The Avengers

  • Title:  The Avengers
  • Director:  Joss Whedon
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Paramount, Marvel Studios
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, SF
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisoff, Clark Gregg
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“The cube is a doorway to the other end of space, right?  Doors open from both sides.” — Clint Barton
 
“I’d like to know why S.H.I.E.L.D. is using the Tesseract to build weapons of mass destruction.”  — Dr. Bruce Banner
 
“Is this the first time you lost a soldier?”  — Capt. Steve Rogers
“We are not soldiers!” — Tony Stark
The Avengers takes several heroes from previous Marvel films and brings them together into a team-up movie, as a new super-hero group, The Avengers, is assembled to combat Loki’s challenge, find the mysterious Tesseract cube Loki has stolen,  and ultimately to fight an army of creatures from another galaxy.
The film opens with an attack by Loki on a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility.  He uses his staff to take control of Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye) and succeeds in taking the Tesseract cube.  In the chaos, the facility is destroyed.  Recognising that the special circumstances call for a special team and a special response, Nick Fury calls for Agent Phil Coulson to assemble a team who will become The Avengers.  The beginning of the film introduces and assembles this team, all of whom are in the midst of their own problems, but they put their own problems aside to combat Loki’s threat.  The team is:  Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) an assassin, Dr. Bruce Banner (the Hulk), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Capt. Steve Rogers (Captain America), Thor, and S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.
Once the team is assembled, they begin to look for Loki and the Tesseract.  They easily find Loki in Stuttgart, Germany.  Captain America and Ironman fight and capture Loki, with some help from Black Widow, a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopter, and Thor.  However, once they take Loki to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s heli-carrier (remember the Valiant from the Doctor Who episodes:  “The Sontaran Stratagem”/”The Poison Sky”? – it looks like that.) it seems that Loki wanted to be taken.  He plays the team, attempting to get Dr. Bruce Banner so angry that he turns into the Hulk and smashes the carrier in flight.  Despite the Avengers figuring out this plan, it works. Hawkeye, still under Loki’s control, also attacks the carrier.  Stark and Rogers have to work together to prevent the entire carrier from crashing.  Agent Phil Coulson is killed by Loki.  Both Thor and Hulk fall out of the heli-carrier, but are un-hurt when they land.  Prior to his turning into the Hulk, Banner and Stark both got along very well.  Stark treated Banner well, complimented his scientific work and papers, and even inviting Banner to Stark Tower to work in R&D.  The same cannot be said of Stark and Rogers – who strongly dislike each other at first.  Loki successfully escapes, though Stark and Rogers are able to prevent the carrier from crashing.
Recovering from their losses, and the death of  Agent Coulson, the Avengers plan their next move.  After a discussion with Rogers, Tony realises that Loki will use the new Arc Reactor self-perpetuating green power source at Stark Tower to accomplish his plans.
The film moves to New York, where Loki has already opened a portal to another galaxy.  Alien creatures go through the portal and start causing chaos – attacking everything, destroying buildings, and killing people.  Tony first challenges Loki, then co-ordinates the counter-attack. Eventually all the Avengers join the fight. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s shadowy cabinet decides to cut their losses and target a nuclear missile on the city.  Fury is, well, furious, at the very idea and refuses to comply with the order.  The cabinet sends out a fighter jet to send in the nuke anyway.  Fury informs Ironman, who informs the other Avengers.  Tony then takes the missile and carries it into the portal.  He sees it blow-up, cutting off  the alien’s power, then falls to earth.  Stark barely makes it through the portal before Natasha closes it with Loki’s staff.  Hulk catches the powerless, falling Stark.
Tony and Pepper are adorable and cute together at the beginning of the film, when Coulson comes to bring Ironman into the mission.  When he’s heading for the portal and thinking he will probably die, Tony agrees, at Jarvis’s suggestion, to call Pepper.  She, however, misses his call.
News clips round-up the story, with man-on-the-street type interviews with those saved by the Avengers, as well as political pundits who criticize the destruction of the city.  Thor takes Loki and the Tesseract; Tony and Banner ride off together, Steve leaves on his own motorcycle, and later Tony and Pepper are in his lab re-designing Stark Tower.  The Avengers have split apart but they will draw together again when needed.
The film is a great ensemble piece, with crackling, snappy dialogue.  I enjoyed it very much.  I really liked the “science bromance” of  Tony Stark and Dr. Bruce Banner.  Stark is a genuine admirer of  the other man, and is not in fear of  the green “rage monster” as he calls it.  He’s shocked when Banner admits he had once attempted to shoot himself, only to have “the other guy” spit out the bullet. Natasha and Clint also seemed to have a history, though Hawkeye spends most of the film in Loki’s thrall, she is, eventually able to break that and he joins the Avengers for the final battle.  Overall, this was a great summer “popcorn” movie.  It’s fun, the actors all did a great job, and the characters were very cool.  When I saw it last year, the only other Marvel films I’d seen were some of the X-men movies and the (Tobey McGuire) Spiderman films (which aren’t connected at all), and Thor (which was).  This film got me to see the Ironman films, largely due to Robert Downey Jr.’s excellent performance, which I enjoyed (see reviews on this blog).  The Avengers shows that an ensemble piece with several characters with elaborate backstorys can still work as a film.  Warner Brothers are you listening?  Make Justice League!  Anyway, it’s recommended.
Recommendation:  Go see it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Third Man
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Star Trek (2009)

