The Avengers-attachment0

The Avengers

Movie Information

The Story: When the Earth is threatened by a seemingly unstoppable enemy, Nick Fury calls The Avengers together to save the day. The Lowdown: It's big splashy entertainment that delivers on its promise more than it doesn't.
Score:

Genre: Comic Book Action
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgård
Rated: PG-13

Well, here we are at last. Years of movies with tag scenes promising the arrival of an Avengers movie have finally delivered on that promise—and this is it. Was it worth the wait or the build-up? That depends on your level of interest in this sort of thing, I suppose. Despite the inane gush of Those Who Object to Being Called “Fanboys,” this is not the greatest movie ever made, nor does it reinvent cinema. That said, however, it’s a solid entertainment and much better than I’d expected from the maestro of midcult, Joss Whedon. Oh, sure he places the film firmly in the realm of his usual sitcom sensibility, and the gags become transparent in their structure once you get into the rhythm of the movie, but this is probably the best possible approach for a movie like this. The sheer volume of characters calls for a kind of cinematic shorthand—and that’s what it gets.

The film’s story is about as substantial as all the tissue wadding in a box concealing a small treasure at its center. What else could it be? All that matters, of course, is that the film has a problem—meaning the Earth has a problem—which calls for amassing a large array of superheroes (and a couple of borderline cases) to save our hash. That, naturally, is why Nick Fury (the irreplaceable Samuel L. Jackson) has been assembling all these folks as part of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division) all this time. The issue this round is the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston—the second best thing in the movie) is preparing the way for an invasion of creatures from another dimension that will leave him (he thinks) ruler of a subjugated Earth.

As an excuse for cramming one movie with Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), it’s as good as any other. Just think of it as the Contadina Tomato Paste of film—or Grand Hotel in tights—and don’t ask too many questions. The whole thing banks—wisely—on its cast. Especially helpful here is the importation of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, a character never really nailed in any previous incarnation—and here represented by an actor of considerably greater charm and innate sympathy than any of his predecessors. But in the end, it’s the ensemble nature of the playing—something that gets off to a deliberately rocky start—that finally makes the story work.

It’s not a flawless mix. There’s no way to make Captain America all that interesting—especially when you put him up against Iron Man. The film does build its most subversive joke around the Captain, giving Fury’s right-hand man, Coulson (Clark Gregg), a kind of fanboy crush (with subtext aplenty) on him. And that, in turn, becomes a serious plot point, but Cap is still pretty much a stiff. Also, Whedon apparently couldn’t figure out what to do with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), so she’s essentially written out of the body of the movie. But more of it works—in its own way—than doesn’t. And it has the benefit of never taking itself too seriously or straining to be “important.”

The film’s biggest problem—and some will consider this in the nature of a spoiler, so you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph—is that its big finale ends up being most awfully like last year’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It’s certainly better done here, but the similarities are inescapable. This might well be completely coincidental, which only points up a central issue with the genre’s limitations and the fact that all such movies have to hit certain key scenes—notably a big final battle that more often than not outstays its welcome for anyone who tires of endless property damage. It doesn’t sink The Avengers, but it does diminish it. Take it for what it is—big, splashy, largely transitory entertainment. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

108 thoughts on “The Avengers

  1. Xanadon't

    It’s not a flawless mix. There’s no way to make Captain America all that interesting — especially when you put him up against Iron Man.

    Ha, yep. Dull at his core and bland around the edges.

    Thankfully I enjoyed Black Widow’s treatment here. Of the returning characters she stood to gain the most since she wasn’t given much to do in Iron Man 2. Johansson handled the material she was given quite well, I thought. I believed her character -which actually becomes key and provides more fun in certain scenes.

    And yeah, Ruffalo was a great addition. He has an a sort of natural world-weariness about him that lends itself nicely to Bruce Banner’s emotionally repressed, troubled genius persona.

    But overall I’d say you were still more friendly toward the film as a whole than I was.

  2. Ken Hanke

    But overall I’d say you were still more friendly toward the film as a whole than I was.

    Bear in mind, it’s a passing friendliness in the sense that I pretty much guarantee you, I’ll never see it again. Thinking about it — and exempting 1930s-40s serials and movies sent to me by studios at the end of the year — I realize I have actually bought only Batman and Batman Returns (more for Tim Burton films than anything else), X2, and The Spirit. I don’t know that that’s likely to change any time soon.

  3. Xanadon't

    Ha, yes well the Burton Batmans are the only superhero movies I own as well, and basically for the same reason. (Super doesn’t count, right?). And then there’s Sin City and A History of Violence if we’re talking about comic-book/graphic novel adaptations.

    But whoa whoa whoa- are you telling me I’ve been making a mistake all these years by not seeing The Spirit? Okay, off to find your review…

  4. Ken Hanke

    But whoa whoa whoa- are you telling me I’ve been making a mistake all these years by not seeing The Spirit? Okay, off to find your review…

    Not necessarily.

  5. Dionysis

    The Spirit was one of the worst things I’ve tried to sit through in recent memory. On three occasions I tried to slug through it, but failed.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Yes, well, you’re in the majority. I freely admit that. I’m just not in there with you.

  7. Jeremy Dylan

    I pretty much loved THE SPIRIT, and I don’t share Ken’s disdain for Christopher Nolan’s Batman pictures.

    • Xanadon't

      Heh, well then I probably come down somewhere in the middle when it comes to the Nolan/Bale Batman series. Excited though that The Spirit now strikes me as a polarizing film with a couple credible supporters in its corner rather than a universally dismissed film. I’ll be checking it out soon.

  8. Ken Hanke

    You can add Justin to the supporters of The Spirit. As for the Nolan Batmoose pictures…well, we can all go to the mat over that when the last one comes out.

