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Animadversion: Superhuman storytelling

The Avengers is a big mash-up of popular Marvel comic superheroes. As the first combined flick featuring Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk and Thor, and directed and written by Joss Whedon, it has lived up to the hype it created for itself. There’s a reason why the film recently made a whopping $641 million opening worldwide—it’s sheer fun!

Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the adopted brother of Thor, returns to Earth and steals the Tesseract (a cosmic cube) from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). The cube was central to the Captain America film, and is now being worked on by Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) for Fury’s clandestine strategic outlet, S.H.I.E.L.D. Loki, who can now control people’s minds and hearts, attacks and takes Professor Erik and Hawkeye as minions. He then gets them to make a passage for an alien invader with whom he had made a pact while lost in the abyss of space. On red alert, Fury with Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) calls in the stars of the film.

The heroes are: billionaire, playboy, super genius and man of dry humour, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. aka Iron Man) who is marshaled from his romance time with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow); the all-American boy scout Steve Rogers (Chris Evans as Captain America); the hermit of the team and the one who best be kept calm, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk) and the hammer-spinning blond Norse god, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). The team rounds out with two non-super powered fighting machines: Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow) and sharp-shooting archer Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye).

Although assembled under a programme called Avengers Initiative, they’re not officially a fighting unit yet. Like in the comics, their big egos clash, they throw group insults, and finally when the going gets tough—from the mid-point all the way to the Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon-like climax—they dumbfound you with their teamwork.

The Avengers is, dare I say, the best culmination of all their individual films (even better than the first Iron Man). The force of conviction is so overwhelming that it recovers from its banal and clumsy start.

Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly (and its cult-hit film Serenity), and recently the writer/producer of The Cabin in the Woods, isn’t visually imaginative. But because of his knack for story-writing, he makes Avengers work for him. The film’s screenplay is so perfectly timed that the wisecracking never overpowers or gets lost within the action.

This works more than the big grand action sequences, half of which aren’t shot amazingly. Kudos must be given to all actors for intelligently portraying their characteristics from past films on this ensemble piece. Johansson, Hiddleston and Ruffalo shine, while Downey Jr., as usual, steals the show.

The Avengers is rated PG-13. Go in expecting it to be good, and be prepared to come out with your mind blown out in this two-hour and 22 minutes of grand summer entertainment.

Save the math

From Chuck Norris to Steven Segal to Jean Claude Van Damme, once upon a time (namely in the ’80s and ’90s) these—and many more—one-man armies excelled at what they did best: creaming hoodlums. It made little difference if the threats were corner-street gang bangers, international syndicates or raging dictators.

In Jason Statham, the generation’s succeeding action man, there is a subconscious appeal tagging along with the actor. With his slightly beat up, sentimental look augmenting him, we know there’s an actor inside him who yearns for a better script. And he almost gets it with Safe, his new man-against-the-mob flick that clicks—for the first 30 minutes at least.

Luke Wright (Statham), once into law enforcement, is a second-rate fighter on a bad streak. When Safe opens, we see Wright getting smacked relentlessly by the wife of a mix-martial arts cage-fighter he’d put in the hospital. The Russian Mafia rigged the fight that he won. Vengeful, as the Mafia is, they whack his wife and condemn him to a life of homeless, numbed existence.

It is depressing, and at the same time mesmeric, seeing Statham pull off the weight on his character. There’s a thinking actor in the man known to breakdown man and property in The Crank and Transporter.

That is until he sees Mei (Catherine Chan), a math prodigy with a photographic memory. Her bosses are the Chinese Triad, run by oft-gangster honcho playing actor James Hong (excellent in a menacing sort of a way). They apparently hate ‘paper trails’ or computer programmes fluent with math statistics. Mei is their captive walking-talking record keeper. She meets Wright in a subway who is on the run from the villainous Russian goons who killed his wife. From this point onwards Safe abandons its crisp attitude and turns Rambo.

Indeed, a lot of people—all bad, obviously—die agonising deaths. Then again, that’s the story Safe’s poster tells you in the first place (the poster has Statham pointing a gun straight at you). Written and directed by Boaz Yakin (writer of Prince of Persia:

Sands of Time and director of Remember the Titans), Safe is released by Tehelka and Lionsgate. It is rated R for body-riddling gunplay and brawling violence (including a first-rate scuffle in the subway).

The film’s producer credits include Lawrence Bender (Quentin Tarantino’s partner producer) and Kevin Spacey. Their faith in Statham’s flair and sense of conviction (whether he’s brawling or brooding) pays off in spades.

— Mohammad Kamran Jawaid