly 82% of women and was 79% aged 25-years and younger.
Edge of Tomorrow appeared to suffer from the amusement park factor with the movie crowd opting to skip this particular fun ride. Tracking had pegged the pic to open at between $32 million and $34 million. Reviews were upbeat for the futuristic mayhem with a Groundhog Day twist that opened a week earlier in 27 international territories to $18.7 million.
Exit demos also indicated that the sci-fier wasn’t particularly stepping on Fault’s toes with a 61% male tilt and 73% of the audience aged 25-years and older. A studio spokesman expressed confidence for a strong second weekend hold but history and upcoming competition definitely have the picture bucking considerable odds. International prospects are already ahead of Edge of Darkness’s likely final domestic tally with a second weekend estimated at $82 million that included a $25 million bow in China, $16.6 million in South Korea and Russia with $8.6 million.
Open Road's Chef expanded effectively again, prepping $10 million domestically.
Weekend (estimates) June 6 - 8, 2014
Title
Distributor
Gross (average)
% change *
Theaters
Cume
The Fault in Our Stars
Fox
48.1 (15,160)
NEW
3173
48.1
Maleficent
BV
33.6 (8,520)
-52%
3948
127.5
Edge of Tomorrow
WB
28.9 (8,280)
NEW
3490
28.9
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Fox
14.9 (4,090)
-54%
3639
189
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Uni
7.2 (2,270)
-57%
3160
30.1
Godzilla
WB
6.0 (1.920)
-50%
3110
185.1
Neighbors
Uni
5.2 (1,940)
-36%
2674
137.8
Blended
WB
4.0 (1,370)
-51%
2928
36.5
Chef
Open Road
2.5 (1,940)
32%
1298
10.3
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Sony
1.9 (1,290)
-46%
1481
196.3
Million Dollar Arm
BV
1.8 (1,120)
-49%
1643
31.4
Belle
Searchlight
.75 (1,580)
-40%
476
7.6
Rio 2
Fox
.72 (1,030)
-35%
702
125.6
Maybe This Time
ABS
.55 (10,820)
NEW
51
0.55
The Other Woman
Fox
.48 (980)
-65%
489
83.2
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
BV
.43 (1,360)
-31%
317
255.9
Holiday
Big Pictures
.37 (2,590)
NEW
144
0.37
Heaven is for Real
Sony
.37 (830)
-54%
446
88.8
Words and Pictures
Roadside Attractions
.29 (2,940)
269%
98
0.54
Grand Seduction
eOne
.28 (3,020)
-13%
97
0.82
The Lego Movie
WB
.26 (960)
-5%
274
255.8
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Fox Searchlight
.24 (1,280)
-37%
185
57.8
Ida
Music Box
.21 (2,540)
-10%
84
1.3
The Immigrant
Weinstein
.19 (1,320)
-39%
145
1.4
Divergent
Lionsgate
.19 (650)
-43%
298
149
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films)
$156.60
% Change (Last Year)
8%
% Change (Last Week)
-3%
Also debuting/expanding
Fed Up
Weinstein Co.
83,600 (950)
-49%
88
1.2
Obvious Child
A24
84,100 (21,030)
4
0.08
Cold in July
IFC
68,900 (970)
-38%
71
0.25
Night Moves
Cinedgm
48,500 (1,520)
126%
32
30,800
Lunchbox
Sony Classics
50,700 (1,100)
-9%
46
4.1
Filmistaan
UTV
35,500 (1,480)
24
0.04
WolfCop
Echolands
34,900 (4,360)
8
0.03
Ping Pong Summer
Gravitas
26,400 (1,760)
15
0.03
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
Weinstein Co.
23,200 (5,800)
4
0.02
Only Lovers Left Alive
Sony Classics
22,800 (760)
-53%
30
1.6
Tracks
Mongrel
13,800 (2,760)
5
0.01
Citizen Koch
Variance
9,400 (9,400)
1
0.01
Trust Me
Paladin
5,100 (565)
9
0.01
Burning Blue
Film Arcade
4,600 (380)
12
0.01
The Case Against 8
Submarine
4,300 (1,430)
3
0.01
Test
Variance
2,400 (800)
3
0.01
Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 - June 5, 2014)
Distributor
Box Office
Market Share
Warner Bros. (12)
728.5
16.80%
Buena Vista (11)
677.1
15.60%
20th Century Fox (11)
615.2
14.20%
Sony (11)
577.7
13.30%
Universal (10)
540.5
12.50%
Paramount (8)
322.2
7.40%
Lionsgate (13)
285.4
6.60%
Open Road (6)
95.1
2.20%
Fox Searchlight (5)
83.7
1.90%
Weinstein Co. (12)
76.5
1.80%
Relativity (5)
75.5
1.80%
FreeStyle (6)
68.9
1.60%
Focus (6)
39.2
0.90%
eOne/Seville (14)
35.3
0.80%
Other * (142)
107.9
2.60%
4328.7
100.00%
* none greater than 0.4%
Top Domestic Grossers (Jan. 1 - June 5, 2014) *
Title
Distributor
Box Office
The Lego Movie
WB
255,590,340
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
BV
255,447,104
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Sony
194,388,396
Godzilla
WB
179,093,006
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Fox
174,401,266
Divergent
Lionsgate
148,811,524
Frozen *
BV
137,534,677
Ride Along
Uni
134,965,071
Neighbors
Uni
132,600,495
Lone Survivor
Uni/eOne
125,026,404
Rio 2
Fox
124,909,565
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Fox
110,162,081
300: Rise of an Empire
WB
106,601,189
Noah
Par
100,950,258
Maleficent
BV
93,846,968
Non-Stop
Uni
91,869,306
Heaven is for Real
Sony
88,412,645
American Hustle *
Sony/eOne
82,661,672
The Other Woman
Fox
81,725,819
The Monuments Men
Sony
78,132,865
* does not include 2013 Box Office