  9. Dionysis

    I look forward to how Xandadon’t assesses the film. From what I can glean from reading reviews and comments people made about the film when it was released, there seems to be no middle ground. One either likes it or intensely dislikes it.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I know one person whose only real problem with the film is that he doesn’t like the Octopus’s cloned henchman. So I guess he’s sorta in the middle. A lot of the anger (I don’t expect this is an issue for you) is that it pokes fun at the whole idea of taking this stuff seriously. That was seen as attacking the new-found “respectability” of the comic book movie.

    • Dionysis

      Oh, I have no anger at all, and I’m okay with poking fun at most anything. For me it was more pedestrian…I didn’t care for the lead character, found it somewhat confusing and worst of all, boring. I expected more after Sin City.

    • Dionysis

      I’m not; my comic hero days ended not long after most Marvel characters were introduced, when I began to graduate to magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland. I’m still a horror movie fan, though.

    • Dionysis

      I’m not; my comic hero days ended not long after most Marvel characters were introduced, when I began to graduate to magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland. I’m still a horror movie fan, though.

  11. Dionysis

    Sorry for the double post. When the submit button is clicked, you can’t tell if it worked or not. Happens frequently it seems.

  12. Ken Hanke

    I’m still a horror movie fan, though.

    But one assumes that you outgrew the FM level of “criticism!”

    • Dionysis

      Oh sure; I didn’t buy them or collect them to bone up on their critiques. I only wish I still had all of those magazines given their current value. Same with my old comic book collection, but I imagine many wish the same thing.

  13. Orbit DVD

    I recommend seeing this movie with a crowd.

    It received the first standing ovation I’ve seen outside a festival in YEARS. People were jumping and going nuts during the ending battle… definitely added to the experience.

  14. Ken Hanke

    It received the first standing ovation I’ve seen outside a festival in YEARS. People were jumping and going nuts during the ending battle… definitely added to the experience.

    I’m glad I missed that. That kind of overkill reaction to a movie I liked well enough, but will never see a second time would have merely annoyed me.

  15. Orbit DVD

    I’m glad I missed that. That kind of overkill reaction to a movie I liked well enough, but will never see a second time would have merely annoyed me.

    I agree with your review. I enjoyed it, but it will not be a cultural milestone in my life. For younger people it looks like it is, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Seeing their reactions was as fun as the movie.

    They pulled it off. I was expecting the worst, but was pleasantly surprised.

    Did you applaud after TOMMY?

  16. Ken Hanke

    For younger people it looks like it is, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Too much time spent with Star Wars fanatics suggests a possible alternate takeon that.

    Did you applaud after TOMMY?

    Not unless you count 2005 when Ken was in the audience, no.

  17. Edwin Arnaudin

    I’m glad I missed that. That kind of overkill reaction to a movie I liked well enough, but will never see a second time would have merely annoyed me.

    My screening had a guy triumphantly throw both arms up and shout, “Yes! That was awesome!” at the two funniest Hulk parts…but he remained seated.

    It would have been nice if Jeremy Renner had been given a little more to do. Ruffalo got his due, but when you have two “what are these guys doing in a superhero movie” actors, you should get the most out of them both.

  18. Edwin Arnaudin

    I’m glad I missed that. That kind of overkill reaction to a movie I liked well enough, but will never see a second time would have merely annoyed me.

    My screening had a guy triumphantly throw both arms up and shout, “Yes! That was awesome!” at the two funniest Hulk parts…but he remained seated.

    It would have been nice if Jeremy Renner had been given a little more to do. Ruffalo got his due, but when you have two “what are these guys doing in a superhero movie” actors, you should get the most out of them both.

  19. Dionysis

    “when you have two “what are these guys doing in a superhero movie” actors…”

    A point I have discussed with a few folks recently. I haven’t seen the movie yet (plan to on Sunday though), but immediately wondered what an archer (regardless of how good) and a female martial-arts practicing, gun-toting assassin were doing with people with either super-human powers or technology that effectively gave them same. Especially when they are fighting otherworldly bad guys with awesome power.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      Exactly. The archer skills are pretty remarkable and there’s also some gadgetry involved, but not on the level of Iron Man. I think you’ll find that the less extraordinary a character, the less they’re given to do. That includes Samuel L. Jackson, too.

  20. Ken Hanke

    It would have been nice if Jeremy Renner had been given a little more to do.

    Two points there — he really hasn’t any significant box office draw, and, face it, his character in the film isn’t very exciting — and more, perhaps, isn’t one of the bigger Marvel charcters.

    That includes Samuel L. Jackson, too.

    Yeah, but he’s kind of so automatically cool that he only has to show up.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      he really hasn’t any significant box office draw

      After the new BOURNE film, he almost certainly will. Also, not that Renner was its primary draw, but the latest MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE may have outgrossed Ruffalo’s entire resume.

      his character in the film isn’t very exciting

      I’m more lamenting that an actor of Renner’s caliber was given such a bland character. I’ve only seen him in four other films, but he made a strong impression in each.

      Yeah, but he’s kind of so automatically cool that he only has to show up

      Outside of THE SUNSET LIMITED, it’s been a while since that statement has been true.

      I don’t particularly want to defend the film, but by its very nature, it’s overstuffed with characters. They aren’t all gonna be showcased

      It comes down to what Dionysis and I said: the less super a hero, the less interesting they are, and the less material they’re given. Whedon generally does a good job of playing superhero socialism and the more remarkable characters shine in what are all supporting roles. The more human Avengers don’t really need to be in the film, but since they were included, a few more good lines or brief heroic moments could have helped.

  21. Xanadon't

    Yep, Nick Fury did little to capture my imagination -aside from imagining Samuel L cashing a paycheck.

  22. Ken Hanke

    I don’t particularly want to defend the film, but by its very nature, it’s overstuffed with characters. They aren’t all gonna be showcased — unless you want to add two more hours, which I’m not in favor of.

  23. Jeremy Dylan

    I want the Nick Fury movie. Sam Jackson with an eye patch doing his thing. Powers Boothe can come back as the villain.

    • Jeremy Dylan

      He’s in The Avengers, as one of those backlit gents Sam Jackson keeps holding court with.

