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

Serenity

  • Title:  Serenity
  • Director:  Joss Whedon
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  SF, Action
  • Cast:  Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Straite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This is the captain, we have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then explode.”  — Capt. Mal Reynolds

“I aim to misbehave.”  — Capt. Mal Reynolds

Another film I received as a gift, though I had seen Serenity in the theater, and liked it.  Mind you, I liked it, not loved it.  Serenity is the film sequel to the short-lived television series, Firefly.  What is it about Firefly that its fans are about as rabid as Fundamentalists – and about as hard to convince you’re really not interested?  I’ve seen the TV show, and it just didn’t catch my interest, for many reasons, only one of which is it’s a Western (and a thinly disguised one at that) — the heroes are also soldiers of the South who lost a Galactic Civil War.  Think about that.

The film starts, without credits, with a prologue or teaser, showing Simon Tan breaking his sister, River, out of a government “research” facility.  Yes, this is another “science is bad; government is bad” science fiction movie.  I miss when SF meant adventure, wonder, and fun, instead of the now popular anti-science and anti-government parables.  Anyway, Simon succeeds in getting River out, as we know, since the two were passengers on Capt. Mal Reynolds ship, Serenity.  However, the film does, to it’s credit, have a much more linear sense than the television series ever did, which helps considerably.

Mal and his crew are on a job, but River accidentally sees a subliminal message in a very weird commercial – and goes bonkers, then knocks out or kills everyone in a frontier bar.  Mal and company return to Haven, Shepherd Book’s community for shelter.  They leave to pick-up the Companion, who had left to conduct her own business, and return to find everyone in Haven dead.  But through River’s actions, they now have a problem to solve:  What is Miranda?  Why does the Alliance (a system-wide government of several planets) want River dead?  Just what is going on?

Eventually they discover Miranda is a planet — a planet no one knows and no know talks about.  They discover it’s located beyond the Reaver band.  Reavers are vicious killers – cannibals, and violent criminals.  We see a Reaver attack early in the film, to explain to the audience how awful they are.  Mal disguises his ship as a Reaver ship, to get through the band, un-harassed.  This works.  They find planet Miranda, but everyone there is dead.  At first, it seems there’s no obvious reason that everyone’s dead — no signs of environmental disaster, no signs of violence.  But they discover a recording.  The Alliance put Pax, a drug in the air system — the drug had such a calming effect people stopped doing anything.  But for about ten percent of the population, it had the opposite effect — people went wild, and became monsterous, violent, killers.  It other words, a bad drug reaction created the Reavers.  The ultimate “bad trip”.  Not to mention that Pax, the drug that calms people to death, sounds an awful lot like “Bliss” – the drug that did the same thing in the Doctor Who episode “Gridlock”.  But ideas do run around.

Mal and company then have to get the recorded message to Mr. Universe, the ultimate TV/Media fan so he can broadcast it on all screens.  The government agent who’s been chasing them throughout the film gets there first, and kills Mr. Universe.  But, Mal receives a message about a secondary transmitter (unfortunately, Mal does not erase or destroy the message — so the agent also hears it).  The conclusion of the film has what’s left of Mal’s band fighting a historic last stand, and getting injured one at a time, while Mal goes one on one against the agent before he can send out the message.  Course, Mal wins, and he also doesn’t kill the agent, just ties him up.  River defeats the Reavers who had been after the remainder of Mal’s shipmates.  Book was killed in Haven and Wash is killed when Serenity makes a less than perfect landing.

Overall, though not a bad film by any means (the acting is very good, and the film has some very strong, and very different female characters), it also doesn’t stand up that well.  Some of  the “shocks” of the film I remembered from having seen it six years ago, weren’t shocking now because you expected them (the biggest of these is Wash’s death, which really seems like a waste, and pointless).  It’s not a bad film, not by any means, but it’s not a exceptional film either.

Recommendation:  Do see it.
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Shall We Dance (1937)

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

  • Title:  Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
  • Director:  Joss Whedon
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  Mutant Enemy Productions
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy
  • Music:  Joss Whedon & Jed Whedon
  • Lyrics:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen
  • Cast:  Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“Destroying the Status Quo, because the status is not quo.”  — Dr. Horrible

“She talked to me!  Why did she talk to me now?”  — Dr. Horrible (Billy)

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is what happens when creative people are told they can’t work.  The project was made during the writer’s strike.  Whedon, who as a member of the writer’s guild, couldn’t write for pay, got together with a bunch of his currently unemployed actor buddies, and produced this – and put it on the Internet for free.  Which is both why it’s so short (roughly 42 minutes) and why it’s in three “acts” (the parts would have been posted separately to allow for easier streaming and download on-line).  Later the movie was edited together and put on DVD.  The DVD also includes “Commentary – The Musical”, which is a full-length musical commentary.  And yes, it is as fun as it sounds.

Plot is actually very much something the average geek, nerd, or dork can identify with — though I mean that in a good way.  Dr. Horrible, aka Billy (Neil Patrick Harris), hosts a video blog, and is very shy around girls, especially Penny (Day) — the girl he sees at the laundromat  twice a week.  Penny is sweet and kind, and works with the homeless.  Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), Dr. Horrible’s nemesis, is built, handsome, and totally clueless about the way he actually treats people.

Dr. Horrible is trying to get into the Evil League of  Evil, run by Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin.  He’d also like to win over Penny, but is too shy to really talk to her.  He also manages to accidentally introduce Penny to Captain Hammer — and they start dating, much to Horrible’s chagrin.  He develops his Freeze Ray to freeze time, and a Death Ray, but is about to realize he can’t kill a defenseless and frozen Captain Hammer, when the freezing stops working.  In the ensuing fracas… well, buy the DVD.

The music is fun, and full of some very amusing lyrics.  If you’ve seen “Buffy:  The Musical”, you’ll recognize some of the techniques used here — lots of over-lapping sung lyrics, duets and even trios between the three main characters, and returning themes in the music.  Overall, the storyline doesn’t have a happy ending though, unlike most musicals – but it is 80-90 percent sung, with very little dialogue. The dialogue is only used to connect the various songs; and it’s the songs that actually move the plot along.

Overall, a fun, amusing, and somewhat strange short film.

List of  Musical Numbers (Titles approximate)

  • Laundry Day — Billy
  • Bad Horse Chorus
  • Caring Hands for Homeless Shelter — Penny
  • A Man’s Gotta Do, What a Man’s Gotta Do (Dr. Horrible)
  • A Man’s Gotta Do — Captain Hammer
  • Thank You for Saving Me — Penny
  • Evil Inside me Is On the Rise — Dr. Horrible
  • Some Kind of Harmony is on the Rise — Penny
  • Story of a Girl — Penny
  • A Brand New Day — Dr. Horrible
  • So They Say — Captain Hammer
  • Everyone’s a Hero in their Own Way — Captain Hammer
  • Society is Slipping / Say It Was Horrible —  Dr. Horrible
  • Here Lies Everything, the World I Wanted at My Feet – Dr. Horrible

Recommendation:  A Must See
Rating:  4
Next Film:  Dr. No (James Bond)