Friday, May 4, 2012

Film Review: The Avengers

With as few spoilers as possible; any spoilers will be hidden through the magic of inviso-text (highlight to read).

The Avengers is probably the most anticipated film of the summer (with all due apologies to Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus). It's going to make an absurd amount of money, and it's garnered something on the order of 85% positive ratings at Rotten Tomatoes. I got to see it on Friday with my family, in 3D (no IMAX).

In a word, it was a great time.

That said, the film is not without its flaws, and I would hesitate to call it (as some have) the best superhero movie of all time.

First the good.

The dialog is absolutely terrific, and it makes the movie. People who bitch and moan about Joss Whedon being some sort of fanboy need to realize that it is precisely his love of the material that make his take on the characters work so well. Tony Stark is flawless with his snappy one-liners, and both Captain America and Thor are completely consistent with their depiction in their respective feature films, as the man-out-of-time boy scout and the former spoiled prince who has finally come into his role as grave and wise heir to the throne of Asgard. Loki is well done as the schemer par excellence, and I found Nick Fury to be well done as the ringmaster (some reviewers found his character lacking, but I thought he was spot-on).

The actors all obviously benefited from this not being their first outing (with the exception of Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk, but he was great in the role nonetheless; its one of those times when you're casting for the mundane alter-ego, and he's great there). I've got to point out, though, that even though Tony Stark had the lion's share of lines, the best line of the film goes to the Hulk. You'll know it when you hear it.

One thing I particularly liked about Whedon's script is that we saw some real growth in the major characters. Once they get past their natural ego-driven antagonisms (which erupt into a long series of fights between various parings of the characters), they all seem to "get it", and it's a sight to behold once the light bulb goes off over their collective heads that they need to set aside their egos and work as a team. Tony Stark's very understated "Call it, Captain" is pure art, borne of a love for, and understanding of, the characters.

The music was workmanlike, I thought, but it certainly didn't detract from the film like, I thought, it did from Thor. The special effects were, as one might expect, spectacular (with one caveat-- see below). The fact that the Hulk actually looks like Mark Ruffalo is absolutely wonderful. And Black Widow is one of the best characters, male or female, to come out of comic book films in a long time. She is not only completely bad-ass when it comes to fighting, but she's got a fiercely manipulative intelligence that shines in her scenes.

Now the bad.

Don't waste your time on the 3D. Seriously. I can remember only 2 shots when the 3D even mattered, and throughout the movie I found a very distracting double-image where a bright light was placed against a dark background (which happened a whole bunch of times, especially, but not exclusively, in the first half of the film). The 3D (and, I might add, the IMAX) was added in post-production. Save yourself the extra $4.

I'm a huge fan of the idea that strong villains make great films. I already pointed out that Tom Hiddleston's Loki was well-written, and he did a great job of bringing him to life, but... the alien Chitauri were absolutely lacking.

The Chitauri, in fact, are the biggest disappointment of the film. They're supposed to be incredibly bad-ass warriors, but their entire strategy seems to consist of shooting up random buildings. And then they all conveniently drop dead when the big ship a billion light years away is destroyed? It seemed very contrived. Moving up the ship's destruction a bit in the final climactic battle, and then showing some scenes of mopping up would have made a lot more sense to me.

I must say that while I understand the purpose of the parade of Avenger-on-Avenger fight scenes, they got a bit tiresome after a while. Stark vs. Thor, Thor vs. Captain America, Black Widow vs. Hulk, etc. etc. etc. It was like reading through the entire run of Marvel's What If? comics. It got old, but only at the very end.

On the whole, I really, really liked this movie. It's a fitting capstone to the recent series of Marvel superhero films, starting with Iron Man, and it really set up some interesting things both in terms of plot and character for the heroes in their inevitable follow-up movies. I only hope they can maintain this level of quality. Although I've got to say a cameo by Spider Man would have made this movie. Yeah, I know why it couldn't happen, but a geek can dream.

But as far as this being the best superhero movie of all time? I'm afraid I must still award that particular laurel to X-Men: First Class. because Shaw and Magneto are so effective as villains. But this one is definitely up there.

Dave Arneson's Personal Game Collection

This was a great way to start my morning (no sarcasm intended at all). Apparently, Dave Arneson's personal collection of games and notes from his days as a designer were left in a storage unit after his death. Eventually, they were put up for auction, and found their way to The Dragon's Trove, which specializes in auctioning exactly that sort of material. From their website:
In early 2011, The Dragon's Trove had to chance to buy what is arguably one of the two most important collections of gaming materials every offered for sale, the one belonging to the late Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons. In my opinion, the only other more important collection would be the one owned by the late Gary Gygax that is currently being sold off by his widow, Gail. When I was contacted by the owner Dave's collection, it was immediately apparent how lucky all gamers were that this collection was not lost forever. Because it purchased at a storage locker auction (that's right, just like on TV) and it was by pure chance that the new owner attempted to find the meaning of some of the boxes of paper rather than deciding that there was no gold or jewelry to be found, and just tossing it all into the nearest dumpster.

Now, after nearly a year of careful cataloging and research by Paul Stormberg of The Collector's Trove, we are proud to offer this once in a lifetime collection to the public. Paul Stormberg is probably the foremost expert of this type of esoteric collection, and will be holding a series of auctions over the coming months to allow the vast assortment of items to find a home. You can follow this on his site here:

The Collector's Trove's Web Site

I'm very pleased that things worked out the way they did, and am looking forward to seeing some of the hitherto-unknown material come to light.

The Collector's Trove will also be auctioning a portion of the collection starting this Sunday:
The auction will include nearly 200 items including several rare wargames, Call of Cthulhu, Empire of the Petal Throne, Blackmoor, Dungeons & Dragons, and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Highlights of the auction will include inscribed and autographed copies, editorial and review copies, author's and comp copies, Dave Arneson library copies, and personal play copies! Among many special items are a series of Empire of the Petal Throne books and journals autographed by the late M.A.R. Barker.