  24. Big Al

    When Marvel produced “Avengers Ultimates”, the graphic novel series on which this franchise is visually based, they specifically re-engineered the Nick Fury personae to be SLJ (as opposed to the square-jawed, crew-cut/saltpepper white due, probably an amalgram of Stan Lee) because he was still riding the wave produced by his over-the-top performances in “Pulp Fiction”, etc.

    I WANT TO LOVE Jackson, but ever since “S.W.A.T.”, I have noticed a perceptible reduction in the energy of his performances, especially in his cameos in the pre-“Avengers” Marvel adaptations, essentially phoning them in.

    I have yet to see “Avengers” and hope to see him turn it up a few notches and regain his uber-coolness.

    I have the same criticism of Powers Booth, who I LOVED in the 80s, but who was an absolute joke in “Tombstone”. Also Tommy Lee Jones could lately stand some stimulation. Or, maybe the old lions need to step aside and let some young bloods into the arena.

    • Xanadon't

      If you’ve never seen it, I’d recommend watching Black Snake Moan. Jackson showed up for that role.

  25. Ken Hanke

    He’s in The Avengers, as one of those backlit gents Sam Jackson keeps holding court with.

    I know who he is. It’s the enthusiasm I don’t get.

  26. Ken Hanke

    After the new BOURNE film, he almost certainly will. Also, not that Renner was its primary draw, but the latest MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE may have outgrossed Ruffalo’s entire resume.

    The former claim may well be true, but it’s irrelevant to his position here. And the second answers itself.

    Outside of THE SUNSET LIMITED, it’s been a while since that statement has been true

    That may be a matter of opinion.

    The more human Avengers don’t really need to be in the film, but since they were included, a few more good lines or brief heroic moments could have helped.

    I’d be against anything that made the film longer than it already is.

  27. Ken Hanke

    If you’ve never seen it, I’d recommend watching Black Snake Moan. Jackson showed up for that role.

    Indeed, yes.

  28. Big Al

    Yes, “Black Snake Moan” was an SLJ success.

    I saw “Avengers” Sunday. SLJ had just the right balance of “shut yo mouth” cool and “I’m in charge here” gravitas. Powers Booth was OK for just sitting behind a desk on a viewscreen. I still maintain that both are showing thier age and that action films need to draft some new, younger talent.

    The question was asked of the relevance of non-superhuman( techno- or organically) characters. Simple. Both Black Widow and Hawkeye were in the original comics and “Ultimates”, so their exclusion would have been noticable to comic fans. I thought ScarJo and Renner were excellent picks. The exploding arrow in Loki’s face showed that in the comic universe, even a mortal can stand up to a demi-god if he is a fast thinker.

    Renner, it should be noted, was the lynchpin of the Oscar-winning “Hurt Locker”. Directors do not win Oscars if their leading men/women are slackers.

    I do think the Cap role should have focused more on his role as a leader and strategic thimker as the “Ultimates” comics did. Iron Man was a much less stable, MUCH more flawed follower in the comics. Maybe Robert Downey’s current high standing would prevent him from deferring to Chris Evans.

  29. Vince Lugo

    I’m a huge, HUGE fan of Marvel Comics, so The Avengers was a big deal for me and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Finally, we have a comic book movie that’s not afraid to BE a comic book movie, with all the over-the-top action, ludicrous plotting, colorful costumes, etc. that comics have and, for the most part, no one thinks this is a bad thing. If the same exact movie had been released ten years ago, it would have been relentlessly bashed for its unapologetic goofiness but today, just about everyone agrees that it’s awesome. We’ve come a long way. The Avengers may not have reinvented cinema, but it absolutely has reinvented the superhero movie genre and opened the door for more films like it and I can’t wait to see what filmmakers come up with next. If Warner Bros were smart, they’d begin setting up their own onscreen DC Universe and the upcoming Superman film seems like a perfect opportunity. Here’s hoping.

  30. Dionysis

    Very entertaining flick; I would give it maybe a half-star more than Ken, and unlike him, I would (and will) watch it again, although not anytime soon. I expect the DVD will have additional footage (I know, making it longer).

    I’d say that having recently re-watched all of the previous Avenger character films (both Hulks, both Iron Man films, Captain America, Thor) I felt this was the best of them all. I agree there were too many characters (much like there were too many villians in Spiderman 3), but I still had a good time. And while I had lamented having yet a third actor play Hulk, Mark Ruffalo was the best of the bunch IMO.

  31. Ken Hanke

    The Avengers may not have reinvented cinema, but it absolutely has reinvented the superhero movie genre

    Until Christopher Nolan’s grim Batman shows up anyway.

  32. Dionysis

    “the upcoming Superman film”

    What? Yet another re-boot? If so, then I sure hope it’s better than that last Superman movie with the bland Christopher Reeve sorta-look-alike.

  33. Ken Hanke

    I sure hope it’s better than that last Superman movie with the bland Christopher Reeve sorta-look-alike.

    I don’t really think it’s possible to make a good Superman movie.

  34. Barry Summers

    I don’t really think it’s possible to make a good Superman movie.

    I’ll bet Tim & Eric could pull it off.

  35. Ken Hanke

    I think they’ve been banned by law from making another movie. If the law hasn’t been enacted, I strongly suspect the money lost on that last fiasco precludes further funding.

  36. Barry Summers

    I finally saw Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. Wow. I need a shower. But I still believe they have a nugget of genius in them. The funny thing I notice about the reviews is that people who don’t like the movie call it (and T&E’s other work) “intentionally bad”, and it merely fails at being funny in it’s ‘intentional badness’. I disagree – I think they are doing a great job reflecting the badness of our mainstream culture, and it makes us uncomfortable.

    “You say po-tah-toe and you’re wrong wrong wrong…”

  37. Ken Hanke

    Problem is it mostly bores me as pathetically unfunny. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable.

