Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Avengers Movie Review

A funny thing started happening in my mind a few days after seeing The Avengers – I actually began feeling like I wanted to see it again. This after coming out of it with the usual lackluster feelings I have after another superhero movie. The bar has been set so low for our expectations when it comes to the latest incarnation of some colorful but troubled person with special powers that we think of films as uninteresting as Spider Man 2 and Iron Man as great works of art. I enjoyed those films almost as much as anyone I suppose and I agree they are among the best the genre has to offer, but as far as I can tell the only thing that sets them apart from junk like The Fantastic Four is a slightly better screenplay and at least an attempt at something deeper and richer beyond blowing stuff up real big and loud.

Bringing on an interesting director to helm a superhero movie can have the effect of at least providing something that’s not entirely cut from a mold. Think of Sam Raimi’s Spider Man trilogy which retains some of Raimi’s indie horror flick sensibilities or Ang Lee’s Hulk with its introspection that unfortunately turned audiences off. And of course there’s Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy which combines interesting stories with a unique visual palette. Joss Whedon has a strong cult following after his successful TV series a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” so I had a certain amount of excited anticipation at his writing and directing The Avengers.

This is the ultimate team superhero movie for which films such as Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger served as glorified trailers. I don’t think it much matters if you’ve seen any of those films, although the central villain comes out of Thor and perhaps some of your appreciation could be enhanced by having seen that dreadfully bad Kenneth Branagh film. You see, Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has made some kind of deal with an alien race that will install him as supreme ruler of earth after they send their devastating army through a cross galaxy portal to crush the spirit of the people. I’m not sure why Loki has any interest in ruling over a planet of people he deems to be worthless or why this all powerful army would make Loki the king after they just did the fighting, but now I’m just asking too many questions. This mysterious portal is created by some incredible device of self-sustaining energy called the Tesseract, which is part of a secret project overseen by Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). If you’ve seen Captain America: The First Avenger, then these details will be familiar. If not, it’s not a big deal. It’s fairly easy to go along with it.

This segues into an overlong sequence that gathers The Avengers together. We go to Russia where Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is working a mark for intelligence; India where Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, the third actor in as many movies to portray the Hulk) has been laying low and helping the locals with their medical needs; Stark Tower in New York where Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is doing his arrogant bravado thing; and a boxing gym where Captain America (Chris Evans) is working out some aggression from having missed the last 70 years of history. But isn’t someone missing? Ah yes, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who ended his own movie back on his home planet of Asgard. He will make a striking appearance to deal with Loki in his own way. Never mind that at the end of Thor the bridge that whisked him off to other worlds had been destroyed leaving him no way back to earth. I suppose it also doesn’t matter that when the bridge existed it was a direct line to New Mexico, but this time he’s delivered to the outside of a plane in flight. Somehow after all that there’s still room in the script for Tony’s love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and SHIELD Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who makes an appearance in most of the Marvel Avenger movies. Thor’s love interest (played originally by Natalie Portman) gets a dismissive line to explain her absence.

The movie breaks all kinds of logical rules and finds new ways of utilizing technologies that were never explored in previous films, such as Loki using the power generated by the Tesseract to turn Selvig and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the final Avenger to be added to the mix, to the dark side with icy blue eyes. Don’t worry, for the big final showdown Hawkeye will have been turned back by – I’m not joking – a simple blow to the head. I swear that’s the same method used in the old “G.I. Joe” cartoons I used to watch after elementary school.

It takes so long to get the plot in motion because of all the characters who have to be introduced that by then we’re really just itching for a big battle or at least for Dr. Banner to finally Hulk out. We know that will probably happen in the worst place possible which is aboard a flying aircraft carrier – again, I’m not kidding – that harnesses the power of Wonder Woman’s (unavailable due to licensing issues by DC Comics) invisible jet. But with any good team effort depicted in a film there has to be a lot of infighting before the soul-searching reveals they can only win by working together. What do you think will happen when you get a whole bunch of superheroes together in one room? Think about the egos involved! So first there are battles amongst the Avengers. Hulk fights Thor and then Iron Man steps in. It gets pretty tedious watching a bunch of virtually indestructible characters wallop the hell out of one another. Where’s the emotional investment if there are no physical consequences involved?

By the time the film reaches its tremendous New York City climax, with a portal opened above the Manhattan skyline to allow an alien race in to wreak havoc and destruction, I’m so bored and just want it to be done. This battle doesn’t drag on nearly as long as the climax of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but it does wear out its welcome a little bit. However, I must admit to enjoying some of it some of the time. It wasn’t all bad, but how many times can we really watch CGI explosions and destruction. There’s little to no mystery left in action movies. There are no limits to what can be depicted with computers and producers don’t give a damn if it looks like a cartoon. I do wish to applaud Whedon for employing alien creatures that are put together with good old fashioned latex and makeup (at least in close-ups). There is truly interesting and frightening creature design there, reminiscent of some of the work done on Serenity and “Firefly.”

For the most part, Whedon’s screenplay (from a story by Zak Penn) is passable despite some real clunkers in the dialogue:

“We need a plan of attack.”
“I have a plan. Attack.”

He makes the most of what he has to work with which are mostly uninteresting and uninvolving characters. Thor is a dullard. He couldn’t carry his own movie and barely makes an impact in this one. Hawkeye is given little to do except fire off arrows like Legolas from The Lord of the Rings and Hulk is just a rampage monster. The tone lightens considerably when Tony Stark is around. He gets all the best lines and I even caught myself laughing more than once.

Iron Man felt like its own movie. Iron Man 2 felt like a sequel but began to feel like a setup for The Avengers. The Incredible Hulk can stand on its own while Thor and Captain America feel like nothing more than hooks for this film, which itself comes across as a big giant commercial for the next Avengers movie. Paramount  and Marvel Studios have totally hoodwinked us. Each film is just a lure for the next in the series. Even though The Avengers doesn’t have to deal with all the origin stories that tend to bog down the first 45 minutes of most superhero films, it still takes up that time just assembling the gang. The Avengers currently sits at number 31 on the IMDb’s top 250. That’s right behind Psycho and It’s a Wonderful Life and a couple steps in front of Sunset Blvd. Yes, my friends, the bar has been set very low indeed if this is what passes for great cinema.


  1. all that geekiness and comicbook charm was achieved by The Avengers

  2. This review was very generously picked up and re-posted at The Comics Decoder. Thanks to R.W. Watkins for the nod: