The Avengers – A Study In Character Development

I’ve seen this movie twice already, on Thursday date night with Nicole and again yesterday with my nephew. I wholeheartedly agree with my friend Josh’s statement over on Fantasy Book Review that this is the best comic book movie ever.

While Josh talks about the movie as a whole, what I want to touch on a bit is the characters and the acting, because I think every single person has lifted their game for this movie, and they were allowed to do so because their characters were written so well. When you look back on this movie you will remember those epic action sequences, but when you watch it a second time you realise it is the interactions between the characters that make you laugh, that make you smile, that make you anxious, that even make you sad. I’m going to come out and say it, Joss Whedon is a freaking genius and watching this movie you can just tell that everyone had a lot more fun.

Definitely lives up to the hype!

We have gotten to know Tony Stark as Ironman over a couple of movies now, and while the second movie had a great story, the characterisation was poor. In this movie, Whedon lets Stark play the billionaire playboy philanthropist, lets him be the arrogant smart ass. Unlike Ironman 2 where Stark is forced to grow up and stop being a dick, Whedon says go ahead Tony, be a dick, because I am going to put you into situations that make you choose whether or not you become a hero, and whatever you choose, you might want to hang onto something comfortable. Downey Jr. looks a lot more comfortable doing this, he is given free rein to be himself, and it works.

Thor has been given a small personality makeover in this movie, he has been given a dry wit which combines well with his archaic way of speaking, he makes well reasoned decisions, and he just acts like a god. He is just there to bring his brother to justice, he laughs at the petty leadership squabbles between the other heroes, but over time he comes to appreciate his new companions and readily accepts his place in the team. The big change is in his dialogue – it makes much more sense, it shows that there are multiple dimensions to his character, and because of this is delivered much more fluently by Hemsworth.

Ok I'll put my hammer down, on your face!

Captain America is so noble it hurts, and Evans plays him exactly the same way as he did in the Captain America movie. He is a natural leader and it is this side that Whedon decides to grow. On my second viewing I started to notice all these little moments where it was Captain America who would take charge to stop the squabbling between heroes. So when it comes time for the final battle, it comes as no surprise when Captain America steps up and starts directing all the heroes around the battlefield.

Renner and Johansson are awesome as Hawkeye and Black Widow. You can tell that there is a lot of history between these two characters, and Whedon uses that to his advantage, putting one in danger to evoke a response from the other, and vice versa. It could have been very easy for them to become completely overshadowed by the empowered heroes, but they are given tasks designed specifically for their skill sets that make sense within the context of the movie, and in the end you cheering just as much for them as you are for all the big names.

Hey Hawkeye, you know the Black Widow kills her mate after sex right?

But not everyone can be an avenger, and the support cast does get outshone a little by the big personalities. That said, Samuel L. Jackson owns the screen as Nick Fury for the few brief moments that he gets it, Clark Gregg gives his best performance yet as the very likeable Agent Coulson and I would have loved to see him get more screen time, and Cobie Smulders is a great addition as Agent Hill always there prodding and prying at the motives and actions of her boss Nick Fury while also showing some kickass driving and flying skills.

Hey, we're important too!

Tom Hiddleston gives a much better performance as Loki this time around, and I think that has a lot to do with the writing and directing. Loki just oozes super villain this time around, from the very first scene where he effortlessly wipes out a bunch of SHIELD agents, he is mean, he is powerful, he is charming, he is funny, and he is desperate for vengeance. From the snivelling coward he was in Thor, Loki has truly grown in stature and ability, his well formed motivations are a complex reflection of a mind that he is trying to rebuild after it was shattered in the Thor movie, and I think all this makes him the best villain I have seen in any comic book movie.

Kneel humans, it is more becoming of you.

But it is Mark Ruffalo who steals the show here, who with the assistance of Whedon has brought The Hulk back from that dark and gritty place he was taken to in the previous two Hulk movies. Not to say that Ruffalo’s portrayal does not have dark and gritty, just that in this movie Bruce Banner is allowed to show more emotions than just depression. We get to see the resilience and good nature of Dr Banner, and these two emotions contrast brilliantly against the raw destructive nature of The Hulk.

And somehow Whedon manages to weave all these big personalities together, not into a cohesive team but into a cohesive movie. Whedon doesn’t try to force them into a mould, he just puts them all together on a flying aircraft carrier and lets them work out their own mould. They are allowed to argue, they are allowed to fight, they are allowed to tear each other apart, and that is what grounds this movie in reality, and that is why people will go back again and again to see this movie. Because these characters act as if they are part of their own special family, and you can draw parallels between watching that family grow and watching your own family grow.

HULK SMASH!!!

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Is Michael Bay Really Destroying Your Childhood?

He is the director who polarises audiences one explosion at a time. He is the director who gave us the awesomeness that is Transformers, the nonsensical Transformers 2, and the diabolical Transformers 3. He is the director who gave us the most amazing scenes ever with Megan Fox pretending to know stuff about cars and bikes.

It squirts the fuel in so you can go faster.

I think I broke the drive shaft.

So today it was announced that Michael Bay will be taking his turn at bringing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen. Spoiler Alert – The turtles turn out to be aliens. This has incensed a lot of people from every corner of the globe, with one former voice actor for the cartoon series saying that Michael Bay is “sodomizing” the TMNT legacy.

Time to get over it guys. It’s probably going to hurt a little bit inside but modern kids just don’t get the old school TMNT cartoons that our childhood was blessed with. Take off those rose-tinted glasses, appreciate the past for all it’s worth, and be a true fan by helping as many kids as you can to experience the awesomeness of TMNT with this new movie. Nobody is going to take your childhood away, the personal experiences you had with this great show have helped to define who you are and will stay with you forever.

This notion of reboots and adaptations destroying childhoods is a tired one,  one for people who are so caught up by that favourite TV show or book they loved that they refuse to acknowledge any reimagination of that TV show or book that does not match the lingering memories in their head. Oh no they left out Tom Bombadil out of Lord of the Rings – whoop-dee-doo. Harry and Hermione never shared an intimate dance in the books – no but it was a nice touch that showed how deep their relationship had become better than any dialogue could have done.

I can understand why people get upset when the movie version leaves out their favourite part or adds in new material that never existed in the original works, but not including that one scene that meant something deeply personal to you does not mean that the movie sucks. It’s time to appreciate that the original material is just that, material, and the writers / director are going to use that material as the basis for their own story that makes sense as a film. The book / TV show movie adaptations that fail are the ones that try to stick exactly to the book and make no effort to turn the material into their own story ie Eragon. If you want some good examples of film makers making the material their own, look no further than the Harry Potter films directed by David Yates, or the new 21 Jump Street movie written by Jonah Hill. Awesome movies that stay true to the essence of the source material but with their own style and flare.

Michael Bay is not destroying your childhood, he is just using certain aspects of it as a setting for his explosions. And I am comfortable with that, TMNT is a cartoon show that could have used more explosions.