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May 30, 2012

18

Movie Review – The Avengers (2012)

by HELEN GEIB and NIR SHALEV

SUMMARY

Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.; Iron Man and Iron Man 2). Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans; Captain America: The First Avenger). Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson; introduced in Iron Man 2). Thor (Chris Hemsworth; Thor). Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, taking over from Ed Norton; The Incredible Hulk). Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

What will it take to get them to work together as a team? S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson; progressively larger recurring role) needs the answer, and fast, when Loki (Tom Hiddleston; Thor) decides to make the earth his personal kingdom in writer-director Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.

HELEN’S TAKE

The series so far has given us the self-titled origin stories of four of the Avengers. The Avengers is the origin story for The Avengers. Strictly speaking you don’t have to see the other movies in the series first, but I don’t recommend going in cold.

First, if you haven’t seen the other movies [1] by now, then this is clearly not your genre. If you’ve seen them and didn’t like them, or saw them and thought they would have been better if they were more like The Dark Knight or Watchmen, then this may or may not be your genre, but it isn’t your series. Following the lead of first Avenger Captain America, the Marvel comic book movie series is unabashedly old-fashioned: big, bold, straightforward, colorful, action-packed, laugh-filled, crowd-pleasing tales of heroes and heroines with extraordinary abilities who battle personal demons and public enemies. These superheroes are doers not mopers. You can count on them to save the day.

Second, this is the sixth episode of a series with its next three episodes already in the works and more likely to follow. The Avengers simply isn’t written to be viewed in isolation. The starting point is a large cast of familiar [2] characters, a complex network of pre-existing relationships, and an established world order (specifically, S.H.I.E.L.D.). The characterization picks up from where we last left them. Many of the jokes play off the earlier films. [3] As in those earlier films, some stuff is in there just to set up plot points for future episodes. Even this episode’s standalone “save the world” plot is an outgrowth of Thor and Loki’s contest in Thor.

Sure there are negatives. It’s a given in any comic book superhero movie that there are things that just have to be accepted; this one has its fair share (most of which the movie glides past smoothly enough). Joss Whedon has never been a visually-oriented director and the visual aesthetic is only serviceable, a does-its-job show window for the costumes and CGI. This is a movie that exists entirely at its surface. [4]

The Avengers succeeds because it excels where it counts: at corralling a fractious group of superheroes on the same stage. A crowded stage also occupied by a fan favorite supervillain and numerous supporting characters variously beloved, enthusiastically reviled, and new on the scene. Whedon apportions the funny lines and action beats among this motley crew without favoritism. Everyone’s favorite character gets a turn in the spotlight. Nobody’s least favorite character is in the spotlight for too long. When the Avengers again go their separate ways at the end, new adventures in new combinations lie just over the horizon.

3 1/2 stars

[1] The easily and best forgotten The Incredible Hulk is excluded from this discussion.

[2] With three exceptions worth noting: The Avengers is a proper introduction to Barton/Hawkeye after his cameo in Thor, a re-introduction to Banner/Hulk after his origin story misfire, and the first appearance by a Fury aide whose obvious interest in Steve Rogers signals her next appearance.

[3] The script is further studded with unobtrusive references and in-jokes for Marvel comics fans, some of which were pointed out to me by a Marvel comics fan, a friend who is my go-to source in these matters, and some of which I got on my own, thanks to knowledge acquired in conversations with my friend about the earlier films.

[4] I didn’t see, hear, or discern anything new on the second viewing. I also enjoyed the movie precisely exactly as much. Zero diminution of enjoyment on further acquaintance is nothing to scorn.

NIR’S TAKE

For half a decade the world had been anticipating the arrival of The Avengers. And now that they’re here, The Avengers have nothing to do.

Early in the film there is mention of an oncoming alien invasion led by Loki. The reasoning is unknown but Loki seems to have a God complex (in which he believes that he’s an unstoppable God) so I’m guessing that he seeks world domination because evil people dominate worlds. But between the announcement of the alien invasion and the final climactic action extravaganza that unfolds during the film’s final 30 minutes, nothing of any consequence or real importance transpires.

