Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Chris Evans’

The Avengers (2012)

As those of you who read these reviews will know, I often pick a theme by way of introduction. This time, it’s the tried and tested idiom, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Some like to attribute this insight to Aristotle, others to some more recent philosophers. No matter. It represent a nice idea to chew on when you have a moment to ruminate. Essentially, you can take it at a metaphorical level and say that a watch is only a physical device but it has a higher purpose in telling you what time it is. Or you can use it to refer to a team. Individually, they may not be strong but, when you put them together in the right way, you get synergy. Well, starting off with the watch metaphor, this film is like someone strapping Big Ben to your wrist and then enthusing about how it not only tells the time but also has these great chimes. Having just sat through 142 minutes, the first word that comes to mind is ponderous. If you think this is a reference to the massive, if not lumbering, quality of the Hulk, you’d be mistaken. Almost everything about this film is laborious.

Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow

 

This is not to deny that parts of the film are actually very good. It’s just that, when it’s all put together and you have to sit through all the rubbish to get to the good bits, it all feels a bit tiresome. So let’s do a quick recap. Back in the land owned by Marvel Comics, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Captain America are renegades from WWII. While the Captain is snoozing under the ice, Nick is setting up SHIELD, the ultimate Get Out of Jail Free card to be played when superhuman threats are about to overwhelm our defences. Jackson is actually credible even though asked to do obviously silly things. He brings an unexpected gravitas to the role even when responding to Loki emerging into one of SHIELD’s secret underground installations, capturing the McGuffin and kidnapping two key people who will guard and use the McGuffin to open a portal and let in the alien army. To give his newly acquired minions time to achieve their allotted tasks, Earth’s enemy allows himself to be captured and then sets about trying to undermine the morale of the Avengers. None of them like to work as part of a team so, at one time or another, they all have to fight each other. Instead of disagreeing and holding a debate, they tend to settle arguments with whatever weapons are to hand. Except for Dr Banner, of course. It’s better not to make him angry.

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye

 

So after a few impressive opening scenes, the first hour or so is all rather tedious except for one or two pleasing moments. I confess to being completely taken by Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow and, despite the fact the supply of arrows seems inexhaustible, Jeremy Renner makes an interesting Hawkeye. It’s a shame we’re not allowed to see much of him. I find the idea of mere humans outperforming all-comers intriguing and, just as Batman uses intelligence with technology in support, it’s the spirit that prevails. This would apply to Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark except he’s Tony Stark and an arrogant SOB. Chris Evans is very one-dimensional as Steve Rogers and, in the second half, that becomes the right dimension so he comes good by staying who he is. Chris Hemsworth is completely pigheaded as Thor and the most annoying of the heroes. Which leaves us with Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. This is a big improvement on previous attempts at creating the Hulk on screen. As a walking-talking example of humility, he actually tones down Tony Stark in the scenes they share. Incidentally, the cameo argument with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Pott is better than anything in the earlier Iron Man films. This almost makes the relationship credible. Which leaves us with Tom Hiddleston as a surprisingly pleasing Loki. He’s a good trickster but should not be seen dead in that horned hat.

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner

 

The special effects are, for once, special. SHIELD’s helicarrier actually looks as though it might work although the invisibility shield is the usual silly project-a-picture-of-the-sky on to the hull variety. It’s far better than the equivalent in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The jet fighters and transports are also beautifully rendered with VTOL and manoeuvring beating anything the Harrier jump jet has been able to achieve. The final battle is very well structured and beautifully paced. It could have become very repetitive, but manages to keep everything fresh as each hero is allowed a few moments to hold a position, fight a corner or try to disable the McGuffin. I was particularly impressed by the animatronic alien landing craft. They manage to look simultaneously impractical but, from the point of view of a mere human observer, completely intimidating. The Hulk’s leaping ability and smash-through-anything approach is hilariously over-the-top and through-the-bottom as well. The Iron Man suit yet again demonstrates a level of invincibility above and beyond the call of duty. Quite how Stark is supposed to emerge in one piece is beyond understanding. That made it good to get back to basics with the Black Widow beating those pesky aliens in hand-to-hand combat. As one woman said as she was about to be incinerated by aliens, Captain America can rescue me anytime he wants. He’s just dogged and, even though no-one asks him to take on the role, he makes a natural leader. Thor pitches in but, for someone supposed to have godlike powers, he’s rather cut down to size by the weight of numbers coming through the portal. Indeed, the heroes might have lost had Earth’s governments, in their wisdom, not decided to send a different kind of help.

Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans looking for more to fight

 

So The Avengers has good patches that increase in frequency as the film develops leading to a superior fight at the end. This means you should pack sandwiches and a flask of hot tea to see you through the opening section. You can break out the popcorn and coke nearer the end and so finish on a high. I suppose this film will make several tons of money. The marketing hype has generated the interest and, if the intended market is anything like the people who surrounded me when I saw the film, teen boys will flock to this like bees to a honey pot. It has their demographic most skillfully written all over it by director Joss Whedon who has probably done as well with the plot as anyone could. Once you have to have this crowd of principals assemble and then give each a fair amount of screen time, it’s going to get ponderous until they are forced to drop their differences and start fighting the real enemies. So if there’s an inner teen lurking inside you or, like me, you enjoy science fiction and fantasy, you should probably see this. Otherwise wait for it to come on television and enjoy the battle at the end.

