The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods (poster)

Today’s cinema adventure: The Cabin in the Woods, the genre-twisting feature, from the team of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, that satirizes horror movie conventions within a larger science fiction framework as it tells the tale of five college-age friends who are secretly manipulated by a mysterious high-tech agency during a weekend getaway at a mountain lake.  Filmed in 2009, it was held from release by the bankruptcy of its studio, MGM, which could not afford the cost of marketing and publicity; eventually picked up by Lionsgate Films, it finally hit screens in early 2012, when the long anticipation by Whedon’s many fans turned it into a major box office success.  Lauded by many critics for its clever restructuring and skewering of the “slasher movie” genre, it managed to find its way onto several best-of-2012 lists in addition to becoming one of the year’s biggest financial hits.

The movie begins with the back-and-forth intercutting between scenes of a large-scale government tech lab where final preparations are under way for an elaborate and unspecified project, and a group of five young people getting ready for a trip to a secluded mountain cabin.  The kids- Dana (the sweet and comparatively wholesome “good girl”), Jules (the bleached-blonde sexpot), Curt (Jules’ jock boyfriend), Holden (Curt’s studious friend, brought along as a blind date for Dana), and Marty (the pot-smoking nerd)- set out in an  RV, and, though they have an unsettling encounter with the attendant at a run-down gas station on the road to the cabin, they remain in high spirits, looking forward to a weekend of good times.  Meanwhile, it becomes clear they are being remotely monitored by the technicians in the mysterious lab, who seem to have complete control over their environment.  Upon arrival at their destination, the five friends discover that the cabin- recently purchased by a cousin of Curt’s- is an odd and disconcerting place, adorned with gruesome art, fearsome stuffed animals, and see-through mirrors, and they eventually stumble upon a trap door which leads to a secret basement full of odd and arcane relics.  Among these objects they find a diary, written by the daughter of the cabin’s original owners; as Dana reads it aloud, it reveals a horrific tale of torture, disfigurement, and murder, practiced by the family in the service of their twisted puritanical beliefs, and includes a strange Latin invocation- which she also reads aloud, unwittingly calling the long-deceased clan back from the dead.  Perhaps even more sinister is the fact that all of these events seem to be under the orchestration of the observing lab technicians, who watch with satisfied interest as the murderous zombies slink towards the unsuspecting young people in the cabin.  Needless to say, the weekend getaway is soon to become a terrifying fight for survival, in which the would-be victims will discover that their perilous situation has larger implications more dire than any of them could suspect.

The screenplay for The Cabin in the Woods was co-written by Whedon and Goddard, who worked together on Whedon’s cult-classic TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer; though it took them only three days to write, it is undeniably clever.  It’s difficult to discuss it in much detail without giving away too many of its secrets, but it is safe to describe it as a mash-up of Friday the Thirteenth and Night of the Living Dead as conceived by H.P. Lovecraft. This in itself is creative enough, but it’s also apparent that the pair have a definite agenda here, in which they use a sort of meta-drama- self-consciously utilizing all the stock characters and conceits of the slasher film scenario- to explore the deeper psychological origins of the horror genre, linking it both to its ancient roots in the superstitions and religions of ancient cultural memory and to its modern role as a fetishized outlet for the primordial and antisocial urges that still lie at its core.  The story of the five not-so-innocent kids is enfolded into a larger plot that allegorizes the makers of such formulaic horror vehicles themselves, using an elaborate metaphor to satirize their motivations and criticize the growing trend towards “torture porn” within the genre.  The concept is ingenious, audacious and inspired; the writers have constructed a puzzle box of a movie, in which several layers of plot fit neatly inside each other, with each addressing larger and more significant themes, ultimately providing both homage to and an indictment of a genre which celebrates the bloodlust lurking in the core of human nature.  At the same time, they endeavor to create a movie which works simultaneously as a high-concept art piece and a wildly entertaining example of schlock cinema.  With the first goal, they come respectably close; with the second, however, they are much further from the mark.