  • Title:  Star Trek (2009)
  • Director:  J.J. Abrams
  • Date:  2009
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  SF, Action
  • Cast:  John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Cross, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoë Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Morrison
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Emotions run deep within our race – in many ways more deeply than in humans.  Logic offers a serenity humans seldom experience, the control of feelings, so that they do not control you.”  — Sarek

“Your aptitude tests are off the charts so what is it?  You like being the only genius-level repeat offender in the Midwest?  ….  But you feel like you were meant for something better.  Something special.  Enlist in Star Fleet.”  — Christopher Pike

“Damn it, man, I’m a doctor, not a physicist.  Are you actually suggesting they’re from the future?”  — McCoy
“If  you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” — Spock, quoting Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Abrams’ re-boot of  the Star Trek franchise re-casts everyone with a very, very young command crew. However, this crew, barely graduated from Star Fleet Academy, earns their stripes in the midst of disaster and war, so one can forgive how young and inexperienced they really are.  Moreover, the film emphasizes the immediate connection between Kirk and McCoy and the somewhat more difficult road to friendship between Kirk and Spock.

The film opens with a bang, when George Kirk’s ship is attacked by the Romulan, Nero.  George manages to evacuate the ship and protect the unarmed and unshielded shuttles by fending off Nero’s attack, but he loses his life in the process.  However, his wife survives the attack and James Kirk is born. Yet, we don’t see Kirk’s mother again.  A few years later, young James Kirk is a hellion – borrowing a car before he can really drive, driving fast and hard, and then destroying the car and nearly himself. Meanwhile, Spock undergoes typical Vulcan training – a enriched media multi-tasking experience where students are tested in individual pods.  However, he is also taunted by his school mates.

We next meet Kirk as a young 20-something (probably between the ages of 18 and 24), a townie who goes to a bar near Star Fleet’s recruitment center to pick up women.  This doesn’t go well when a couple of bruisers from security beat him to a pulp.  But he does meet Christopher Pike who gives him a different view of his father’s death.  Kirk decides to join Star Fleet.

Spock also, is at a turning point.  He’s accepted into the Vulcan Science Academy, but when the acceptance committee remarks that it’s “amazing” how well he’s done despite his “handicap” of being half-human, Spock turns down the position and instead joins Star Fleet.

Back at the academy, Kirk is preparing to take the Kobayashi Maru test for the third time.  The “no-win scenario” test is built as a test of character.  Kirk manages to win by changing the parameters of  the test.  He’s brought up on charges of cheating.  But before anyone can do anything, an emergency distress call is received from Vulcan.  All cadets are sent out on ships to assist.  Kirk, McCoy, Uhura, Spock, Chekov, and Sulu all end-up on the newly-built Enterprise, under Capt. Pike.

