Marvel Studios… you’ve come a long way, baby!

I think Disney executives are MARVEL-ing at the box offices numbers of their newest SMASH hit, The Avengers.  Puns aside, what follows is my full review – well, no.  More like an analysis really.  There are spoilers here.  Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.  I will discuss the film in detail, including the plot, the ending, etc.  I don’t know how else I can say that I’d really rather you NOT read this if you haven’t seen the film.

Let me start by saying I’m biased.  Although you know I’m a pop culture nerd, I’ve wasn’t a comic book nerd until 2010, when Iron Man 2 came out.  I have seen the X-Men movies, I’ve seen SpiderMan, I like all these movies.  They’re great!  A lot of fun and I love a good action movie.  The Batman movies are great, too!  I’ve loved every Batman iteration to date, even the crappy ones.  That being said, I was still not really particularly overwhelmed by any comic book movie.  Even though Christopher Nolan’s Batman series is great, they don’t feel like comic book movies… they just feel like good action movies.  They never feel like superhero flicks to me.  So anyway, in 2010, my younger brother wanted to go see Iron Man 2, and that’s when it occurred to me that I had never seen the first Iron Man.  This is an issue for me because I’m not the type to walk blindly into any sequel.  Therefore, I watched Iron Man on DVD at home, just so that I could go with my brother to see its sequel.  I wasn’t expecting much; great action, a good time, and I’m always up for Robert Downey Jr. flick.

BAM!  By the time I was done watching that movie, I was not only a full-fledged fan, but I had gained a new respect for Marvel as a whole.  To me, this movie had taken so many things to a whole new level and I was surprised and amazed by how captivated I was by it.  To me, that’s when it was clear that this new era of Marvel movies has done something right.

Movies based on comic books have come a long way since the early days.  It seems like moviemakers are never sure which way to take it: do they stick to the comics and offer up a completely sci-fi adventure of mad-scientist villains and protagonists with x-ray vision?  Or do they “modernize” it and bring it down to earth, creating more believable plots and story lines so that it appeals to a broader audience?  Christopher Nolan’s Batman films took a gritty, crime-drama style approach and made a believable plot with a flawed and human hero and villains who are eccentric, but don’t possess any supernatural talents.  And it did appeal to a broader audience – The Dark Knight raked in tons of cash and made new Batman fans in droves.  I was happy for the pop culture atmosphere as a whole that comic book fans had a series that was worth their money.

For me, Marvel’s previous movie attempts have been somewhat lackluster.  You look at all the movies they’ve made, and there are some that stand out: Spiderman was fun, the X Men movies are always a good time… but there are all these others that were just so dull!  It seems like many of their films suffered from horrible writing, bad pacing or editing, too small of a budget, or all of the above.  I’m talking about movies like The Punisher.  Come on, John Travolta was in it and it still sank like a stone.  I love The Punisher’s story line and character arc, but this movie flops like a fish on the dock.  How is this not a fantastic movie??

Those days are gone for Marvel now, though.  Ramping up to a fever pitch since 2008, Marvel has been putting together an intricate puzzle, leaving even moderate fans salivating in anticipation.  For over 4 years, they’ve been building up to The Avengers.  I was so excited to see it, I could barely sleep on Wednesday night.

Thursday night’s midnight showing was PACKED at my local theater of choice, and there were all kinds of people there.  College and high school aged kids, adults, and much to my surprise, many people from the 45+ crowd.  I was losing my cool standing in line to be seated in the theater.  I wasn’t the only one in anticipation.  Many of us chatted as we stood anxiously in line.  I spoke to an older gentleman who said that he’d been waiting for this movie since he was a kid.  A KID!  It was only then that I realized… some of us have been waiting since 2008, but other comic book fans have been waiting for this day since the 1960’s.  And that just blows my mind.

To top it off, I started thinking about what an enormously huge task Marvel was undertaking by producing a movie of this magnitude.  Think of all the people that they must please with this: hardcore fans from every single generation, moderate fans who just like a good action flick, fanboys of one specific hero, and people who were dragged along with the crowd of their friends or who will wander into the theater just to see what all the fuss is about.  There were people from every walk of life standing in line with me at a midnight showing, which is usually reserved for super nerds and bloggers who want to get their movie review out first.  This was a crowd of people who had expectations and hopes for this movie, and they…. WE have been waiting a long time.

THE ANALYSIS:

Not too far into the movie, there’s an exchange between Captain America and SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson that tells you, up front with no strings attached, what you can expect from this film.  Steve Rogers is worried about his place in this fight against Loki, and is hoping that he’s the right man for the job.  He laments briefly about his “stars and stripes” uniform being “a little old fashioned”.  Agent Coulson shakes his head calmly in reply: “With everything that’s happened… all that’s about to come to light… I think everybody could use a little old fashioned.”  This is nice, because it’s almost as if the movie is stepping outside of itself to tell you: this is going to be an old fashioned comic book movie with superheroes.  Just sit back and relax and just have an old fashioned good time, like people used to do at the movies before there was such overbearing critics, and a demand to stick to some word-for-word plotline with a believable story and award-winning cinematography… just have a good time.  This is just an old fashioned good time.  And for me, it was.  And… it FELT like a comic book movie.  It’s a superhero movie, finally, and I was thrilled about it!

I keep hearing people say that the movie starts a little slow, I think that’s a necessary evil.  If the beginning wasn’t so slow, people would be complaining that there was little to no story development.  The first act isn’t dull; it’s just that the people in the theater know in the back of their mind what is coming and they’re anxious to get to it.

Joss Whedon does a good job of weaving the character’s stories together in a way that feels as if they each have their own things going on, which is stupid to say because, to fans of the franchise, we know that they DO each have their own things going on, but there are the fringe people who may have only seen one or two of the previous movies, or maybe none, so it’s important for them to see the “assembling” of the team, and how each of them have their own characterizations, inner battles and story arcs going on (it’s also a suave marketing move; I know people who left the theater saying they wanted to see one of the other Marvel movies because they enjoyed the corresponding character in The Avengers).

The acting, as expected, was absolutely spot on.  For me, the big surprise here was Mark Ruffalo.  How many times can they recast the big green guy?  I guess I just wasn’t expecting much in terms of character development… but Mark Ruffalo has a way of telling Bruce Banner’s story without saying a word.  Everything about him in this movie was perfect and dead-on.  I always expect greatness from Downey, Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson, and I knew what an awesome performance Evans and Hemsworth would bring.  But it was Ruffalo that blew my mind.  How many times CAN they recast the big green guy?  I hope they don’t recast him again for a very very long time.

We all left the theater knowing two things:  1) this is the start of some amazing movies from Marvel and 2) we’d all just witnessed history.  I think this Marvel lineup of movies will hold up as a pop-culture classic, right next to Star Wars and Harry Potter.

Here’s to Marvel ushering in a new age of superhero movies that just FEEL right.

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