And Bob Marley gets a tribute film.
By Michael Calleri
It begins earlier and earlier, and it's possible the summer movie season will one day kick-off in April, but right now "The Avengers" is already first out of the starting gate for summer 2012 at the movies.
The Marvel comic book adventure is one of more than fifty new releases that qualify as summer entertainment. In fact, among the raft of pictures hoping to sizzle are a dozen films that fall into the blockbuster category and merit consideration in the prequel, sequel, reboot, or spin-off category. And, you can add another title to the list if you consider Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" to be a prequel. Some do, some don't. Look for a new Batman saga, a fresh version of Spider-Man, a third action comedy about those men in black, an updated edition of "Total Recall," and a young Jason Bourne before he was Matt Damon. Additionally, there's a restored version of "Yellow Submarine" with enhanced sound that will open.
"The Avengers" has been huge at the box office around the world, where it has been playing for a couple of weeks. As of this writing, it has scored more than $450-million in ticket sales in foreign markets. Its recent opening weekend take in the United States was more than $207-million. The movie is offered in 2D and 3D versions. I saw the film in Paris at a superb theater in the newly-developed southeast quarter of the city. The imagery and sound was extraordinary, and the seating consisted of single unit, row-length comfort zones, probably best described as an extended cushy red couch. There were double-width arm rests that pulled down out of the cushion. No cup holders, but that makes sense. In France, although popcorn, ice cream, candy, and soda is often, but not always, available, not many moviegoers eat during a film. And, except for cheers and laughter, there wasn't a negative sound in the theater from the audience as the feature unreeled. People don't talk, they watch. And not a cell phone glow to be seen. The French have a great respect for the movie-going experience.
Seeing movies in France is especially unique because unlike, say, Italy where everything is dubbed into the national language, the French like to hear a picture's original words and the actor's actual voices. Thus, in the case of "The Avengers," English is heard and the film is subtitled in French. It may be hard to fathom that American fanboys and fangirls would be ready, willing, and able to watch a comic book adventure with subtitles, but in France, "version originale" is the preferred method for viewing everything that's offered.
There has been much anticipation for "The Avengers" because Marvel fanatics have long been eager to see some of their favorite superheroes join forces to battle evil. This movie mostly delivers the goods. You've got Tony Stark/Iron Man, Steve Rogers/Captain America, Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Natasha Romanoff/the Black Widow, Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Nick Fury, and Thor.
The storyline is clear, although the set-up may be a bit longer than necessary. Angry Asgardian Loki is not pleased with his relative, the hammer-wielding Thor. In addition, Loki controls something called the "tesseract," which is best described as a glowing, pulsating cube that promises world domination. Needless perhaps to write, but Loki threatens planet Earth.
Working in consort with Agent Phil Coulson, a government official, Nick Fury summons his squabbling band of superheroes. Their mission, which they will definitely choose to accept, is to stop Loki from carrying out his nefarious deed. Fury controls his forces from a massive aircraft carrier that also doubles as a hovercraft. For his part, Loki controls winged mercenaries and nasty looking coiled creatures that resemble nothing less than an over-armored, malevolent Slinky. The battle will be waged in New York City.
"The Avengers" is directed by Joss Whedon and is based on a screenplay by Whedon. It's crafted from a story by the director and Zak Penn, with an additional pair of credits to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
The movie is weakest at the beginning where it slowly, perhaps too slowly, attempts to explain a lot of Avenger and Norse history. This isn't helped by an unsure performance by Mark Ruffalo as Banner. Granted he will be different once he turns green and is pumped up and angry, but at the outset, Ruffalo seems unsure of himself, almost bewildered, as if he's wondering what he's doing in this specific film.
However, once the story moves forward and Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark, begins to get sarcastic with his sidekick Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a sort of crazy scientist played by Stellan Skarsgard adds some humor, the picture finds its footing. It's helped by good acting from Chris Evans as a confused Captain America and also from Chris Hemsworth as a strong and helpful Thor. As Fury, Samuel L. Jackson offers nothing he hasn't done before. Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner, as Natasha and Clint respectively, will get to shine during the all-out battle that rages for an extended amount of screen time. Tom Hiddleston is a suitably melodramatic Loki. Clark Gregg is very good, as he always is, this time as the agent helping to coordinate the avenging team. The movie clocks in at 142-minutes, and there are sections where some judicious editing could have tightened things.
As noted, "The Avengers" is available in 2D and 3D. I saw it in 3D, and the process offers nothing special. Frankly, this would be a better film to see in 2D. Always remember that the gray-toned glasses you must wear will weaken the brightness of the screen image. Colors fade, and in the case of this movie, there are too many dark interior and night scenes that aren't enhanced by 3D. I cannot advise you to pay the extra freight for 3D. There's nothing overwhelmingly interesting, and the 2D to 3D transfer isn't particularly worthwhile.
Once it kicks into high gear, "The Avengers" is a high-spirited adventure. Could it have been better? Yes, but what it delivers is generally entertaining and relatively enjoyable.
* * * * * *
"Marley" is a superb documentary about reggae superstar Bob Marley. His music, much of it played with his band the Wailers, was an outgrowth of his desperately poor childhood growing up in the worst slums of Jamaica. At the time of his birth, Marley's mother was a destitute 18-year old and his father was a 60-year old member of the British military, a Royal Marine, who was considered a "white Jamaican."
The movie is a richly detailed biography of a man who adored his home island and who was eager to spread the word of love and humanity through his kinetic music. In 1962, when he was only 16, Marley's song "Judge Not" would draw attention to his talent. His band often played songs from popular American singers and groups such as Little Anthony and The Imperials, the Commodores and the Temptations, and Elvis Presley.
Director Kevin MacDonald recognizes that to understand Marley, he needs to have people tell stories about him. MacDonald showcases nterviews with many of those associated with the singer, and he had full and complete authorization from Marley's children to make the film. They allowed all rights to his music, which is wonderful. The available concert footage is interesting from an historical perspective.
Many of his fans, people of color especially, felt Marley's passion for music and for his beloved Jamaica. In 1981, when only 36, he died of cancer, but left a lasting legacy. His song "One Love" is an anthem for a gathering of voices, men and women from around the world singing in harmony about acceptance.
At two hours and twenty minutes, "Marley" is a long movie, but you never feel it. The singer is a remarkable figure in the world of contemporary music. His life is beautifully celebrated by director MacDonald and his family and friends just as it should be, with dignity, respect, and joy.
Michael Calleri is a free-lance reviewer who writes and talks about films for various media outlets.
"The Avengers" is playing wide throughout the United States. "Marley" is in limited release at speciality theaters.