Summer explodes with a vengeance 

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Despite the fresh snow in the alpine or whatever the Gregorian calendar says, it's officially summer — or at least Summer Blockbuster Season. Marvel's The Avengers opens this week and as soon as the first two-hour-plus movie with a budget over $200 million hits screens then you know the Hollywood studios are going for it — less brains, more brawn, let's make some frickin' money!

The good news is that The Avengers doesn't look too bad. It's populated with big name actors battling aliens (and Loki, the Norse trickster god) in order to save the world — wholesale destruction, one-liners and tight suits.

The comic Avengers were kind of a sausage party so thankfully this time around one of those tight suits belongs to Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, although we don't see nearly enough of her over this two-hour, 22-minute offering.

The plot hangs on all these superhero egos being forced to get along and work together to defeat an alien menace that Loki hopes to unleash using some otherworldy power that he may, or may not, be able to control. Nick Fury (Sam Jackson) assembles the Avengers, Earth's greatest heroes, and in between arguing and making fun of Captain America (for obvious reasons, he blows) they tear apart lots of beautiful set-pieces and win the day. Robert Downey Jr. is back in his smart-ass Iron Man role and Mark Ruffalo proves to be the best Hulk yet. Jeremy Renner is in there as Hawkeye and Chris Hemsworth reprises his stiff Thor role.

Director Joss Whedon (Toy Story and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) does a decent job. He understands how to deliver action sequences so much better than most of the big names these days (looking at you Michael Bay). Working within the comic/blockbuster lines however, Whedon's Avengers is ultimately a long, loud comic translation that hurls visceral entertainment at you with more force than Thor's hammer. And if you still remember any of it at this time next week you're a more astute movie watcher than me. Have fun, but don't expect much more than that.

One of the problems with The Avengers is that, in the comics, they were never that cool in the first place. The Avengers were always a total shitmix of characters — a Norse God, an armour-clad Batman rip-off, a soldier on really strong LSD, The Hulk, plus two characters named after bugs? (Ant Man and The Wasp didn't even make it into the new film, thankfully.) Most of the individual Avengers were cool enough on their own (except dorky Captian America), but the sum was never greater than the parts. The Avengers were a group, while the X-Men were a real team.

Opening last week in both Squambodia and Whistletown is the claymation tour-de-force The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Made by stop-motion masters Aardvark studios (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run) and obviously aimed at kids (yet still containing adult in-jokes) this one is about Pirate Captain's quest to win the "Pirate of the Year" award, and how he gets his opportunity thanks to a run in with Charles Darwin and his parrot/dodo bird.

There's lots of action and some good British humour, but the 88-minute film doesn't quite hold up to the (admittedly high) expectations that come with any Aardvark production. The claymation is pantshitting, but the story, characters and fun-factor are just not quite there. This one screens in 2D only.

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