  38. Steve Shanafelt

    Back to the Avengers, my take is that it’s a nearly perfect adaptation of the spirit of the source material. I didn’t have any problems with it to speak of. It may be the best superhero movie yet made in terms of actually being faithful to the source material. Nolan’s Batman films — and even Burton’s, for that matter — aren’t so much about Batman as they are about reinterpreting the idea of the character through the director’s vision and worldview.

    Here, however, we have Marvel’s view of the characters, not Whedon’s. Cap is Cap, not some revisionist take on American politics. Hulk is Hulk, not some Ang Lee experiment in daddy issues and CGI. Even Renner’s Hawkeye and Johansson’s Black Widow are played exactly as you’d expect them to be shown in the comics.

    For me, this is vital. From a fan’s perspective — and I’m a casual fan at best these days, not having bought a comic in years — the movie got the most important thing right: We want to see the Marvel universe treated like these characters are valid in their own rights. Whedon actually gets them. He’s playing in that universe, but he’s not trying to change it or the people in it to suit his whims.

    That’s always been my problem with comic adaptations: Burton’s Batman isn’t the Batman from the comics. His Penguin CERTAINLY isn’t the Penguin from the comics. The films he made are valid as artistic expression, sure, but I’ve always thought it was a dick move to get people who LOVE these characters all excited — and to grasp and grab for their money — and then not actually delivering on what they thought they were buying.

    If you went to see a movie about Groucho Marx, and it was played by a blond guy with a Southern accent who smacks of Truman Capote and only did comedy because he had self-esteem issues after he was abused by his mother, and only puts on the greasepaint mustache as an ironic statement about his masculine identity, with no allusion or mention of his brothers, you’d probably feel ripped off. That’s exactly what it’s like to watch most comic book movies. It’s not Groucho, it’s just a guy who looks like Groucho enough to trick me into buying a ticket.

    The Avengers didn’t do that. It’s not a great film in the sense of it having a lasting artistic message or having a deeper meaning. But neither is the source material great art. It is, however, very much an Avengers story, and it’s one of the very few times I’ve seen a superhero movie and felt like it was made by people who actually get what superheroes are in general, and who these characters are in particular.

    • Dionysis

      I think you hit the nail on the head with this piece, and I completely agree. I had to chuckle a bit at this line…”some Ang Lee experiment in daddy issues and CGI.” That revision to the Hulk story and the silly looking CGI effects kept me from liking that movie at all.

  39. Justin Souther

    It’s not Groucho, it’s just a guy who looks like Groucho enough to trick me into buying a ticket.

    Yeah, but Groucho is SO much cooler than Batman.

  40. Ken Hanke

    Hulk is Hulk, not some Ang Lee experiment in daddy issues and CGI

    Much as I enjoyed this film and prefer Mark Ruffalo in the role (which has more to do with casting than anything), I’d say that this Hulk can be fairly assessed as “some Joss Whedon sitcom writing and CGI.” That the CGI is better here has more to do with advances in CGI and the fact that we’ve become so used to the slightly cartoony look.

  41. Steve Shanafelt

    Yeah, but Groucho is SO much cooler than Batman.

    Agreed. But I highly doubt Tim Burton is a director who would know what to do with a Groucho Marx movie. He’s almost certainly the wrong guy to make that movie, although — because it’s Burton — the results would at least be interesting.

    But Marx Brothers fans will be forgiven for saying “This isn’t what I ordered.”

  42. Ken Hanke

    But Marx Brothers fans will be forgiven for saying “This isn’t what I ordered.”

    A small difference is that there is a defined Groucho Marx. Batman has been played by Lewis Wilson, Robert Lowery, Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale. And he’s changed numerous times in print in between 1939 and now. There’s a definitive Groucho, but not a definitive Batman.

  43. Steve Shanafelt

    Much as I enjoyed this film and prefer Mark Ruffalo in the role (which has more to do with casting than anything), I’d say that this Hulk can be fairly assessed as “some Joss Whedon sitcom writing and CGI.”

    There’s more to it than that. Whedon’s script actually presents Banner and the Hulk as they are in the comics. To do that, he has to know who those characters actually are. It’s not just as simple as Banner is a nerd and the Hulk is a green rage monster. There have been nearly 50 years of people telling stories about this character — he’s as familiar and known as Luke Skywalker or James Bond — and while you can play with what that means to a certain extent, people know instantly if he’s not being played right.

    These aren’t characters invented for a film. They’re characters that have survived half-a-century for a reason. All Whedon had to do was not get in the way of that. I’m not saying it’s brilliant scriptwriting to have the Hulk call Loki a “Puny god,” but that is TOTALLY a Hulk thing to say. He got the character, and he got Banner.

    It may sound easy to sum this character up, but this is the first time in three movies where anyone has gotten the character right from a comic-fan perspective.

    Ang Lee had a whole film to tell that story, and failed largely because it wasn’t actually about the Banner/Hulk other than as a metaphor. It wasn’t Bruce Banner and it wasn’t the Hulk. Whedon had not even a fourth of a movie and got it right, because Banner is very obviously the Banner from the comics, and the creature on the screen is actually the Hulk the fans know and love.

    It’s the equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich in terms of complexity, sure, but it’s a damn good grilled cheese sandwich. It’s not the daring blackberry-chocolate-and-monkfish souffl

  44. Ken Hanke

    This whole turn of argument reminds me of the guy who went ballistic because the posters for Dumb and Dumberer didn’t make it clear that Jim Carrey “and that other guy” weren’t in the film. Or the old lady who was cheesed because the 2005 Honeymooners didn’t have Jackie Gleason and Art Carney in it.

  45. Ken Hanke

    Whedon’s script actually presents Banner and the Hulk as they are in the comics.

    You’re a much bigger comic book nerd than you claim to be.

    that’s not what the fans ordered and they can be forgiven if they turn up their noses at it.

    Of course, they can, but…there’s a lot more at work than that. Put simply, no movie made the amount of money this latest has based on the whims of comic book purists. There may be a lot of them, sure, but there aren’t enough to generate these figures.