The Avengers, an overly expensive exercise in banality, reintroduces and develops fully Black Widow. And that’s it for character development. Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor have all had previous films detailing their backgrounds and developing their characters down to a tee. Also in the mix are Nick Fury, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Tessaract, the blue glowing cube from Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Loki plans to use the Tessaract in order to open a wormhole to another universe, bring an alien race known as The Chitauri to Earth, and with their help destroy or enslave it. That’s it for character development AND the so-called plot.

Even with so much at stake, after introducing the oncoming alien invasion the film forgets about it and decides to focus on the individual members of The Avengers team as they bicker with one another about superfluous and uninteresting things. The film quickly loses focus and meanders about for almost two hours. Characters create the story’s actions and the film’s titular characters bicker on and on aimlessly like children. And their bickering doesn’t create any action, rather it incites further bickering. There’s even a scene midway where Thor engages in a fight with Iron Man because at that point in the film they’re unable to simply talk things through. Captain America eventually joins the fight in hopes of stopping it and the three men fight because- well, it has nothing to do with the film’s overall plot so it’s an entirely pointless scene. I honestly didn’t know why the fight took place and I didn’t really care.

This film is also chock-full of Whedon-style moments of childish humor, not belonging in this film at all. All of the comedy bits also fall flat unless uttered by or involving Tony Stark, but that was a given. The Avengers aren’t even made aware of the invasion until the third act of the film so the film lacks all sense of urgency and suspense; to add insult to injury the team doesn’t even really have a reason to assemble because Nick Fury does a terrible job as a boss. He knows that trouble is brewing yet not once throughout the film does he simply explain to the group that he wants them to become a team in order to defeat Loki and whatever plan he’s cooked up. So how did the filmmakers manage to waste so much time, focusing on developing the characters that had already been developed in previous films while keeping audiences entertained without any true purpose or reason?

I dislike most aspects of the film: the story is basically non-existent; the characters meander about and constantly bicker over unimportant matters; Loki steals all the scenes that he’s in but seldom has important or interesting things to say; the team doesn’t have an articulated reason to assemble as a team, for the most part; the sense of urgency and suspense that should exist is replaced with humor and quirky bits of dialogue, not pertaining to the film’s story (if you can call it that); and the final 30 minute action extravaganza is well shot but has reminded me too much of those dreadful Transformers films.

The Avengers feels like a TV director was given a ridiculously huge budget, one that he’s not used to and was unsure how to use because TV and film are two remarkably dissimilar mediums. I’d call this film a mess but that would require happenings to have occurred and mostly nothing happens throughout this film and also, one uninteresting sequence logically follows another. I am truly and utterly disappointed in this film.

2 stars

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18 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 31 2012

    I’m glad that you mention that the cinematography is mediocre, that it “just does its job”. I find the cinematography to be sub-par, like the film was directed by a made for TV director. There’s no imagination here, aesthetically and thematically, and I find the filmmaking to be as sub-par as the material.

  2. Aaron Ploof
    May 31 2012

    I thought it was fun. True, there was no overall riding theme here, or big important message, but neither was there for Captain America (who to me, is one of the blandest superheroes ever).

    Not every movie has to be the Dark Knight or Spiderman 2. Still, this was a fun movie, I thought.

  3. May 31 2012

    I enjoyed it enormously and consider it the best of the Marvel series so far, just ahead of “Captain America”. It’s light entertainment but I say that as a statement of fact, not as a criticism. If it was a serious-minded movie ala “The Dark Knight” the weaknesses would be significant, but it isn’t and they aren’t. “The Avengers” gets the characters right, the pacing is excellent, and it’s really funny.

    I’m delighted that it’s a massive success because 1) I really liked it and 2) the series filmmakers have earned their customers’ loyalty by turning out consistent and consistently entertaining movies. (“The Incredible Hulk” again excepted, which they’ve now made up for anyway with the new Banner/Hulk of “The Avengers”.)

  4. May 31 2012

    I wasn’t going to compare The Avengers to any Christopher Nolan film because it’s not trying to be in the same category as his Batman films. And astonishingly, no one else on the internet (well, where’s I’ve frequented) has compared Avengers and Dark Knight, either. :O)

    “Light entertainment” would be, to me is a criticism on the film because I didn’t care for the characters and their cause. I’ve waited patiently for them to assemble as an ass kicking team and found their lack of comradery and the film’s overly comedic tone more kitschy than entertaining. Honestly I was bothered and am astonished that no one else in the world was annoyed by them.