On a conceptual level, The Cabin in the Woods works well; the underlying conceit, though veiled, is apparent from the beginning, allowing us to appreciate the way it informs the narrative as it gradually emerges to our full understanding.  It’s a good choice, because on the surface level, what we are given is far too ordinary to hold our interest for long.  The movie-in-a-movie storyline, with its hapless young victims being stalked and slaughtered one by one, is so familiar and predictable as to be completely devoid of shock; it’s deliberately derivative, of course, but the unimaginative, by-rote handling of the formula is no less dull for its intentions.  To make matters worse, the dialogue, loaded with obligatory comic banter and snarky “fanboy” in-jokes, is stale and stilted, with a decidedly sophomoric reliance on cliché and self-indulgence; the characters, though an effort is made to give them more personality and depth than the typical stock figures in such fare, still behave like one-dimensional stereotypes, and despite the fact that we are clearly told that their actions are being manipulated by their white-collar puppeteers, again, it makes little difference to our level of emotional investment in them- or rather, our lack of it.  It’s true that. as the movie expands from the killer zombie hillbilly scenario, they (the survivors anyway) are seen to have a little more on the ball than they’ve managed to show so far, but by the time this larger plot has taken over, so much screen time has been squandered on the regurgitation of shallow horror convention that it’s hard to care.  Even though it happens too late in the game, the development of the framing plot, in which we discover the real horrors of the cabin in the woods, is far more original and engaging, though it, too, suffers from the malady of unconvincing dialogue; the film’s final quarter is so much more interesting that it heightens our disappointment over everything that has gone before.  Still, when the movie finally reaches its endgame, fully revealing its devilishly clever dual purpose as a satirical exploration of form and a cynical commentary on human nature, it succeeds in winning us over with its sheer audacity, leaving us with a sort of grudging delight and making us wish that Whedon and Goddard had spent more than three days writing their screenplay.

The movie built on that script is certainly made well enough; directed by Goddard, with Whedon serving as producer (presumably too involved with his myriad other creative endeavors to get behind the camera on this one), it succeeds in emulating the stylistic sensibilities of the teen scream genre it draws from, using time-honored techniques of visual vocabulary to tell its story (with a good bit of sly humor) and expanding to a slicker, more contemporary mode as the focus shifts loose from the constraints of genre formula. There is nothing truly mind-blowing here, in terms of visual style or innovation, just smart utilization of the established tricks of the trade, but Goddard has clearly done his homework, and he pulls it off in a workmanlike fashion. More overtly impressive, from the standpoint of cinematic creativity, is the work of the movie’s designers and technicians, who give us a number of delicious visual treats, particularly in the climactic scenes involving an everything-but-the-kitchen sink catalogue of movie monsters ranging from the familiar (murderous clowns, werewolves, sadistic hell-spawn) to the not-so-familiar (a killer unicorn, a lamprey-faced ballerina, and a decidedly grotesque merman). These sequences were accomplished by an impressive assemblage of the finest effects artists and technicians in the industry, requiring the rental of extra facilities to accommodate the sheer number of workers, and shooting at the huge aerospace building of the British Columbia Institute of Technology, since the available studio space was inadequate for the necessary scale. The unprecedented effort was worth it- this section is by far the most fun and memorable few minutes in the movie, generating more actual laughs and thrills than the entire pick-em-off-one-by-one saga that takes up the first three-quarters of screen time.

The film’s other production values are solid, as well; the cinematography by Peter Deming, the musical score by David Julyan, the production design by Martin Whist – all these are several cuts above the level of the low-budget exploitation thrillers upon which The Cabin in the Woods depends for inspiration, which is not necessarily a good thing. A little amateurish roughness around the edges might have gone a long way towards bestowing Goddard’s film with more of the authentic grindhouse flavor it sorely needs.  The higher quality is appreciated, however, when it comes to the performances, since bad acting is rarely a plus, and since the film requires a bit more nuance from its players than the typical horror entry.  Though it’s notable that two of the cast members are Chris Hemsworth (as Curt) and Richard Jenkins (who shot their roles here before making it big as Thor and earning an Oscar nomination for The Visitor, respectively), the true stars are Kristen Connolly and Fran Kranz, as Dana and Marty, who are both charming enough, and more importantly project the intelligence and spunk needed to make them into a convincing hero and heroine.  Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are goofily likeable as the pair of elder-generation nerds who serve as team leaders for the mysterious behind-the-scenes project, and Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, and Jesse Williams, as the remainder of the youthful adventurers, succeed in making their characters more than the mere ciphers they might have been.  Sigourney Weaver, who seems to have made a supplemental career for herself playing self-referential cameos in this kind of satirical sci-fi fare, makes a surprise appearance near the end, but disclosing the nature of her role would be too much of a spoiler; suffice to say that her presence onscreen is welcome and her performance is amusing without being over-the-top.

