QUICK TAKES

The Reel Deal

THE AVENGERS, THE RAVEN, & THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT

Quick Takes on Three Films

By Tyler Malone

May 2012

THE AVENGERS:


Reel Rating: 4 out of 5

I won’t lie, I was very skeptical of The Avengers going in. Unlike many of my fanboy friends, the trailer hadn’t sold me, and neither had the five films leading up to this one (in order of appearance: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger). Though none of the five were abysmally bad–like some other recent superhero films (here’s lookin’ at you: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Green Lantern)–all five had their fair share of flaws.

I suppose The Avengers perpetuates a few of those flaws, as the franchise continues, but surprisingly it manages to transcend the majority of them. It’s especially good at finding the right tone–striking a balance between serious action-packed drama and light campy comedy. It never strays too far into the artful seriousness of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (which, though I would argue it’s the best comic book film of all time, is in a tonal register that wouldn’t fit for a team of superheros like The Avengers, where the roster includes a Norse god-alien, a reanimated WWII posterboy, and a Jekyll-and-Hyde green gamma-monster all under one roof); but neither does it stray too far into the ridiculous (though almost equally enjoyable) campiness of the 1960s Batman. It charts its own course somewhere down the middle.

Others have compared The Avengers to Transformers, but I disagree wholeheartedly. In fact, I’d argue that this is what Transformers wanted to be, but failed miserably at delivering. There, what Michael Bay lacked in story or compelling characters, he thought he could make up for by throwing in as many over-the-top action sequences as humanly (or robotly) possible. In The Avengers, there’s some restraint (albeit not a whole lot, but enough)–so that, once that final 45 minute action sequence hits, it feels like a pay off more than a cop out. We care about the characters (at least some of them), and we applaud their ability to overcome their differences in the face of an evil that could wipe out the Earth. The Avengers aren’t called Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for nothing. But could the movie have been better? Would I have done a few things differently had I been at the helm? Sure, it’s certainly not perfect–but what Joss Whedon has provided us with here is damn good enough. As Avengers creator Stan Lee would say: ‘Nuff said.

THE RAVEN:


Reel Rating: 1.5 out of 5

For how important Edgar Allan Poe is to the landscape of American literature, it is surprising that it took til 2012 to see him get his own film. Of course, Poe’s works have appeared on film numerous times, from the various Roger Corman classics starring the incomparable Vincent Price to Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer’s animated interpretations, but there has never been a proper major biopic. This would be strange enough knowing Poe’s place in the canon, but it’s even more shocking when one takes into account the simple fact that he lived an immensely fascinating life (one seemingly custom-made for cinematic recreation/reinterpretation).

There was a time, around 1999, when Michael Jackson was slated to star in a biopic titled The Nightmare of Edgar Allan Poe, which, like many of Jackson’s late-life projects, was inevitably shelved. I was skeptical of the whole thing, but the weirdness of it was undeniably intriguing. When word arrived that over a decade later, John Cusack would be playing Poe in a fictionalized account of the writer’s last days where he would solve crimes based on his stories, my interest was again piqued (even if I remained skeptical–both of the project ever coming to fruition and also of it’s quality even if it were to do so). Well, unlike with The Avengers, here the skepticism was entirely warranted. The Raven isn’t unwatchable, but that’s about as nice a compliment as I can muster. Sadly, director James McTeigue seems to have cribbed much of the film’s storyline, style, aesthetic and faux-artsy camera tricks from Guy Ritchie’s highly overrated Sherlock Holmes films. Some scenes even felt like found footage, stolen directly from Ritchie’s cutting room floor. Turning Poe into Holmes wouldn’t be easy to make work under any circumstances, but it certainly doesn’t work when it feels so derivative.

At one point in the film, a character says: “That’s life, so much less satisfying than fiction.” While I generally agree, I must disagree in this particular instance. I think here a straightforward biopic of Poe could have, and likely would have, made a better movie. Not that straightforward couldn’t have included some literary flourishes and all the macabre, surreal and mysterious elements of Poe’s psychological and artistic terrain–hell, it could have starred Michael Jackson for all I care!–but that turning Poe’s tragic final days into a campy cross between Sherlock Holmes and Murder She Wrote isn’t exactly the best use of a fascinating real-life “character.” Poe, a literary genius, and important artistic figure, deserves better.

THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT:


Reel Rating: 3 out of 5

Not quite Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but much better than Get Him to the Greek, The Five-Year Engagement centers around an engaged couple in an interesting spin on the classic (read: cliched) romantic comedy structure. If there’s any genre that needs new life breathed into it, it’s the rom-com, so I was curious to see what writer-director Nicholas Stoller and writer-star Jason Segel were up to this time around. It turns out they weren’t up to much in the way of invention. The Five-Year Engagement stumbles into the same typical pitfalls that most rom-coms have for the last decade or two. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty here to get you laughing, but any hint that this film might go a little out-of-the-box is misguiding. It’s as formulaic as any standard film of the genre (which makes it ultimately forgettable, even if it has more appeal than your average rom-com).

There are definitely some hilarious parts, and Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are both likeable actors with considerable comedic talent and chemistry. But when Stoller’s apparent inability to leave anything on the cutting room floor kicks into overdrive in the meandering middle section (which is overlong by at least twenty minutes) and then the formula takes over to guide the film home on autopilot, much of the charm is lost. I did like certain aspects of the ending, but there’s little you haven’t seen before. Overall, The Five-Year Engagement is a better rom-com than you’re likely to find elsewhere this year, but even if you find yourself enjoying it more than I did, I’m sure you’ll quickly forget all about it (that is until it pops up on some cable channel on Sunday afternoon sometime in the near future and you find yourself laughing as you half-watch while cleaning your apartment).

The Avengers is a film directed by Joss Whedon, written by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon, and based on comic book characters by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson and Tom Hiddleston. Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army.

The Raven is a film directed by James McTeigue, and written by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare. It stars John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve and Brendan Gleeson. When a madman begins committing horrific murders inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s works, a young Baltimore detective joins forces with Poe to stop him from making his stories a reality.

The Five-Year Engagement is a film directed by Nicholas Stoller, written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. It stars Jason Segel, Emily Blunt and Chris Pratt. One year after meeting, Tom proposes to his girlfriend, Violet, but unexpected events keep tripping them up as they look to walk down the aisle together.

LINKS:

Official Site: The Avengers

IMDb: The Avengers

Official Site: The Raven

IMDb: The Raven

Official Site: The Five-Year Engagement

IMDb: The Five-Year Engagement

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Design by Jillian Mercado

Caption:

Film Still from The Avengers, Photography Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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