“The Avengers,” huh? Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, eh?

Well, before I go into my review of the summer “blockbuster” film “The Avengers,” I would first like to say that I have always been at least a little disappointed with each prior Marvel attempt at bringing its larger than life characters onto the big screen.

The “X-Men” franchise just danced all over the actual story of the X-Men that fans from the comics had become familiar with. That’s almost unforgivable! I don’t care how well acted and cast the films were, not how hot Halle Berry was as Storm, nor how convincing Hugh Jackman was as Wolverine. But, if I might be a nerd for a moment, Wolverine and Storm were not original X-Men. That was a perpetual thorn in my side for each installment of that trilogy. If you’re going to do it, do it right!

“The Fantastic Four” was foreboding trash, as was “Daredevil.” Let’s be honest. The “Spider-Man” franchise was great aesthetically, with Tobey Maguire as a superb Peter Parker, it was missing that extra something to elevate it to comic nerd gold. I think maybe all the romantic stuff between he and Mary Jane sapped some of the films’ energy. The “Blade” films were both action-packed, and true to the comic book, but a brother can take but so much vampire lore.  Also, though the “Blade” films were very, very good, I felt like they were just a little too dark.

Iron Man and Captain America

So, what is a comic nerd-turned adult-yet secretly still a comic nerd, supposed to do? The first “Hulk” film looked too much like a cartoon, and it’s storyline was alien to those who are kindred spirits with the plight of Dr. David Bruce Banner. The villain he was fighting? His father? I’m watching thinking “What the hell?” Just when I thought all hope was lost for a truly classic Marvel film offering the brains down at the studio came up with the brilliant idea to release a series of films based on some of Marvel’s greatest heros, then bring them all together in the blockbuster film of the decade. Genius! The second “Hulk” film was an vast improvement over the first by leaps and bounds as we got to see him battle long time nemesis The Abomination. I liked it a lot! Alot-alot-alot! “Thor” was a’ight, as was “Captain America” as far as blockbusters go, yet both were cast well with Chris Evans as Captain America, and Chris Hemsworth as the Thunder God. But they didn’t live up to what I had been jazzed up for. Each had been released after the “Iron Man” films, which set the bar for Marvel films through the roof. I mean, what’s cooler than having Robert Downey, Jr, one of the coolest dudes in Hollywood, playing billionaire playboy Tony Starks-one of the coolest alter egos in the history of comics? You can’t beat that with a bat! Or can you? Just a side note, Marvel films are always cast exceptionally well, are they not?

Avengers Assemble!

Dateline–Monday, April 30, 2012. AMC 42 in Times Square, NYC. As I entered the lobby of this magnificent cathedral to cinematic nirvana my palms began to sweat, my heart began to race. “Could this be yet another major disappointment?” I thought, as the escalator lifted me higher, and higher still until I reached my destination. Security set up a checkpoint before anyone was allowed in the theater. No cameras, laptops, cellphones, beepers, heart monitors, solar panels … if it harbored an electrical current of any sort they were taking it. They were serious about bootleggers.

From the opening credits “The Avengers” jumped into action with the arrival of Loki, the Asgardian God of Mischief and Thor’s brother, at the underground base of S.H.I.E.L.D. From then it’s a punch, a blast, and an explosion a minute. Fans of “The Avengers” comic book can attest to the fact that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the rest of the gang were not always the best of friends and director Joss Whedon explored that dynamic with impunity. Impunity? Now is that not a comic book word or what? Thor vs. Iron Man? What? I’m so tempted to give it away, but it’s worth the wait. Scarlett Johansen as the sultry yet deadly Black Widow? That’s a good call, I can live with that. Tom Hiddleston as Loki? Aside from Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, I would say Hiddleston’s Loki was off the charts good. The character’s coniving, self serving, back-stabbing, monstrous nature virtually leaped off the screen. Great job! Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye? Well, never was much of a Hawkeye fan. He always seemed like a rip-off of the DC Comics hero Green Arrow to me. But for the purpose of the story Renner was adequate.