  46. Steve Shanafelt

    There’s a definitive Groucho, but not a definitive Batman.

    True. But from a fan’s perspective — again, the people who care enough about this guy to read story after story of him hitting people and moping about his dead parents — all they’re looking for is someone who gets the fundamentals of the character right.

    And there ARE fundamentals. It’s never going to be a nuanced or complex as an actual person — never definitive — but getting the basics isn’t hard as long as you understand the character.

    Nolan gets MUCH more right than he does wrong with Batman, for instance. I have my problems with some parts of his films, but I do feel like he’s trying to tell me a Batman story. I don’t feel like he’s using the character to tell me another story he couldn’t get funded otherwise.

    I definitely feel like Whedon was telling an Avengers story. That’s all I wanted him to do.

  47. Ken Hanke

    Nolan gets MUCH more right than he does wrong with Batman

    Oh, boy, I don’t agree with that!

  48. Steve Shanafelt

    Put simply, no movie made the amount of money this latest has based on the whims of comic book purists.

    It’s not about the purists. There are A LOT of things that actual purists would quibble with — the Nick Fury of the Avengers is white, Thor has no Donald Blake origin story, Captain America doesn’t have super strength, the aliens aren’t called Skrulls for licensing reasons in the Fantastic Four franchise — and I’m sure they’re bitching about it one some message board now.

    But I’d argue that it did make this amount of money because it was made for people who actually like superheroes. It was clearly made by people who like these characters, and who understand them.

    Sure, there was a HUGE marketing push and several films and all kinds of money spent on this thing, but all of that worked because these same stories and characters have been working for 50 years in other media. That’s why Disney bought them in the first place.

    And when you make a fun movie about characters people like, with actors playing them who seem to get the idea of what they’re playing, and a story that doesn’t actively insult you for liking this kind of thing, I think it’s awesome that makes a lot of money.

  49. Steve Shanafelt

    “Nolan gets MUCH more right than he does wrong with Batman”

    Oh, boy, I don’t agree with that!

    But do you feel like he’s trying to tell you a Batman story?

  50. Steve Shanafelt

    You’re a much bigger comic book nerd than you claim to be.

    My avatar is Uatu the Watcher. Of course I am.

  51. Ken Hanke

    Sure, there was a HUGE marketing push and several films and all kinds of money spent on this thing

    See, to me, you can stop right there. It’s the real answer. That the movie is good is almost gravy. People loved this movie before they ever saw it.

  52. Ken Hanke

    But do you feel like he’s trying to tell you a Batman story?

    Actually, no, I don’t. I think he’s far more interested in being deep dish and important. I think he’s in the throes of making the world’s most pompous comic book movies.

    You keep forgetting that pre-Burton no one had ever made a “serious” film about Batman. It was the first movie to even address the dead parent issue and the first to treat the material as being suitable for anyone over 12. But it kept a balance between that weightier aspect and being fun. The character(s) worked for Burton because they fall — at least roughly — into the outsider realm, and because they evidenced obsessions that were incomprehensible to anyone but themselves. And remember, the first film was hugely successful — at one point it was the highest grossing film ever — and it was seen (often more than once) by people who normally wouldn’t go to this kind of film. Yes, that was partly PR at work. (Just imagine what it coulda been with the internet and half-a-billion invested in movies leading up to it!)

    It’s also worth remembering that Burton’s follow-up — a more personal film in every respect, but still recognizably a Batman picture, regardless of how you feel about the Penguin — was also a huge moneymaker. Its sin was that it was pitched at kids — right down to its Happy Meal toys — and it scared the crap out of them. Or at least it scared the crap out of their parents. (Now, I can imagine being 8 or 9 and being terrified by the first attack on Gotham City, but I’m thinking in terms of an 8 or 9-year-old in early 1960s terms. I doubt it had the same impact on the 1992 version.) This is where Warner Bros. steps in and hires Joel Schumacher and tells him they want a lighter toned take — something between Burton and Adam West. And we know where that led (though I think Schumacher gets a kinda bum rap because he gave the studio what the asked for).

    Now, I’d say that the Burton films are more interesting to me as Burton films, but I’m much more interested in Burton than I am in Batman, so that’s no surprise. But they at least are colorful and balance out as serious enough without being humorless. Nolan’s films are drab, grey and cheerless. I said it when Batman Begins came out — the only person in the movie that seemed to get the idea that this is outre and ought to be a little fun was Cillian Murphy. Thing is, I don’t dislike Nolan per se. I think The Prestige is brilliant and Inception is very, very good. But I don’t like his Batman films — no matter how well made they are — because they’re simply no fun. Even the generally serious X Men movies — the two from Singer — achieve a balance, if only through Magneto’s campiness. Now, this, is where The Avengers scores — as do three of the movies that lead up to it — by remembering to be fun.

  53. Ken Hanke

    This will probably fall on deaf ears, but I’d really suggest people not use the “reply” button, and stick to the regular old practice of quoting and adding a comment. It’s not that I personally prefer it (though I do), but once this falls off the main page and goes into the archived reviews, that placement is gone. For example, if you go and look at this review in the archive, it appears that Edwin has agreed to my screed on the Burton Batman movies and not the endorsements of Black Snake Moan. (Yet another classic side-effect of the New Coke site.)

  54. Dionysis

    “This will probably fall on deaf ears, but I’d really suggest people not use the “reply” button, and stick to the regular old practice of quoting and adding a comment.”

    Okay, your reason is quite valid and I’ll avoid the ‘reply’ button. Thanks for the info.

  55. Tonberry

    (Now, I can imagine being 8 or 9 and being terrified by the first attack on Gotham City, but I’m thinking in terms of an 8 or 9-year-old in early 1960s terms. I doubt it had the same impact on the 1992 version.)

