Review: The Avengers
When “The Avengers” works, it’s an easy-to-swallow adventure full of clever quips and fun. At its worst, it is a by-the-numbers, safe-as-they-come blockbuster full of overdone action, a bare-bones story, and an uninteresting villain. It’s a perfectly adequate diversion and the kind of epic that we’ve come to expect from summer movie season. What it isn’t? Close to resembling something we’ve never seen before. It’s made to be enjoyable to the widest amount of people possible, and at that it’s a definite success. However, this keeps the film from taking any risks whatsoever, and thus it fails to rise above its potential.
One of the things I noticed while sitting in the theater is how “The Avengers” doesn’t at all feel like the culmination of 5 other films. Instead, it feel like the next entry, one that will simply lead to more and more Avengers movies. It lacks the uniqueness of the better Marvel entries, in particular. “Captain America” benefited from having it’s own style, mainly due to the effort of making the film look like a product of its time. “Thor” was bookended by distinct visual flair, and was surprisingly fun due to the fact that it seemed the be a completely different genre most of the time. “Iron Man” was very enjoyable due to the infectious performance given by Robert Downy, Jr., who once again gives us our money’s worth with his non-stop barrage of sarcastic and witty one-liners. “The Avengers” thankfully never sinks to the bordom-enducing blandness of “Iron Man 2”, but it also never develops much of a personality of its own outside of what has already been established.
There tends to be a very “corporate-approved” feel to the proceedings, despite the best efforts of writer Joss Whedon to inject some life into the exposition. Indeed, the best parts of the film are the ones in which we are treated to some very funny dialogue and banter between the team. Although Downey Jr. gets most of the best lines, there were a few other clever moments. I especially enjoyed a joke delivered by Chris Evans in reference to “The Wizard of Oz”. It becomes a breath of fresh air When the film slows down and allows the Avengers to interact outside of the mindless action. These scenes breeze by and are very entertaining, I just wish there was more of them.
Mark Ruffalo is there this time around as Bruce Banner, and I thought he did a fantastic job. He really nails the likable, endearing character, which is why it’s all the more frustrating that his character provides the biggest plot hole of the film. There is simply no reason to have a scene in the middle of the film regarding his ability to control his transformation and actions if it is just going to be taken back later on. It provides a “huh?” moment that I can’t believe hasn’t been acknowledged more by others. It’s all the more puzzling because the inconsistency could have been easily avoided.
That brings me to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Part of what made “Thor” such a surprisingly effective movie was its interesting and morally complex villain. Having Loki be defined so well by circumstance allowed the audience a look at a tragic character that was misunderstood and mistreated. This time around, the character is basically ruined by turning Loki into a generic power-hungry psycho. Although a couple lines are written in as an attempt to explain this change, it’s very disappointing that the one defined villain of the story has been made this bland, especially considering how much I liked him previously. The line referencing Hitler didn’t help things, nor did the fact that his new god-complex was apparently put in just to lead into a set piece late in the film.
Whedon does a fine job of balancing all the characters overall (even though Downey does seem to command the most attention), and there isn’t too many forced “hero moments”. The new characters to the group, Hawkeye and Black Widow, do end up hurting the main 4’s credibility when they are shown to all fight together in the climactic chaos. After all, if these ordinary (if skilled) humans can hold their own just fine, the powers of the rest seem the slightest bit less impressive. A better job is done with them when they are allowed to be on their own, such as Black Widow’s introduction (a fun call-back to the opening of “The Matrix”). Whedon uses his well-known penchant for showcasing female action stars on her, and it mostly comes of well. One of the main issues with the characters as a whole is the lack of development or story arc for any of them. I understand that the previous movies were produced to avoid having to fit it in to this one, but it’s never-the-less bothersome. “The Avengers” ends up feeling more like a 30 minute children’s cartoon made into a big budget movie because of this. And while that’s what may have been expected, I can’t help but think of how much more enjoyable it would have been if they had attempted to pull off more.
For some time it has become standard for these big summer movies to push two and a half hours. If the story requires it, this is not an issue. However, I was disappointed to confirm that the runtime here was more to service the over-the-top action at the expense of a good story. Strip away the scenes of the Avengers being recruited and learning to work together, and I seriously doubt there was 15 minutes of run-time devoted to the Transformers-like alien invasion. Instead, the two main action set-pieces seem to go on, and on, and on, far past their logical climax. There’s only so many things I can see explode, inter-cut with shots of the heroes dispatching generic aliens, before numb boredom takes over. I understand scenes like this need to exist in action flicks. Their existence is not the issue, but rather that I feel a better impact could be made by not dragging them out to such a degree.
One of the things I appreciated most about “Thor” was that the producers avoided trying to one-up every other Superhero flick. They knew what it was and were happy to play it relatively low-key, not overdoing the action but instead using it to service the story. In “The Avengers” a sincere effort seems to have been made to out-epic every film that has come before, leading to an onslaught of seemingly never-ending explosions, gun-fire, and CGI creatures. Suffice to say, I shudder to think of where things go from here. At some point you’d think these franchises might tire of the “bigger is always better” approach, but obviously “The Avengers” is not that movie.
That being said, I do have to applaud the direction of these scenes in some respects. This is one of the only big budget action movies in recent years that I can remember being shot in 1.85 aspect ratio, and Whedon makes sure the audience knows what’s going on in said action scenes. The alien ships may look like they came straight out of Transformers, but at least in this film the action is not an incoherent blob of shaky cam and badly framed movements. So while the action went on far too long, and became far too inconsequntial, at least I knew what was going on most of the time, and that’s something! The effects were also fantastic. I may tire of the constant overload of CGI, but hardly any of it stuck out like a sore thumb, showing how far the medium has come over the years. No one can say the budget wasn’t put to full use for this one.
The other production choices were serviceable if unspectacular. I found the Alan Silverstri score in particular to be disappointingly unmemorable. Not until the closing credits did I even realize what the main theme was supposed to be, and the movie lacked any moments were I noticed the score adding emotion or substance. Speaking of the end credits, there were two post-credits scenes, one to set up the obvious sequel, and one just for fun. The sequel-teaser did nothing for me, as I was unsure if I was even supposed to know what it meant.
For a film that was led up to with 5 other movies, I was disappointed at the lackluster villains served up that was meant to require the characters to finally team up. When you have a mythology including multiple worlds spanning the universe, and creatures are able to warp in with magical weapons of destructions, is “aliens attack New York” really the best we could get? I may be nitpicking, but just imagine all the possibilities. Again, you can give me all the action and explosions you want, but I would have liked to seen something I hadn’t experienced in many other movies. Let us not ignore the fact that the resolution to this epic invasion is taking straight of the “Phantom Menace” brand of the keystone-army trope.
“The Avengers” never aims to be an Oscar-nominee, of course. No one will confuse the effort here to be in the same vein as Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, but I’m happy to report that Marvel continues to achieve a level above lazy cash-in’s like the Transformers or Pirates of the Carribean sequels. It’s right around the quality of the better Marvel films while failing to hit the fresh notes of the very best. As for a recommendation? If you like your excessive action with some genuine wit and humor, it will do the job just fine. Joss Whedon did perhaps the best he could in the constraints of a movie engineered to be one of the biggest movie events ever. “The Avengers” may not live up to all that hype, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have worthwhile moments.