Arriving near Vulcan, the Enterprise encounters Nero.  As before with the USS Kelvin, Nero attacks, then invites the Captain onto his ship.  Pike, who did his dissertation on the loss of  the Kelvin, knows he’s walking into a trap, but also knows there’s nothing else to do.  But he has Kirk, Sulu, and an Australian space jump to a drilling platform the Romulans have placed on Vulcan that is also blocking transporters and communications.  The Australian dies, but Kirk and Sulu manage to shut off the transporter / communications blocking and stop the drill itself.  They are rescued, but it’s too late for Vulcan – the Romulans have injected Red Matter which will turn the planet into a Black Hole.

When Spock realizes this he beams down to Vulcan to rescue the Elders of his planet, including his parents. He rescues Sarek and a hand full of others, but Amanda is killed.

After this tragedy, Spock is understandably a little off-balance, and he falls back on calm logic — ordering that the Enterprise rendezvous with the rest of the fleet in order to plot their next move.  Kirk argues vehemently that they must do something to stop Nero, that they have no time to return to the fleet per standing orders.  Spock over-rules him, and then kicks him off  the ship via a life-pod.

Kirk lands on a frozen planet and encounters an unconvincing CGI monster (the only sequence in the entire film I didn’t like) then takes shelter in a cave. There he meets Spock Prime and learns the plot. Far in the future, Spock had been tasked with using Red Matter to turn a Supernova into a Black Hole and thus saving the planet Romulus.  But, he was too late and Romulus was destroyed.  Nero saw the destruction, went berserk and decided to make Spock suffer by destroying Vulcan.  He time-traveled back to the past, destroyed the USS Kelvin, and twenty-five years later Spock arrived, having followed him through the Black hole.

But what shocks Spock more than anything else is that Kirk can’t stand Spock’s younger self and that Spock can’t stand Kirk.  Spock gives a hint of  what their friendship means through his mind-meld with Kirk (while also explaining what’s going on).  They leave the cave and hike through the snow to a Star Fleet outpost and encounter Scotty.  Spock gives Montgomery Scott the equation for Transwarp Beaming, which Scott discovered, thus creating a non-invention paradox.  (EG — If  Scott discovered it but hasn’t yet, and Spock gave him the info to discover, which he then discovered – then where did the equation come from?)

Kirk and Scott beam onto the Enterprise, and Kirk provokes Spock into an emotional reaction to take him out of command.  He then orders a direct warp to Earth.  At Earth, Nero is using the drill to attack near San Francisco (home of Star Fleet) and destroy Earth with Red Matter.  Kirk and crew stop him and rescue an injured Pike.

Upon returning to the Academy, Kirk is given command of the Enterprise, and Pike retires.  Kirk’s crew will include Spock as first officer who is convinced to do so by Spock Prime and Scotty.

I loved this film when I first saw it, and I still love it now.  Karl Urban is a wonderful, angsty Bones McCoy, still smarting from his divorce, though they changed the origin of Kirk’s nick-name for him.  Chris Pine mimics Shatner’s body language, but gives us an edgier Kirk, still smarting from the loss of his father. Quinto’s Spock is much more emotional, especially after the loss of his mother, a parent he was quite close to.  It’s interesting that in Abrams’ re-imagining of  Star Trek – both the principles have lost a parent. When I saw this film in 2009 I wanted a sequel, and it looks like one might be coming in 2013, we’ll see.

This film also has some wonderful special effects sequences in space – the space dock, the launch of  the Enterprise and other ships, even the destruction of Vulcan are all realized well.  And I liked all the classic characters:  Sulu and Chekov are both great, the classic trio of McCoy, Kirk, and Spock, though young and new at their jobs, are already showing the hints of great friendship, and Scotty is amusing and promising.  Uhura has been updated to be confident, bright, and an expert in xeno-linguistics.  She’s also having an affair with Spock, but you can’t have everything.

Recommendation:  See it!  Highly Recommended.
Rating:  Five out of  Five Stars
Next Film:  Star Trek II The Wrath of  Khan