I suppose I should confess that I have never been particularly fond of the “slasher movie” sub-genre, though most of my generation, which grew up with them, seems to consider them essential touchstones of pop culture experience.  I always thought they were predictable and dull, and rarely frightening; consequently, I am perhaps not the best person to judge the effectiveness of The Cabin in the Woods, either as a legitimate entry or as a parody.  Many viewers have responded much more positively than I to Whedon and Goddard’s Lovecraftian mind-bender, but even I can say that it’s worth a look.  Even though, ultimately, I found it as predictable and unengaging as the films it sends up, it contains many aspects that impressed me, and yes, even entertained me.  For one thing, it has a lot more “heart” than most of these cold-blooded slaughter-fests, reminding us that alongside those savage instincts in our unconscious there are also nobler ones; though, in the end, the film’s “message,” if you can call it that, is cynical and even nihilistic, it leaves you with a more or less positive view of mankind- in the individual, if not in the collective.  It’s also a very smart movie, with canny observations about human behavior on the personal, social, and cultural level, and it weaves these into its formulaic plot in a way that illuminates the stock situations and conventions, revealing the deeper implications of the well-worn narrative structure and helping us to see it as more than mere repetitive drivel.  Finally, I can truly embrace its creators’ avowed purpose of decrying the level to which the horror genre has sunk in our modern era; most horror movies today are mindless spatter films, capitalizing on flavor-of-the-week trends and using sensationalistic formats to earn a quick buck and nothing more.  At best, they are meaningless, and at worst, they are thought pollution, celebrating cruelty and violence for their own sake and reinforcing some very ugly behavioral tendencies in an audience that is typically of a very impressionable age.  The Cabin in the Woods attempts to address this state of affairs by offering an alternative which both satisfies the need for a good scare and stimulates the intellect, as many (though certainly, admittedly, not all) of the so-called “old school” horror films tried to do.  It’s very clever, alright; unfortunately, in the end, it’s too clever for its own good.  Those who are likely to clue into the brainier aspects of the film will probably not respond to the horror, and those who are in it for the cheap thrills will undoubtedly be disinterested in any higher purpose.  Of course, there is a convergent group of viewers- most of them, probably, already fans of Whedon’s nerdy-cool fictional universe- who will find both levels of The Cabin in the Woods right up their alley, and they are the ones for whom this movie is made.  You might not be one of them, but it’s still worth watching; even if it doesn’t quite work (and even if it doesn’t look like it, at first glance), it’s refreshingly intelligent filmmaking.  There’s precious little enough of that out there, so get it where you can.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1259521/?ref_=sr_1

WARNING: If you haven’t seen the movie, you should know that looking at the pictures below might be a mistake.  I try not to provide spoilers, but some of these images might give things away that you don’t want to know ahead of time, and once you see something, you can’t unsee it, so view at your own risk.

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Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

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Today’s cinema adventure: Snow White and the Huntsman, a visually arresting 2012 feature that reinvents the classic fairy tale as a sword-and-sorcery fantasy with a message of female empowerment. In this version of the familiar story, the Queen is in fact a powerful sorceress who preserves her youth and beauty by draining the energy of young women, and the princess, foretold to be her undoing, is her prisoner; when Snow White escapes, the Queen sends a drunken wastrel to recapture her, but he instead becomes her protector and mentor, helping her to find the heroic force she needs to fulfill her destiny. The story is filled with great ideas, grafting elements of a medieval Arthurian-style quest saga into the Grimm Brothers’ original tale (with a dash of Shakespeare’s Macbeth), shedding insight on the origin and cause of the Queen’s wickedness and turning Snow White from a passive victim who must be validated and saved by a man (or seven) into a self-determining warrior princess who has the power to not only solve her own problems, but step into the traditionally male role of leader and bring the entire kingdom into harmony. Aiding considerably in the realization of these thematic twists is a stunning visual style that draws cinematic influence from Kurosawa and John Boorman’s Excalibur, coupled with a highly imaginative production design (under the supervision of Dominic Watkins) incorporating visual elements from the courtly romantic paintings of such artists as John Waterhouse and overflowing with the creative use of bird imagery. elemental contrasts, and the mystification of nature; of particular note are the costumes created by Colleen Atwood, especially for the Queen, and the magical CG artistry that brings life to the various fantastical settings and creatures- including the dwarfs, who are recognizable, full-scale actors rendered onto the necessarily diminutive bodies, a process that yields remarkable results but which also drew heavy protest and criticism for denying work to actual little people.

