(Writer’s Note: This is going to be a fairly long review since there’s a lot to say about The Avengers so either brew yourself a cup of coffee and get comfortable or just scroll to the bottom and see the arbitrary star rating if your IQ and your age are pretty much the same number.)
Comic book movies and I have somewhat of a tumultuous relationship that frequently involves me condemning them as exploitative money-grabbing freeloaders with generic scripts and bottom-of-the-barrel crews designed for the sole purpose of sucking the well-earned cash from the pockets of an equally ignorant public whose insistence on letting films like Transformers go over the billion dollar mark puts a disappointing skidmark on the history of cinema.
However, quite contrarily, it’s very rare that I actually find any truly bad comic book films. It seems that for every Green Lantern there is a Batman film by Christopher Nolan and for every Daredevil are the X-Men films and for every Spider-Man 3 there is…well…actually come to think of it the only thing that could possibly make up for the terribleness of Spider-Man 3 would be a blowjob from Stacy Keibler coupled with an apology note from director Sam Raimi so that’s probably not a good example.
Anyway the point I’m getting at is that even though comic book films have a few bad apples, they (for the most part) have a fairly decent critical track record so I find it very strange of me to continue doubting them despite such high praise from most of the movie-going public. Maybe I just refuse to conform or maybe I’m just the only one whose brain works but I’ve felt rather isolated from my peers over the past two years because of my refusal to have anything but contempt for the upcoming film The Avengers, which is essentially Marvel’s personal bukkake of superheroes that they’ve been pushing on us since the release of Iron Man back in 2008. My lack of excitement for the film in relation to my fellow Forever Alone friends probably stems not from the thought of it being bad, but because of what it ultimately represents: the compendium of souless, money-sucking films dreamed up by executives in fresh suits who have probably never actually been to a movie but know that the film-going public likes to buy them more mansions whenever they release one with fanboy appeal. And The Avengers is the ultimate representation of said fanboy appeal; the Super Smash Bros. of the movie world that people will flock to not because they suspect it might actually have a decent plot or fleshed out characters but because they get to see Thor and Captain America in the same movie and OMG ISN’T THAT AWESOME LOLOLO!!!111.
Well, the time is finally here for all you fans out there to bust out your rubber Thor hammers and plastic Captain America shields as the film you’ve been waiting several years for has arrived. Well, at least for me; all you mortals out there have to wait until next Friday to see it so suck it.
So let’s get serious and down to business and review The Aven…I’m sorry, MARVEL’S The Avengers.
The Avengers scores some points with me right off the bat by making the proverbial shit hit the equally proverbial fan within the film’s first five minutes as the villain, Loki, invades a SHIELD/government/whatever base, kidnaps Jeremy Renner along with the first guy to be eaten by a shark in Deep Blue Sea then blows the place up and lights a cigar on the flames just to prove he ain’t fuckin’ around. It’s nice to see a superhero movie unafraid to make a mess at the very beginning instead of keeping things more in line so audiences don’t get too worried that things won’t actually work out and The Avengers definitely does this even if Loki’s motives are a little wishy washy, as we’ll discuss later.
Oh and I guess this is a good time to mention that if you haven’t seen last year’s Thor and Captain America then you may have some trouble figuring out just what the hell’s going on. If I had to pick one I’d say that Thor is much more important since it establishes just who this film’s villain is while Captain America will help wrap your head around the magical MacGuffin Cube that everyone chases around like it’s the last brownie at an obesity support group that seems to change function according to what’s convenient for the plot. In Captain America it was some sort of energy thing while in The Avengers it serves as a doorway or something so giant robot dragons can invade New York later on (and I don’t count that as a spoiler since it’s in the trailers).
Anyway, shortly after Loki destroys Samuel L. Jackson’s motherfuckin’ base and steals his motherfuckin’ cube we are then quickly introduced to the Avengers, in particular Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark who (sometimes annoyingly) steals every scene he’s in and then to Scarlett Johansson’s female assassin who disappointingly doesn’t flaunt nearly as much of her ass as she did in Iron Man 2 and is therefore uninteresting to talk about.
Who is interesting to talk about though is the newest addition to the Marvel film canon, and that is Mark Ruffalo’s iteration of Bruce Banner. Ruffalo’s performance is one of the film’s most vastly underrated and understated and it’s a shame that he doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as Tony Stark who can apparently only communicate using one-liners and by generally being an asshole to everyone who isn’t him. Ruffalo’s Banner perfectly embodies the somewhat geeky, likable, yet emotionally damaged scientist from Hulk lore. It’s a brilliant performance that is unfortunately overshadowed by everything going on around it, and there’s quite a bit…
While The Avengers doesn’t exactly suffer from Spider-Man 3 syndrome where it tries to squeeze an entire miniseries of plot into a two hour film, it does at times have a lack of characterization that I found a bit troubling, particularly in the later reels. Yes, I know that we’re already supposed to know about these characters from their previous films but there are times where director Joss Whedon gives them one or two lines of dialogue to explain complex backstories and then pushes us along like an overzealous tour guide. It’s not too bad, however, though Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye might as well be Generic Action Hereo #2129B who for some reason thinks that a bow and arrow is more efficient than say…a handheld object that fires tiny bits of metal at thousands of miles per hour.
Since I’ve been sort of beating around the bush, let me get this out of the way.
Is The Avengers good?