    I can chime in on this. I was five years old. It was in Wyoming. I had all the McDonald’ toys in hand (Batman characters in cars.) And I can remember the movie viewing experience quite vividly. The first attack on Gotham City I thought was great. The creation of Catwoman (with all the cats licking her ‘dead’ body) FREAKED me out. When the Penguin bites of Christopher Walken’s nose, I was REALLY FREAKED out, and dug my face into my mothers arm. I remember being very sad much later when the penguins drug off the Penguins dead body. And then lit up when Catwoman was still alive.

    I remember my Mom commenting to my uncle, nervously laughing ‘Well, that was really dark.”

    Anyway, “The Avengers.” No real complaints. I expected to hate it, and instead, had a good time. I’d see it again, and I doubt any other super hero movie this year is going to top it. A pleasant surprise.

  56. Ken Hanke

    I’m more stunned by your presence here than your story…but I don’t think it’s Walken’s nose the Penguin chomps down on.

  57. Tonberry

    I’m more stunned by your presence here than your story…but I don’t think it’s Walken’s nose the Penguin chomps down on.
    By Ken Hanke

    You are correct. Details like that get fuzzy and tend to blend as you grow up, and I admit I really haven’t seen “Batman Returns” all the way through since I was five. Just bits and pieces. I probably have some childhood scarring because of that movie, and I haven’t realized it until now.

    And of course I had to comment on what’s the big movie at the moment. Though, I don’t have much more to say than “Yeah, it’s good.” That, and I think Mr. Shanafelt first comment is much more in depth and expressed just about my same thougts better than anything I could write.

    Though, I suppose I could add that I think this is possibly the best Marvel movie because it’s got a real satisfying third act.

  58. Ken Hanke

    I think Mr. Shanafelt first comment is much more in depth and expressed just about my same thougts better than anything I could write.

    I think the basic difference between Shanghai Steve and me is simply, I’m more interested in movies than comics, and he’s more interested in comics. Well, hell, if he’s interested in comics at all, he’s more interested than I am, come to think of it.

    Though, I suppose I could add that I think this is possibly the best Marvel movie because it’s got a real satisfying third act.

    That far, I can’t go, if only because it’s an almost completely unoriginal third act. That, however, may be a penalty of the genre.

  59. Orbit DVD

    You might get an opportunity to see a revised Groucho. One review of THE DICTATOR compared it many times to DUCK SOUP.

  60. Tonberry

    That far, I can’t go, if only because it’s an almost completely unoriginal third act. That, however, may be a penalty of the genre.

    Alright, so I get where you’re coming from that there is this trend that the genre needs a massive battle at the end. We’ve seen so much of these now, that what’s meant to be exciting can grow boring, as if you’re watching a big budget video game on the big screen. And it all feels overly long.

    All I can say is it worked for me. I liked how it was constructed, and I liked how every character had their bit to shine (though Hulk and Iron Man clearly steal the show.) I found everything to be easy to follow (it’d be a different story if it was shaky cam hell) and balanced enough that it isn’t a constantly obnoxious BLAM BLAM BLAM for 40 minutes.

    Plus *SPOILER SPOILERS SPOILERS* when Iron Man makes what he thinks is his last call to Ms. Potts and she doesn’t answer, I found to be quite poignant. I knew he was gonna make it in the end, but I liked how that was handled.

    *END SPOILERS*

    My problems with a lot of the Marvel movies is when we get to the last stretch in the movie, it either feels like it goes on too long (my slight gripe with “X-Men 2″, and you could make that argument here) or it ends up being REALLY weak (ugh, “Iron Man” I look at you.)

    It just feels like “The Avengers” got it right. Or maybe I was thinking that it could have been much worse.

  61. Ken Hanke

    You might get an opportunity to see a revised Groucho. One review of THE DICTATOR compared it many times to DUCK SOUP.

    I’ll be vastly surprised. Certainly the reworking of A Night at the OperaBrain Donors I think it was called — didn’t make a dent.

  62. Ken Hanke

    Alright, so I get where you’re coming from that there is this trend that the genre needs a massive battle at the end. We’ve seen so much of these now, that what’s meant to be exciting can grow boring, as if you’re watching a big budget video game on the big screen. And it all feels overly long.

    Exactly, and while this was better done, that’s still what it is. In fact, it’s very close to the ending of a movie from last year.

    My problems with a lot of the Marvel movies is when we get to the last stretch in the movie, it either feels like it goes on too long (my slight gripe with “X-Men 2″, and you could make that argument here) or it ends up being REALLY weak (ugh, “Iron Man” I look at you.)

    No questions that the first Iron Man ending is pretty awful. But the big battle thing threatens to become about on par with Tarzan yodelling for the elephants.

  63. Jeremy Dylan

    Yeah, but Groucho is SO much cooler than Batman.

    For this film, I’d say Groucho is Iron Man. Not sure about Chico and Harpo, but Zeppo is definitely Captain America.

  64. Ken Hanke

    Zeppo is definitely Captain America.

    Even Zeppo is too cool for that.

  65. Jeremy Dylan

    Nolan’s Batman films — and even Burton’s, for that matter — aren’t so much about Batman as they are about reinterpreting the idea of the character through the director’s vision and worldview.

    I’ve yet to see an adaptation of Batman that wasn’t true to some version of him from the comics.

    Whether is be the Bill Dozier television show, the Bruce Timm animated series (my personal favourite), the BBC radio serials, the Schumacher/Goldsman pictures of Chris Nolan’s recent films, they all present a rich white guy who goes around beating up criminals dressed as a bat because his parents got murdered by a mugger when he was a kid.

    There are very few consistent elements to the character in the 70+ years he’s been in continuous publication other than the above.

    I happen to like the animated series more than most, which chimes with the Denny O’Neill/Steve Englehart take on Batman as basically Philip Marlowe in a cape. Dark and noirish, but still fun, unpretentious and genuinely thrilling.