It would be nice to say that all this impressive conceptual and technical artistry was the basis for a great final product; but Snow White and the Huntsman, though passable enough as a lightweight summer diversion, fails to generate the kind of excitement and stimulation promised by its ambitious conceit. Director Rupert Sanders does a superb job of combining his various inspirations into a visual style (with the help of cinematographer Greig Frasier), but it seems hollow, lacking in the resonance and meaning required to elevate it beyond the level of a good imitation. The screenplay (by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini) fails to fully explore the possibilities suggested by the ingenious mash-up of sources at the base of their story, instead relying on familiar clichés and giving lip-service to the mythological principles inherent in the material, referencing the symbolic touchstones with all the conviction of marking off items on a checklist; the end result feels like a concept without a real direction, a meandering trip through a hodgepodge of mixed-up fantasy formulas that only pulls itself together into a resolution when it has run out of set-pieces. Likewise disappointing is the musical score by James Newton Howard, serviceable and predictable, providing the standard symphonic accompaniment heard in uncountable fantasy-adventure epics instead of taking advantage of the possibility to try something unorthodox. The acting isn’t horrible, though accents slip and mumbling abounds, but it isn’t really great, either: Charlize Theron, once again cast as a frosty bitch, manages to make us see the underlying pain of the Wicked Queen (which feels as perfunctory and inadequate as the rest of the unrealized story elements), but in the end she delivers a scenery-chewing performance that is, after all, just as over-the-top as we expect it to be; Kristen Stewart succeeds with the sweetness and vulnerability of Snow White, but somehow lacks the kind of strength to make a convincing transition into a force of destiny; Chris Hemsworth, as the roguish bad-boy who serves as secondary hero, comes off the worst, delivering a stilted, lumpish performance as a character that should provide the heart of the film. The rest of the cast all serve their purpose without surprise, providing us with the comfort of familiar stock characters instead of taking advantage of the chance to turn them inside out- a whole slew of missed opportunities in a film already over-filled with them.

That pretty much sums up the problems with Snow White and the Huntsman: despite offering a fresh perspective on its material, it’s a film which squanders its potential, offering new ideas and suggesting thought-provoking implications but delivering, in the end, just the same old Lord of the Rings-flavored conventions that make it so easy to dismiss the fantasy genre as fluff. Don’t get me wrong: I love Lord of the Rings; it’s an incredible piece of work that elevates fantasy to the level of deep, archetypal myth- but it’s already been done, and personally, the only other movie I want to see that feels just like it is the long-awaited version of The Hobbit which finds its way into theatres later this year. With Snow White and the Huntsman, I wanted something crisp and delicious, the exciting taste of a new hybrid flavor; but all this movie provides is yet another poisoned apple.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1735898/

