Directed By: Barry Odom
Starring: Kelly Bryant, Cale Garrett, Albert Okwuegbunam, Ronnell Perkins
Synopsis: After a string of mixed individual performances, the Mizzou Tigers team up to topple their peskiest foe and form a mighty team capable of greatness.
Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?
For the first three weeks of the season, it was nothing but a mixed bag for audiences keeping up with the Missouri Tigers. After a box office bust in week one, and two solid — if somewhat unconvincing — follow-ups, it was crunch time for director Barry Odom and his talented cast and crew. Audiences responded surprisingly well after the horrors of Wild Wild West, but with big expectations headed into his fourth feature of the year, Odom couldn’t afford another flop.
Thankfully, he didn’t need to worry too much. The Avengers was an absolute riot, the result of a long-gestating plan coming together perfectly (OK, maybe not perfectly) to win back crowds headed into the well-earned off week.
Set in the storm-struck city of Columbia, Mo., The Avengers focuses on a group of promising but unproven Tigers looking to come together to take down their peskiest foe — the dreaded ‘Cocks of Lesser Columbia. They’re a nasty group of chickens who have been hard to kill in the past, but this group seeks to come together to [ahem] avenge the losses of the past. And while the final result is utterly satisfying, things don’t start out so hot.
It’s nice to spend time with each of these guys, especially when their performances are convincing (see: Kelly Bryant vs. West Virginia; Larry Rountree III vs. SEMO), but the stakes hadn’t been this high yet. You can tell the nerves get to the cast early, especially when it comes to the stars. Their performances are shaky and tight, almost as if you could feel the expectations weighing them down.
Fortunately, this leaves room for plenty of help from the supporting cast. While you’re distracted and waiting for Kelly Bryant or Albert Okwuegbunam to take over, character guys like Ronnell Perkins or Kobie Whiteside come in and prove their mettle, showing that you don’t need all the attention to really win over a crowd. Perkins is especially good in his breakout role, picking off the spotlight in one fell swoop for a moment that audiences won’t soon forget.
Still, the feature can’t quite get on its feet while the stars struggle. Fortunately, the support from their surrounding players affords stars like Bryant some room to settle in. Eventually, Bryant turns into the guy you expect him to be, darting around bad guys and slinging missiles with pinpoint accuracy. This is especially the case in the film’s Second Act, when Bryant really steals the show with his physicality.
Of course, a feature this successful is nothing without its behind the camera talent. Odom, who has worked hard to win back trust after his shaky start, directs to perfection, giving his stars room to breathe while keeping everyone else motivated to carry the action. He doesn’t let anyone flounder and eventually draws out the performances you want to see from everyone involved. There are still occasional missteps and maybe a bad call on his part, but the overall direction is much stronger.
Of course, The Avengers wouldn’t be such a smashing success without the surprise star: Director of Defensography Ryan Walters. Some fans wondered if Wild Wild West spelled the end of Walters’ time as Odom’s trusted Defensography head — it was sloppy, unprepared and made Walters seem to be in over his head. However, Walters touted a more hands-on approach this time around, and it shows. You can feel his passion in every hit on the field and the precision with which his schemes put the cast in positions to succeed is perfect mise en fièld. It’s Walters’ finest work to date, especially in the way he makes the ‘Cocks look so feeble after previous features showed them to be a potential sleeping giant.
All in all, it’s Odom’s first blockbuster hit of the 2019 season. By the end of the nearly three-and-a-half hour run time, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Odom has the wherewithal to lead this talented crew to more box office success in the future.
It’s too bad Odom and Co. are taking a few weeks off before their next promising picture, because it’s the first time in a while audiences have been screaming for more.