Is The Avengers the greatest superhero movie ever made?
However, just because I still reserve the Greatest Superhero Movie Ever Made spot to Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man it’s only because Peter Parker was a character I could relate to, a teenager who couldn’t talk to girls without needing an extra stick of deodorant and liked taking pictures of bugs rather than wearing his jeans below his boxers. It’s much more difficult for me to find any common ground with a 6’4″ demigod with abs like a giant unbroken Hershey bar or a billionaire playboy or a hot girl in spandex.
The Avengers is, undoubtedly, very, very, very good and well-worth seeing, particularly for the first hour and a half before the script tends to unravel a bit under the weight of being condensed into a two hour running time that actually feels too short. The script isn’t as loose as Christopher Nolan’s Batman films but isn’t nearly as tight as 2009’s Star Trek where everything sort of wrapped up in a neat little bow without any excess, but there’s still a lot that feels missing, if that makes any sense. The film is well fleshed out in some respects but shallow in others, and there’s really no way to elaborate on that any further without experiencing it yourself since my opinion when it comes to comic book films means about as much as Hitler’s opinion on antisemitism.
The Avengers‘ main problem isn’t the writing, or the dialogue (which is frequently quick, biting, hilarious and anything else you can pop out of the Generic Movie Review generator…that is until the end where Tony Stark’s quips begin to get a little ridiculous in the face of the total annihilation of New York). I loved the fact that the tone stays fairly light throughout the whole thing, even when Joss Whedon is killing off the most likable character like he does in every fucking thing he makes (Wash did not need to die in Serenity dammit!).
No, what knocks The Avengers down a half-star for those of you who already got bored and skimmed to the bottom is what made last year’s Thor so good: Loki.
What I loved about Loki in Thor was that his motivations stretched beyond “I’m evil so just go with it” and focused on his determination to impress his father while standing in the shadow of his collar-popping, keg party-crashing brother Thor. Loki, despite being the more level-headed brother who probably would’ve made a much better king, got to stand around as “the other kid” while his douchebag sibling Thor got all the attention that he didn’t deserve as if Loki was the random ginger kid born into a family of blondes. I genuinely liked Loki and found him to be one of the more interesting villains I’d seen in a long time even until the very ambiguous ending. So I was really looking forward to seeing his justification for taking over Earth in Joss Whedon’s film…
…which is why it really sucks that Whedon says “fuck it” and just makes Loki an evil little bitch who decides to unleash a horde of aliens on Manhattan for extremely poorly justified reasons; I don’t know, something about “freeing people by removing their freedom” or some philosophical bullshit that makes absolutely no sense unless you’re a mass murderer or something.
There are also quite a number of plot holes and intricacies I didn’t quite understand but maybe it’s not because Joss Whedon hoped we wouldn’t notice but maybe because my brain isn’t large enough to comprehend how Loki can teleport through most of the film but conveniently can’t find his way out of a glass cage, or how Bruce Banner can land hundreds of miles away after falling out of an aircraft carrier/giant sci-fi airship yet show up right smack in the middle of Manhattan at just the right time for the big battle on a fucking moped or how the MacGuffin Cube is both an energy source/forcefield/wormhole/whatever the plot needs it to be. Oh and remember how at the end of last year’s Thor the magical rainbow bridge to Earth was broken thus trapping Thor on Asgard and keeping him from Natalie Portman? Want to know how Thor got to Earth in The Avengers? Well, so the fuck would I because this movie just sort of forgets about that whole thing. They explain it with one line but it’s something about dark energy or some other bullshit and it’s never brought up again.
Most of The Avengers’ shortcomings occur near the movie’s end and I feel are the result of Whedon being afraid to stretch the film too long. You can’t help but get the feeling that, despite the incredible set pieces and the fucking awesome robot dragon things flying through Manhattan (because it is always Manhattan, seriously Hollywood’s insistence on constantly unleashing hell upon this city is enough to give New Yorkers a fear of going outside sometimes), a good portion of the script got trimmed from the final reals. The transition from the Avengers all doing their inevitable split up into all of them fighting against the (completely random) alien invaders all of the sudden without any sort of emotional catharsis beyond the death of a second-tier character that no one really cared about anyway gives one the impression that Whedon cut quite a bit in favor of getting to the explosions faster, which is a shame because the action in The Avengers is not nearly as entertaining as the dialogue between the characters.
But in all seriousness, my minor complaints only exist because I’d feel like a failure if I didn’t find something to whine about and The Avengers is not just good, it’s great, highlighted (at least for me) by Mark Ruffalo’s brilliant performance as Bruce Branner as he proves to be the only actor thus far able to beautifully portray the character that has long struggled to get a decent film made for him. It definitely doesn’t have the seriousness of Nolan’s Batman films but it never gets too goofy, either, striking a perfect balance of tone that it somehow manages to sustain throughout every reel. I recommend seeing it (in glorious 2D) and walking out before the stupid post-credits scene promising a sequel that I hope to God doesn’t actually happen (however, I’m very aware that begging Marvel not to make a sequel will have about as much impact as when I yell at the TV during football games), because honestly the film wraps up pretty nicely and a sequel would only serve as Marvel teabagging its famished fanbase and I think would definitely damage the legacy of what I found to be an otherwise fine film that far exceeded my expectations.
Though considering that my expectations were for it to suck harder than a starving vampiric sorority girl, that’s really not saying too much.