    And Joss Whedon, I find, was a bad choice for director for this film. I don’t like his screenplay and I find this film uninteresting to look at. There’s a reason as to why he’s written and produced far more than he’s directed in the past. Firefly, Buffy, Dollhouse… he’s directed the first episode of each show and that’s it. He gets others to write and direct episodes for him and that’s what it’s like in the TV world, which I greatly dislike.

    But the internet calls me a troll and I will go and live under a bridge, burying my feeling for this film along with my presence. :O)

  5. Miriam
    May 31 2012

    I was entertained, maybe not as much as Helen but way more than Nir. I think Helen’s assessment that this is an origin story is the best approach to enjoying the film. The Loki invasion story is undeveloped and hopelessly lame anyway, so we should think of it basically as a mcguffin which allows the superheroes to interact and become a team. I wish the movie’s internal logic had been stronger but I enjoyed the comedy and mostly let the weak spots slide by.

    Perhaps I don’t ask enough of these comics based movies but low expectations are certainly more easily satisfied. All I hope for is the same level of entertainment that I’d get from flipping through several issues of the comic. If I want an intelligent story or character development I’ll look elsewhere.

  6. May 31 2012

    Here here!

    I like your use of the term mcguffin; now, if Loki and/or his alien invasion plan was a true mcguffin and was to be utilized far more throughout the film it might have made me care more. :O)

  7. May 31 2012

    @Nir: I would hate to spark a pointless discussion so I will clarify for anyone reading that I have no interest in comparing them either. It was a general point.

    @Miriam: Agreed that Loki’s plan for world domination could have been swapped out for any other sufficiently grave planetary threat. It’s important primarily as a catalyst for the Avengers- only one of whom is a team player- to coalesce into a team, and very secondarily important as a story line in itself.

    Nonetheless I don’t go so far as to completely dismiss it on the merits; however, that’s because I look at it from the vantage point of sequel to “Thor” and lead-in to “Thor 2”. In that (middle episode) respect it’s of a piece with the rest of the movie.

    If I hadn’t seen and liked the other movies, and if I wasn’t already looking forward to the next batch of sequels, I wouldn’t think nearly so well of “The Avengers”. I like these characters and I enjoy spending time with them, and spending time with them is exactly what the movie’s all about.

  8. Aaron Ploof
    Jun 4 2012

    I haven’t seen Thor. Does it explain Loki’s invasion in greater detail.

    Because honestly, that’s a part of the film that didn’t really make much sense to me.

    What I liked most about the film is the personalities clashing and the group forming. Nir, I don’t think you can expect the group to form a strong alliance (This being an origin story and all).

  9. Jun 4 2012

    See, I don’t see it as an origin story because most of the character have already had an origin story developed so them joining forces as a team should not have been treated as an origin story but rather the next evolutionary step. This film, I find, is a step backwards and not forward; it doesn’t progress the characters’ development but rather halts their development for 2.5 hours.

    And Aaron, in re to Thor, no. Thor tells the story of two brothers, one wise and cunning (Loki), the other strong, stubborn, and rash (Thor). But before their father chooses to make the strong brother the king of their kingdom, he sends him to Earth, powerless in order to experience humility and earn his father’s respect as a decent person and one worthy of wearing a crown. Loki, then just wants to take over the kingdom himself. That’s it. And even though most of the second half of the film takes place on Earth, Earth is not an issue.

    That’s why I find that Loki in The Avengers was wasted.

  10. Jun 4 2012

    @Aaron: Yes and no. The aliens don’t appear in “Thor”; what you see in “The Avengers” in that opening scene is it as far as their part in the story goes. However, Thor and Loki’s antagonism as developed in “Thor” answers the “why earth?” question behind the invasion. It establishes Loki’s motivation for picking our planet to run riot in, over all the other available choices in the universe (we learned in “Thor” that we are very much not alone), and also why he’s so dead set on gaining some planet- any planet- to rule in the first place. You can pick up some of this from the Thor-Loki confrontation scene but it makes a lot more sense if you know the backstory.

  11. Jun 4 2012

    @Nir: Aaron has my point exactly. The focus is the team and how they interact as part of it. Individualized character development is modest but it is there. Learning to take direction in a fight and use teamwork instead of going it alone is a huge step forward for these guys.