 

For my reviews of allied films, see:
Captain America
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor

 

This film was short-listed for the 2012 Nebula Award and for the 2013 Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

August 2, 2011 1 comment

The question on the lips of every major studio executive with decision-making power over the projects that may be slated for release as a “summer blockbuster” is: what makes a good summer blockbuster? I guess, if you could put the magic formula in a bottle, those executives would batter down your door with wads of money to buy the bottle. It’s one of the great unexplained mysteries of modern society. Some films fit the bill, drawing crowds like bees to a honeypot. Others lie like rotting corpses and even the flies stay away. At one level, you could view the phenomenon as simple bean counting. The films that race to a billion dollars are the blockbusters regardless of their genre. They may be as exciting as toys coming to life or schoolboy wizards fighting to the death. This is a not unfair measure because, if the film really does a massive gross take, it must have mass market appeal. Yet there have been films launched as the next blockbuster only to be major commercial flops. They may have appeared to have all the right fast-paced action to qualify, but lack the magic ingredient to give them the appeal across the widest possible market. What makes this all the more fascinating is that, more often than not, the US market now delivers significantly less to the gross than the rest of the world. Take Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides as an example. At the time of writing, this has earned $1,032.8 million worldwide, but only 23.1% was box office in the US. That’s right: 76.9% of the revenue came from us folk living overseas! This has profound implications for the nature of a blockbuster. The script, casting and anything intended to catch the market must now reflect world taste (including the product placements). Hollywood on its own can no longer cut the mustard.

Chris Evans showing off his enhanced pectorals

 

This has been a year of alleged plenty with major studios lining up films, drumming out the loud message that each one was going to be the next “big one”. For me, this list has included some reasonably enjoyable efforts, but until Captain America: The First Avenger came along, I’d not felt I’d seen a blockbuster. Yes, I was thinking as I walked into the cinema, yet another Marvel Comics superhero brought to the screen. All this effort just so we can get to the first of what the studio intends to be the next big franchise: The Avengers — a group of superheroes hunting as a pack. And this is another grey-haired effort with our patriotic hero kicking off into action way back in 1941. What on Earth can a modern film make of a superhero fighting the Nazis in WWII?

Hugo Weaving before being forced behind yet another mask

 

Well, unlike Inglorious Basterds which went sideways into an alternative history so that Brad Pitt could win the war for the Allies, Captain America: The First Avenger makes it clear we are fighting Hydra which, for these purposes, is an organisation born out of the Nazi obsession with occultism, even prepared to bomb Berlin if it becomes necessary to achieve world domination. The leader of this Norse-inspired cult is the Red Skull or Johann Schmidt (poor Hugo Weaving, continuing his performances through layers of prosthetic make-up, from behind a mask or as a transforming truck) who was enhanced in an early experiment by Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). This all leaves us with a series of actions fought alongside the conventional war against the Nazis. So we telescope geography to move us effortless around Europe and have major scientific advances courtesy of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) on our side and Dr Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) for the other team.

Hayley Atwell actually allowed to shoot a gun

 

At this point, I could say the entire project collapsed under its own weight as ponderous backstory and over-the-top CGI hit the screen. Except it doesn’t. It’s saved by three major elements. The script, the performances and the humour. For once, this avoids feeling like an artificial origin story. It has the same, more naturalistic feel that the first Nolan Batman had. It grows reasonably organically. Now we come to the script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. This could have been “Captain America” as the worst of US chauvinism, yet the writers have elected to show him as a diffident man, rather gentle and certainly not in the rather triumphal spirit of US imperialism that would have killed its box-office appeal abroad. Indeed, as if to prove the point, the US government first elects to use him to pimp War Bonds. There’s no greater indignity to heap upon a superhero than to dress him in tights, have him prance in front of dancing girls, and shill for money. Even when he does start fighting for real, he remains a rather modest gentleman, content to take on a school bully and do no more harm than is strictly necessary to set the world to rights.

Tommy Lee Jones forced to sit through his own film

 

Secondly, the cast. Chris Evans as the titular Captain Steve Rogers is wonderfully reduced in size. Indeed, at one point sitting in the back seat of a car beside Hayley Atwell as the perky Brit agent Peggy Carter, I think the special effects team rather overdid the shrinking man bit. At other times, he really did look as if he would benefit from eating your last sandwich to bulk him out a little. Once enhanced, he’s taller. Fortunately Evans is able to put the awfulness of Johnny Storm behind him and deliver a performance of real sincerity. Tommy Lee Jones is intentionally hilarious as Colonel Chester Phillips which leads me to the third point. The entire cast looked as if they were enjoying themselves on the set. The chemistry between Chris Evans, Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones sets the trend of laugh-out-loud moments throughout. It significantly enhanced the packed cinema’s enjoyment of the film, avoiding the problems afflicting Thor which took itself far too seriously. All credit to Joe Johnston who directs with a sure, light touch emphasising the absurd with a series of knowing winks. The quality of the cast is also in its depth with seasoned pros turning up in the supporting roles — like Neal McDonough hiding behind an enormous moustache as Dum Dum Dougan. To complete your enjoyment, all you have to do is ignore the incompetence of the Hydra minions who couldn’t fight their way out of a soggy paper bag. Their inept reliance on superweaponry gets a little monotonous towards the end.

 

That said, Captain America: The First Avenger is quite simply the best of the summer blockbusters so far. For those who want uncomplicated fun while watching a story told well, you can’t improve on this.

 

This film has been shortlisted for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation 2011 and for the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation — Long.

 

For my reviews of allied films, see:
The Avengers
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor

 

%d bloggers like this: