Review: The Avengers

The Avengers
The Avengers

The Avengers

5 Stars

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson & Tom Hiddleston

There were high expectations going into this one. It’s the culmination of 5 films over 4 years with 2 Hulks. At the same time, there was the danger of ego overflow, which could mean too much going on in a cast that features 4 Oscar nominees (and a winner in Gwyneth Paltrow). But everything comes together to make the journey we’ve gone on as an audience come to a more than pleasing climax (a dubious distinction, as we’ll see more of Earth’s mightiest heroes, both on their own and in more Avengers films).

I really admired the spectacle of the films. As terrible as Michael Bay’s films are (specifically the Transformers series), you can’t argue that they are visually stunning, with great action sequences and stunning CGI. He just sucks at plot and dialogue. Enter Joss Whedon. Whedon’s amazing at plot & dialogue, and given the right crew, can do spectacle very well. Producer Kevin Feige even stated that they based the action on Transformers (which, again, while being a terrible film, is visually amazing).

Whedon really captures the dysfunction of these individual characters, and the dysfunction of putting them together on one team, but is able to turn it into less of a “buddy cop” movie and more of a “family growth/coming-of-age” type film. It’s almost The Breakfast Club with super powers.

My eyes were on Mark Ruffalo as the Bruce Banner/Hulk. Well… when Scarlett Johansson was onscreen my eyes were on her… But I was really impressed with Ruffalo’s Banner. He really captured the inner turmoil and conflict of the character, but when he Hulked out ahead of the big fight, I almost let out an audible “Fuck yeah!” He mo-capped his work as the Hulk, rather than making it 100% CGI (think Andy Serkis as Gollum), and the jocularity of Hulk shone through throughout the fight. He wasn’t played as an irrational monster, but as another character. Joss and Mark really stepped up the representation of the Hulk.

Those little jokes from the Hulk were part of the broader interplay between the heroes. It’s something you get when you combine a supremely talented cast, a fantastic script (from both Whedon and Zack Penn), and storied characters with a rich history. The way Stark and Banner connected through science, the tension between Rogers and Stark and Thor… all because these top-notch actors brought them to life.

It may not have the gritty realism of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but The Avengers is one of the most enjoyable, most fun films you could experience on the big screen. If you even kind of liked any of the previous Avenger films, go see The Avengers, you will not be disappointed.

Reviews: Lockout, The Cabin in the Woods, The Raid: Redemption

Lockout
Lockout

Lockout

3 stars

Starring Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan and Peter Storemare

When entering a film produced by Luc Besson, you can be assured of two things: 1) It’ll probably be completely unoriginal and full of clichés and 2) Number 1 won’t really matter because it’ll be a hell of a lot of fun.

Guy Pearce is one of those actors that never really popped like he should have, but fortunately never really faded into obscurity. I caught both L.A. Confidential and Memento right around the same time, and was instantly a fan of Pearce and anticipated big things for him. His first big budget lead role in the 2002 remake of The Time Machine was a dud, but he’s been maintaining a solid presence in art-fare, including 2010’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech. He seems to have a lot of fun with his role as ex-CIA agent Snow in Lockout, and he takes the audience along for the ride. He’s definitely channeling some Kurt Russell for this.

Peter Stormare is engaging as always, this time as an assholish head of Secret Service, and I always get a kick out of seeing Lennie James on-screen (when’s he coming back to The Walking Dead?). Maggie Grace has made a career of playing the damsel in distress, and pretty soon they’re gonna run out of actors who can save her.

Major credit to both Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun for playing to great villains who would, given a better film, go down as some of the better cinematic villains of the past 10 years.

The biggest problem of the film is definitely the production design. The graphics and CGI are laughably bad in the opening chase sequence. Besson and his team created such an amazing world 15 years ago with The Fifth Element, it’s almost shocking that they couldn’t replicate that look for Lockout.

But I will give it to writer/directors James Mather & Stephen St. Ledger for taking what they gave themselves and making it work, barely. I was never able to fully suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride, but when I did… damn what a fun ride it was.

It’s great 80s B-Movie fun, think Escape from New York in space, but with modern filmmaking notions, and a weak plot. It’s fun… but never fully realizes it’s potential, which is disappointing. I say wait till DVD.

The Cabin In The Woods
The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods

5 stars

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins

When I first saw a trailer for this one I though, “Seriously? Now they’re just getting lazy with the titles.” Then I saw that it was from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who’s written for both Whedon (on Buffy and Angel) and J.J. Abrams (on Alias and Lost), so my next thought was “HOLY SHIT THIS IS GOING TO BE AMAZING!”

It was every bit as amazing as you could hope for for a horror film from these two. As I discussed in this entry here, the Scream franchise is essentially the perfect set of horror films. It dissects, parodies and satirizes the genre, yet still exists entirely within the confines of the genre. It’s the best of both worth worlds, and (at least the first one, there were diminishing returns on the sequels, which is super-meta, I suppose) it’s perfect. The Cabin in the Woods takes it a step further. It turns everything that has become trite and unoriginal in the genre and turns it on its head, making it so all that is trite and unoriginal is entirely the point. They even get jabs in at international horror films, particularly Japanese.

Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are hilarious and perfectly eerie as the men in charge of the scares, controlling everything every step of the way. It really does bring new light as to why scary shit always happens at dark, secluded cabins. I was positively giddy every time the action cut to these two.

The best part is that with the intermingled action, you really do get caught up with the 5 college kids out for a weekend getaway. Instead of playing “Who’s gonna die next?” you’re actually rooting for them to make it out alive. They’re all fantastic, and while this won’t make any of them stars (Hemsworth filmed this way back in ’09, pre-Thor), it certainly isn’t a blemish on their filmographies like Jennifer Aniston in Leprechaun or George Clooney in Return to Horror High.

Fret not, faithful reader, I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say that it is fucking amazing, and if you’re a fan of Whedon at all, you’ll love it as much as I did. Definitely get to the theatre and see this one.

The Raid: Redemption
The Raid: Redemption

The Raid: Redemption

3.5 stars

Starring Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian and Joe Taslim

I jumped at the chance to catch this Indonesian action flick in theatres because I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Indonesian film of any genre. I gotta say, it was damn good. But it wasn’t all quite… there.

The action was mind-blowing. From start to finish, just wall to wall (literally) martial arts that will please any action fan. It played out like a video game. Our hero, Rama, works his way up the apartment complex, fighting the underlings along the way, then the underboss, then a showdown with the uber-boss. It’s a video game, but so fascinating to watch.

The reason it wasn’t all quite there, is the plot. I know I’ll probably hear “It’s an action film, who needs plot?!” Well… I do. The overall plot was these were cops going into a complex ruled over by a crime lord to take his empire down. Pretty standard, easy to work with kinda action flick. And that kept the show running through most of the film. And I was OK with all of that. But there were nuances to the story that the didn’t even address till the third act, and by that time, they just had to rush through it to get it all resolved.

I liken the film to an underwhelming firework. It wasn’t a dud that had no spark in the finale. There was just a lot of build up and it just ended. Maybe they’ll hash somethings out in the sequel due out next year, and I’m hoping they do.

If you’re really into action films, I do highly recommend it, as on the action front, it more than delivers. Read fast, though, they kind of zip through the subtitles. If you were on the fence about seeing this one in theatres, you could probably wait for the DVD and be just fine.

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