My main man Samuel L. Jackson as super spy Nick Fury? Well, to be honest, I was kind of “meh” on the idea when word first got out of him being cast in that role 4 years back. The Nick Fury that I know and love was a white guy. He was actually Sergeant Nick Fury. He and his Howling Commandos sometimes fought alongside Captain American during World War II. At least they did in the Marvel Universe.  I could not reconcile it in my closet nerd mind. How could Nick Fury suddenly be black? But, if I had read a comic book featuring Nick Fury in the past 5 years I would have known that 30 years ago Nick had a relationship with a black woman named Nia Jones while both were spies on a mission in Czechoslovakia. Because Nick was the most hunted man in the world at the time he instructed Nia, pregnant with their child, to go underground. The child grew up and, having his father’s fighting spirit, became an Army Ranger and served several tours in Afghanistan. It was there that Fury eventually introduced himself to his son, Marcus. It is later revealed that Marcus is actually named Nick Fury, Jr. This all comes to light in the “Battle Scars” series. Oh, Marvel! Who else but you guys, huh? At any rate, Samuel L. Jackson did a damn good job as Nick Fury (Jr.) in his cameo appearances in “Iron Man 2,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Thor,” but he is in his full glory in “The Avengers” movie. Nick Fury is the brains behind the whole deal. He begs, pleads and manipulates our reluctant heroes into action in true Nick Fury form. So, that explains the black Nick Fury and, though some Marvel heads hate that explanation, I’m cool with it. Not just because he’s black, but because the old Nick Fury was a bit outdated. That also helped me enjoy Jackson’s rendition of the character all the more. Did you guys know the black Nick Fury was modeled after Samuel L. Jackson years before he even agreed to accept the role? Talk about manifest destiny.

Nick Fury, looking like he means business, alongside Cap and Tony Starks

Another concern that I, and other closet comic nerds, often have with comic book heroes on the big screen are how well the fight scenes translate, and also how well all the characters’ combat capabilities translate as well. For example, Storm of the “X-Men” is second only to Wolverine when it comes to hand to hand combat ability. She once defeated fellow X-Man Cyclops for leadership of the team without using her powers. In the comic book she is tough as nails. Yet in each film she totally relies on her powers to defeat foes and is constantly getting her ass kicked by lesser opponents. Another example is Dr. Doom, the villain highlighted in the “Fantastic Four” franchise. In the film he has powers gleaned from the same shower of cosmic rays in which the Thing, the Invisible Woman, Mr. Fantastic and the Human Torch gained there powers. He’s got this metal skin, shoots energy blasts from his hands and yadda, yadda, yadda. Nerd alert! Dr. Doom has no superpower. I cannot stand it when they take the liberty of altering the characters. Just plain lazy in my opinion. Well, you will not see any of that in “the Avengers.” The Hulk is the Hulk, and fights like it. Captain America has the same old fashion sensibilities and leadership skills as his comic book character, Thor and the rest battle true to form as well. Love that! Loki? He’s more disgusting than I remember him to be. Just what I expected. The fight scenes seemed like they were pulled right out of the pages of the comic books, unlike the scenes in the Batman movie franchise in which the fights seemed stiff and pretty predictable. Not unlike the fight scenes in the “Spider-Man” films, the heroes fought in the manner and style that fans remember from the comic books. Major kudos for that. I loved virtually every thing about this film. One slight problem I had were Loki’s allies, an unnamed race of aliens. Were they Kree, Skrulls, Dire Wraiths? Who were these guys? But, you know what? In addition, I also had a slight problem with Tony Starks being in a relationship with Pepper Potts. I know that, in the comic book series, they eventually get together. But that was years later! Ok, perhaps I’m being a little too particular. Gwenyth Paltrow was a more than capable Pepper Potts. While no film is perfect, I felt like this was the perfect superhero movie. As a matter of fact, I feel like it’s the best superhero movie ever. Nothing else comes close. Epic!

“The Avengers” opens in theaters across America on Friday, May 4th. Rarely do I feel films are worth the price of admission these days, but this one is. It’s worth the pricey popcorn too.