Thor (2011) & Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

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Today’s cinema adventure is a double feature: Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, the two 2011 entries from Marvel that introduced audiences to seminal figures in the then-upcoming Avengers blockbuster, further establishing the groundwork begun in the successful Iron Man franchise and setting up key elements of the story arc which unites all the films.   In the first of the pair, Thor, heir to the throne of Asgard, is exiled by his angry father to the distant planet earth, precipitating a rebellion in his home world which threatens to wreak destructive havoc in both places; in the second, set during the second world war, scrawny weakling Steve Rogers is transformed by a secret government experiment into a super soldier who leads the battle against an insidious threat rising from within the ranks of the Nazi Reich.  The two films bookend each other nicely, thematically speaking: both feature heroes who rise to greatness, one by breaking through his own arrogance to find humility; and the other by holding on to his pure-hearted nature after being bestowed with super-human powers.  Both scenarios are familiar variations of the “Hero’s Journey” myth, and as such fit snugly into the comic book milieu from which the characters and their stories are drawn; and though the production teams for each film are, for the most part, comprised of different artists, under the guidance of Marvel and its mastermind, Stan Lee, both maintain a strong visual and thematic connection to the printed form of the source material.  Indeed, thanks to the heavy use of CG effects in creating the worlds of these films- which at times almost erases the line between animated and live action filmmaking- they seem like gigantic, moving comic books; the only thing missing is the presence of bubbles for the dialogue and thoughts of the characters.  This, of course, is precisely what the creators of these spectacles have intended; and on that level, they have succeeded in spades.  However, it is that candy-coated quality that handicaps both of these films, as well: in making the impossible come to life in such a clearly artificial setting, they distance us from the characters and the story, keeping us constantly reminded that what we are seeing has no real weight or consequence in our lives and preventing an emotional connection much in the way that Brechtian theatre-of-alienation tactics were designed to do; unfortunately, the purpose of that presentational technique was to provide a detachment that would allow an intellectual connection instead, and here, there is so little food for thought that the effect (for those not dazzled into submission by the visual trickery) is closer to boredom.  Between the two films, Thor fares somewhat better: though marginally more far-fetched in its content, the mythological connection provided by its use of Norse gods and goddesses as an integral part of the plot allows us, somehow, to more comfortably suspend our disbelief and buy into its premise of our world being caught up in a conflict of all-powerful titans.  Indeed, the storytelling aspect is strong enough- almost- to avoid being overwhelmed by the computer-rendered spectacle surrounding it, largely thanks to the direction of one-time Shakespearean golden-boy Kenneth Branagh, whose extensive experience with classical narratives makes him well-suited to the mythic themes in play.  Not so sure-handed at the helm is Joe Johnston, whose Captain America starts out well enough as it chronicles the eager young hero’s transformation, but then seems to move aimlessly through its progression of set pieces, content to rely on action and mood to keep us interested until it reaches the last one; rather than the unfolding of an archetypal tale, this second film feels instead like a piece of nostalgic fluff, a cliché-ridden WWII adventure souped-up with wish-fulfillment fantasy, trying painfully hard to avoid irony in its handling of the gee-whiz jingoism of its subject matter by masking it in nostalgia (mainly provided by the bathing of every scene in a golden-hued light in order to remind us that we are watching a story set in the 1940s).  This lack of real direction is exacerbated by the hollowness of the characters: whereas in Thor, the screenwriters (Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne) invest time and attention to the development the characters and their relationships, in Captain America the scribes (Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely) have relied on the familiarity of the stock types that populate their film, establishing identity with glib one-liners and giving mere lip service to the bonds and rivalries that determine their loyalties; in both, the players are little more to us than obligatory ciphers required to fulfill a formula, but at least in Thor, they have real personality.  The cast lists of both movies are dotted with ringers: such heavy hitters as Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgârd and Natalie Portman (Thor) and Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Hugo Weaving (Captain America) all add prestige and interest to the proceedings, and manage- with varying degrees of success- to elevate the material to a level that at least gives the illusion of substance.  As for the titular heroes, Chris Hemsworth as Thor does an adequate job of enacting his transformation from entitled blowhard to compassionate champion, and Chris Evans as the Captain manages to capture the right blend of sincerity and aloofness; but, perhaps partly due to the inherent limitations of the characters, both actors ultimately comes off as little more than eye candy (not that this is a bad thing- part of the traditional appeal of this kind of escapist entertainment is the beefcake factor).  The production of both movies, as mentioned before, is breathtaking, presenting us with glossy, hyper-real visions of the Marvel Universe; united by cohesive production design (Bo Welch for Thor, Rick Heinrichs for Captain America), they continually wow us with movie magic that reminds us of how far we’ve come from the days of actors hanging on wires in front of projected skyscapes.  The musical scores, provided by Patrick Doyle (director Branagh’s long-time collaborator) on Thor and Alan Silvestri on Captain America, are appropriately stirring.  In fact, every technical aspect of both films is top-notch, Grade-A, best-of-Hollywood stuff; but ultimately, though Thor has its strengths, they both come up short in the long run, big on style and spectacle, but lacking in the kind of genuine depth that can make movies of this genre into a more meaningful experience.  There is certainly entertainment value here, but even that seems strangely lacking; both pieces feel more like prologues (which they are) than stand-on-their-own experiences, setting the stage for things to come and somehow failing to provide the satisfaction of real closure.  Of course, this is the nature of comic books- each segment ends in a cliff-hanger, ensuring that the reader will rush out to buy the next edition as soon as it is available.  Thankfully, in this case the next edition is The Avengers, which succeeds where these two predecessors have not- but that’s another review.