    As much as I dislike BATMAN AND ROBIN, I can’t really look at it and say ‘That’s not Batman’, because it kind of is. It’s not a dissimilar approach to the character than the comics of the 1950s. It doesn’t float my boat, but I think battering around films based on comics for lack of faithfulness is a little misguided anyway.

    These characters have been around for over half a century in a lot of cases. They pretty much have to be filtered through the unifying sensibility of a director and screenwriter for the film to have any semblance of coherency or a point of view. I wouldn’t expect Tim Burton’s Batman film to be anything other than Tim Burton’s interpretation of who Batman is, as realised by Sam Hamm, Michael Keaton et al.

    I don’t think THE AVENGERS is anything less than Joss Whedon’s interpretation of who these characters are, they just happen to chime with interpretations you like from the comics.

  66. Ken Hanke

    a rich white guy who goes around beating up criminals dressed as a bat because his parents got murdered by a mugger when he was a kid.

    Do you realize how downright dumb that sounds stripped to those essentials?

    The serials, by the way, eschew the dead parents trauma and I don’t recall it from the TV show, though it’s a very long time since I saw that — and I bailed before the end of the run as a kid.

  67. Jeremy Dylan

    The serials, by the way, eschew the dead parents trauma and I don’t recall it from the TV show, though it’s a very long time since I saw that — and I bailed before the end of the run as a kid.

    It’s definitely mentioned in the tv series. And even if it wasn’t, none of those contradict that origin story.

    Do you realize how downright dumb that sounds stripped to those essentials?

    I don’t think it sounds dumb. It sounds childish, but that’s one of the parts of the character I’ve always found interesting – a large part of his emotional development stopped when his parents got murdered and he’s spent his life living up a promise he made when he was eight years old.

  68. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think it sounds dumb. It sounds childish, but that’s one of the parts of the character I’ve always found interesting – a large part of his emotional development stopped when his parents got murdered and he’s spent his life living up a promise he made when he was eight years old.

    Dressed up like a bat.

  69. Jeremy Dylan

    Ken, I don’t know why this bothers you so much. You’re a horror movie fan.

  70. Ken Hanke

    Being a fan does not mean I necessarily take all the films seriously or am blind to their manifest absurdity. Can I honestly take a guy in tights dressed up like a bat as a crime fighter with any degree of seriousness? No.

  71. Jeremy Dylan

    How about a guy in a tux and a cape draining women’s blood with his pointy teeth?

  72. Ken Hanke

    Do I take it seriously? No, though I will say the supernatural element and the lack of tights helps.

  73. Big Al

    “I don’t think THE AVENGERS is anything less than Joss Whedon’s interpretation of who these characters are…”

    I think you are giving Joss Whedon WAY TOO MUCH credit for “interpreting” these characters. Read the Marvel “Avengers:Ultimates” series of graphic novels. With very little exception, this movie was created from the comic as if it were a production storyboard (that was where Nick Fury became Sam Jackson), albeit compressing the overall storyline from two large volumes into one chapter. If anyone should be credited with “interpretation”, it should be Marvel’s writers. Whedon just cut-and-pasted from the medium of paper to celluloid.

  74. Xanadon't

    the Bruce Timm animated series (my personal favourite)

    Good man.

    There’s only ONE television show I own on DVD in its entirety, and that’s it right there. I don’t think anyone will improve upon that Batman or that Gotham City no matter what kind of talent or money is thrown at it.

  75. Ken Hanke

    Whedon just cut-and-pasted from the medium of paper to celluloid.

    Are you saying the snappy patter dialogue is in those comics? Really, that’s where most of the film’s characterizations come from. That said, the style of Downey’s wisecracks was defined two films ago anyway.

  76. Jeremy Dylan


    There’s only ONE television show I own on DVD in its entirety, and that’s it right there. I don’t think anyone will improve upon that Batman or that Gotham City no matter what kind of talent or money is thrown at it.

    It does seem unlikely. That show caught lightning in a bottle.

    The great thing about characters with this much elasticity and history is that their can be innumerable interpretations over time in various media. Hopefully, we’ll all find the one interpretation of our favourite characters that just ticks all the boxes for us.

    Take Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I doubt anyone’s going to top Clive Merrison and Michael Williams in the roles as written by Bert Coules, but I’ll still get excited about new versions, including this upcoming CBS thing with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.

  77. Big Al

    “Are you saying the snappy patter dialogue is in those comics? Really, that’s where most of the film’s characterizations come from. That said, the style of Downey’s wisecracks was defined two films ago anyway.”

    In fact, yes, the dialogue in the “Avengers: Ultimates” comics were just as dapper as in the movie. When the alien commander demanded his surrender, Captain America replied ‘the “A” on my uniform does not stand for “France”!’ The exception was the Iron Man/Tony Stark character which was NOT drawn as RDJr. or given his acerbic wit. The character in the comic, was an alcoholic wreck of a man whose fear and self-loathing required frequent ass-kickings from Nick “Sam Jackson” Fury and a much more strategic and aggressive Cap in order to function in the team.

    It was unfortunate that while RBJr rose to the occasion of bringing a BETTER Stark/Iron Man to the big screen, Chris Evans could not do the dame for Cap. SLJ was about what you would expect if you read the comic and then saw the movie. Neither contribution would I attribute to Whedon, he was simply a credible composer to a crop of pretty good self-starting artists.

  78. Ken Hanke

    The exception was the Iron Man/Tony Stark character which was NOT drawn as RDJr. or given his acerbic wit.

    I’d say that’s a sizable contribution — unless you think Downey just made up his lines and character. Now, that said, Whedon had the two previous Iron Man pictures to draw on.

  79. Chip Kaufmann

    “a rich white guy who goes around beating up criminals dressed as a bat.”

    How many criminals dressed as a bat are there?

  80. Ken Hanke

    And he’s ridiculous — even if he’s really just a throwback to the old hooded killer, and he’s a lot less ludicrous than the original version (The Bat from 1926). Of course, it’s also just a contrivance to keep us from knowing who the master criminal is. And…he isn’t wearing tights.

