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The Avengers (2012): ***½

Directed by Joss Whedon

The Avengers is a delicate balancing act. You have (arguably) nine separate main characters, including the villain. They’re all fully-realized and each needs not only a chance to shine, but a chance to develop and really to be known. Gee, if only the movie were written by someone who had experience writing something with nine fully-realized main characters.

In retrospect it seems ridiculous that anyone else could have possibly made The Avengers and done this well. Joss Whedon’s specialty is taking a whole bunch of diverse characters and making them into a crazy, mish-mashed family. And that’s essentially what this movie is; if these guys don’t find a way to get along (and half of them don’t believe it’s even possible), then the world is doomed.

And it’s a great mix. You’ve got a wiseass tech geek, a man from the 1930s, a demigod from an alternate medieval world, a man with a monster behind his eyes, a damaged spy trying to make up for a dark past, and a cold and distant sniper who will quickly find he has a very personal vendetta. Then there are the two or three people whose dumb idea it was to bring them together.

And Whedon manages to balance the film brilliantly. Each character gets enough moments to shine that you don’t feel they get the short shrift. The movie shifts deftly through comedy and tragedy and excitement and wonder, with none of the moods at the expense of any of the others.

But The Avengers is not perfect. Parts at the beginning kind of lag. There are a lot of pieces that need to be moved into place, and sometimes it is a lot like watching people set up a chess board. Not too exciting, but it’s all necessary to get the satisfying ending that we get. The alien army was kinda meh (though the Leviathan things were cool). And I still think Thor’s costume looks, well, like something a Thor cosplayer would throw together. I did, however, think that this Thor was much more engaging than the smug jerk that he was in his own movie. He seems genuinely torn up that it’s his beloved baby brother that is causing all this awful stuff, but he just can’t stop loving him, and it's a good performance from Hemsworth.

Downy Jr., Jackson, Evans, Johansson, and Renner are all aslo excellent in their roles, and I was grateful especially that the non-powered members were given such prominent roles. It’s easy to get lost when you’re standing next to people who can fly, shoot lightning, smash, etc. But Black Widow in particular was given a lot of important things to do in the movie, and gets a lot of screentime and great character development.

But the real revelation of the whole movie is Mark Ruffalo as the Bruce/Hulk (or “the Other Guy” as Bruce derisively calls him) duality. Previous movie Bruce/Hulks have had... problems. Eric Bana did a really good job of playing an emotionally withdrawn and unavailable Bruce. But he was emotionally withdrawn and unavailable, which doesn’t make for an incredibly involving performance. I did not enjoy Edward Norton at all. He just seemed like some dude who had a kind of annoying houseguest that inconvenienced him a little bit. He was also never believable as a genius scientist.

But Ruffalo manages to somehow hit all the right notes, and it’s so good that I’m not even sure what notes exactly he hits. Bruce seems like this affable, self-deprecating, slightly shy fellow, but you can just feel the monster seething behind his eyes. There’s a certain resignation in his performance; he knows that the Other Guy could come out at any moment and kill everyone within a several-mile radius. And there’s nothing Bruce can really do about that. He’s also grimly aware that he was brought into the team for his scientific mind, sure, but wouldn’t the government like it if the Other Guy went nutz on the villains...?

The relationship that Tony has with Bruce was also delightful and unexpected. Tony, of course, is fascinated by the Hulk. He thinks the Hulk is awesome. He wants Bruce to get in touch with Hulk and wants to know more about him. Tony is a man who knows how to take a curse (his heart problem) and turn it into a powerful asset, and he sees in Bruce another man who has a curse that could be even more powerful if only he could harness it like Tony did his own. I loved all their scenes together, and Bruce’s final revelation of “how he does it” is remarkable and unbelievably satisfying.

The Avengers is a great movie, but you already know that, don’t you? Almost everyone I know has seen it, and not a single person I’ve talked to has disliked it. There ya go.


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