Thor http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0800369/

Captain America: The First Avenger http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0458339/

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The Avengers (2012)

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Today’s cinema adventure: The Avengers, the long-awaited 2012 action/fantasy feature from director Joss Whedon which unleashes the combined force of most of Marvel’s top superhero characters and has ensured, with its record-smashing box office returns, that the flourishing “comic book” genre is here to stay- at least for now.  The plot, of course, could have been lifted from any Cold-War-era sci-fi potboiler: when a god-like being from another world brings an army to conquer the earth, a secretive government organization assembles a band of disparate heroes to head off the invasion, forcing them to set aside their own differences- and face their own weaknesses- in order to unite against the common foe.  The details get a bit confusing, unless you are intricately familiar with the plot threads that have been unwinding through the various associated franchises leading up to this blockbuster, or unless you can follow the lightning-fast pseudo-technical jargon with which the various conceits are established; but none of that matters, because unlike many inferior attempts at making this sort of hyper-driven action spectacle, “The Avengers” hinges not on its ridiculous storyline- nor even on the mind-blowing, state-of-the-art special effects, though admittedly those provide a considerable amount of the fun- but on the characters which inhabit it.  The legion of “fan boys” at which this movie is targeted can rejoice that, after decades of clueless studio hacks trying to capitalize on the popularity of comic books without understanding or respecting the material, at long last the genre is in the hands of artists who have grown up with a reverence for it; gone are the days of bland, leotard-clad goofballs with no charisma spewing cheesy platitudes.  Here we are treated to a collection of heroes that we can truly believe in because we can relate to them: full of doubts, anger, trust issues and guilty consciences, they are nevertheless driven by hope to perform the duties thrust upon them; and there is never any question that they have the ability to face whatever the other-worldly would-be conquerors can throw at them, as long as they can overcome the obstacles they generate within their own flawed psyches.  By capturing this element, Whedon (who also wrote the screenplay, from a story by himself and Zak Penn) has captured the key to what makes these far-fetched, over-the-top stories so compelling: they are, in fact, mythology that has been re-invented in a form that appeals to a modern generation.  We see our own psycho-dramas acted out in symbolic form by these idealized versions of ourselves, and through their victories we see the possibility of our own.  To be sure, of course, it’s not the kind of doom-and-gloom mythology that takes us through the dark night of the soul, and it would be completely wrong to think that The Avengers aims at any emotional or spiritual resonance beyond an adolescent level; but still, no matter how many millions of dollars were spent on the CG eye candy, it would have all just been visual noise without that important, cathartic element.  The Avengers seeks to entertain, not to enlighten, but it’s a testament to the talent of its creative forces that it manages to do both.  Whedon has levied his success as a creator of niche-targeted cult entertainment into status as a mainstream artist to be reckoned with, and he directs with a sure hand and a clear vision, striking a perfect balance between action and intimacy and keeping the whole thing roaring along at a breathless pace that makes the two-hour-plus running time feel half as long.  He has considerable help from crack film composer Alan Silvestri, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, and an army of designers and special effects artists under production designer James Chinlund; and, of course, the work of his cast is exemplary, with the always-delightful Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Scarlett Johansson standing out in particular.  Special mention must be made for the driving force behind it all: comic book legend Stan Lee (one of the Executive Producers of this and all the Marvel films, which are of course his babies), who has brought his remarkable work from the printed page to the big screen (in magnificent 3-D, no less) with meticulous attention to getting it right and a vision that invites comparison to, dare I say it, Walt Disney himself.  Before I am accused of gushing, I should point out that there are quibbles to be made here- the villain, Loki, is not exactly an imposing threat, for all his superhuman powers, and there are numerous points in the film when the perfunctory conflicts between the protagonists threaten to derail the driving pace- and I can’t say that The Avengers and the other films with which it forms a sort of super-franchise (pardon the pun) transcend the comic book genre, as Christopher Nolan’s rebooted Batman cycle has done.  Nevertheless, in a time when rising ticket prices make it less and less appealing to go to the theater rather than just wait a few weeks for the DVD/BluRay release, it’s a film that delivers what it promises and more; and that’s a feat at least as heroic as any of those accomplished by the superteam of its title.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0848228/

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