  81. Big Al

    “I’d say that’s a sizable contribution — unless you think Downey just made up his lines and character.”

    I think Downey did contribute a lot to the Stark character, as did director Jon Favreau, so that after the first two movies, the character’s wisacre wit was well-established for Joss Whedon to run with. I saw little in Avengers to suggest Whedon had anything NEW to add. Between the comic (ahem, graphic novel) and the precursers, Whedon’s creative work was essentially done for him (except for Cap, for whom I think he COULD and SHOULD have borrowed more from the comic.

  82. Big Al

    BTW, has anyone ever commented on how much Batman borrows from much older literary-cum-theatrical figures such as Zorro (1913) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1903)?

    All three were wealthy vigilantes combating crime (or political oppresion) while wearing masks, operating out of lairs, and pretending to be harmless, shallow fops in public.

  83. Ken Hanke

    I think Downey did contribute a lot to the Stark character, as did director Jon Favreau, so that after the first two movies, the character’s wisacre wit was well-established for Joss Whedon to run with.

    As an auteurist, it pains me to note that neither Downey, nor Favreau wrote those films. Now, I’m sure that they were written for Downey and with him in mind, and I imagine that Favreau had some input. At the same time, Whedon — and Clapton knows I am not a Whedonite — did write The Avengers, which does give him some credit here. Yes, he wrote in an already defined style. But this wasn’t the issue — the issue was whether or not it was all there in the comics.

    BTW, has anyone ever commented on how much Batman borrows from much older literary-cum-theatrical figures such as Zorro (1913) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1903)?

    It’s certainly a valid point, and I don’t think it’s been addressed — in large part, I imagine, because those characters are no longer a part of the collective pop culture consciousness (which is probably unfortunate). Then again, anybody who is up on this stuff ought to know that Kane has always been very upfront about the influence of The Bat Whispers, which may also be the genesis of Batman as psychotic, since the Bat certainly is. Of course, the Bat is also the villain, which is a distinction of some note. (At the same time, though uncostumed, the “Sapper” character Bulldog Drummond is a bit of fascist thug and he is the hero. I refer here only to the books. The movies kind of left this out.)

    But the bigger question might be — did anyone really think Batman was the last word in originality?

  84. Jeremy Dylan

    BTW, has anyone ever commented on how much Batman borrows from much older literary-cum-theatrical figures such as Zorro (1913) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1903)?

    All three were wealthy vigilantes combating crime (or political oppresion) while wearing masks, operating out of lairs, and pretending to be harmless, shallow fops in public.

    I’m not sure about the Pimpernel, but Zorro was a very strong and direct influence on Bob Kane when he created Batman, especially the Doug Fairbanks film version. As far as I recall, he essentially created the character by taking Zorro and giving him a costume inspired by The Bat Whispers and an old Da Vinci sketch of a flying machine design.

    That’s oversimplifying things a bit, but that’s the gist of it.

  85. Jeremy Dylan

    As an auteurist, it pains me to note that neither Downey, nor Favreau wrote those films.

    Actually, Downey and Favreau rewrote a lot of the Stark character together while in preproduction on the first film, and Downey rewrote a lot of his dialogue in the second.

  86. Ken Hanke

    I’ll take your word for it. You’ve almost certainly delved more into the topic than I.

  87. Xanadon't

    Uh-oh. I fear a double-post. Oh Ken, please fix it. Nobody wants to sit through that twice!

  88. Ken Hanke

    Where is this double post? I don’t see it — or are you planning it for later?

  89. Xanadon't

    Nope, still sitting there on the same browser I left open when I left for work -despite the fact that I hit “send” twice… Hmmm. Guess I’ll try pasting it into a new browser and see if I can get it to go.

  90. Xanadon't

    In answer to Dionysis regarding The Spirit:

    I look forward to how Xandadon’t assesses the film. From what I can glean from reading reviews and comments people made about the film when it was released, there seems to be no middle ground. One either likes it or intensely dislikes it.

    Well I finally caught up with The Spirit and I stand happily in line with those few who liked it. Hard to say what my feelings about it would’ve been upon its release -I suspect not as positive. I do think that the latest influx of underwhelming or completely tone-deaf comic-book movies made The Spirit all the more refreshing in comparison.

    What really attracted me to the film was its confidence in style. And whether the film-makers were paying homage to classic film noir iconography or in cases where they were just going for straight camp I found it all a heck of a lot of fun. I had a dopey smile on my face just about the entire time. And I really enjoyed the various and often ridiculous set-ups and locations that we encounter Octopus.

    Maybe the biggest point of divergence between you and I is that I really enjoyed the hero (and I’ll be checking to see what else this Gabriel Macht has done). I liked the mix of bitter nostalgia and begrudged humor with his character. And I liked the dynamic between the sort of unabashed melodrama surrounding his character and the cheeky self-amusement going on with the rest of the comic-book tropes (The Pathos, Ethos, Logos character for example, or the cheerfully deadpan, down-to-business subservient Silken Floss character). I found the whole thing unapologetically fun and mischievous. Glad I bought a $5 copy because I’ll be watching it again.

  91. Ken Hanke

    Nope, still sitting there on the same browser I left open when I left for work -despite the fact that I hit “send” twice…>

    Our website is nothing if not unreliable.

  92. Ken Hanke

    I do think that the latest influx of underwhelming or completely tone-deaf comic-book movies made The Spirit all the more refreshing in comparison.

    For me, I think it’s less that than the pompous nature of comic book movies that take themselves too seriously that makes me like it.

    And I really enjoyed the various and often ridiculous set-ups and locations that we encounter Octopus.

    “I smell dental…and Nazis.” There is much to be said, I think, for Sam Jackson in an SS uniform. The whole idea of mastermind criminal who literally plays dress-up strikes me as inspired.

    the cheerfully deadpan, down-to-business subservient Silken Floss character

    I like the way she tends to undercut the Octopus’ notions of grandeur.

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