    If this was a standalone movie that degree of character development wouldn’t be very satisfying. In the context of the series however, it’s good enough that it pushes the individual stories along in a small way because this is a group adventure. They’ll get to take center stage again in their own movies.

  12. Jun 4 2012

    I have only two things to say about that: 1) Nick Fury is a terrible boss. He never, not once mentions the word “team” and seeing that that’s the focus of the film I blame most of the “superfluous and boring” happenings on Fury alone. Whether Joss Whedon had intended that is another thing all on its own. I’d love to hear his commentary track if he provides one for the film.

    And 2) the characters that eventually form The Avengers have never worked together so what they know about each other is just what they heard on the grapevine. They all know about Cap Am because of his contribution to the United Stated army during WWII, after all he’s a decorated war hero; and they all have heard about Hulk because of what he does to every city that he turns green in. But the way in which their teamwork flowed so well during the final 30 minutes bothers me specifically because they haven’t worked as a team before. They should have made more individual mistakes and the battle should have felt more arduous but it just flowed so well that I felt terribly unconvinced. How they became that team of superheroes that work together so brilliantly doesn’t show throughout the film; there’s no team progression, just egos that need to be booted.

    Does that mean that they were meant to be a team and that fate had it in them to work well together from the get go? If so, I find that lame.

    Thoughts?

  13. Jun 5 2012

    @Nir: You make it sound like they’re Legionaries fighting in complex battle formations. Teamwork for The Avengers translates to, “Let Cap call the shots.” The rest of them put themselves under his command and then go off and do their own thing at his direction.

    A highly effective strategy since Cap’s an experienced combat veteran and a natural leader, plus New York’s his hometown so he knows the ground. Ego-subordination is part of it, sure; that’s not trivial considering Stark, Thor, and Banner all have super-sized egos (Banner quite literally!). Trust and respect are also important; that’s brought out in a number of scenes, like Stark’s delaying tactic speech to Loki and Rogers trusting Natasha’s signal that Hawkeye was “back”.

    And it isn’t the first time they’ve fought with each other- “with” as in alongside and “with” as in against. There’s teamwork and antagonism in various combinations prior to and during “The Avengers”, the earlier match-ups leading up the climactic set-to when they’re finally all in it together as one coordinated unit.

    Fury’s part in creating The Avengers as a team was to recognize that they had complementary strengths, put them in the same room together, and give a push when he thought it was needed. He has a hands-off management style. I can respect that.

  14. Jun 5 2012

    I don’t know, I didn’t buy that.

    Plus, who made the Captain the leader? I know that he’s the leader and so does the rest f the world but the team never said that he’s the leader. And when he took command no one objected to it, and neither did anyone say that they were okay with it. It just kind of happened.

    Many people tell me that the film feels organic as a whole, that the team had organically come together and not in the cliched three act story structure but the film has a distinct three act story structure and their coming together annoyed me. No, not everyone gets along in a team environment but when it goes on for over an hour it grows repetitive and annoying. And I know that they became a team at the end simply because they had no choice but it never felt like it. They argued and argued and argued and finally saw the skies open and said, “Oh, oh, we need to team up and do something” and that also annoyed me.

    Again, I might be missing something but I’ve watched the film twice and still find nothing interesting in it or like nothing about it except Stark and Banner. I don’t like the [lack of] story, I don’t like the supposed organic feel to the flow and structure of the film, and I don’t like the whole first act. It was a mess.

    I guess you just cant please everyone. But what I dislike the most is that everyone out there claims that an Avengers movie was nearly impossible to make in the first place, so no one had any good expectations towards it. And after seeing, everyone said, and keeps saying that the film is a sort of miracle and a masterpiece; a perfect film, an epic, and an instant classic. I just don’t see that.

  15. Jun 5 2012

    “who made the Captain the leader?” They did, by unanimous agreement, with Iron Man as their spokesman. “Call it Cap”- direct quote- while they stand in perfect comic book cover formation in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. Then he does, and then they get down to business saving the planet. In word, deed, and visual symbolism the scene screams “We are now a team and this guy’s our team leader”.

    You don’t think that the team feels organic. I don’t agree but it can be argued. But to say that it just sort of happens in a passive way is contradicted by the plain meaning of the most important scene in the movie.

    Look, I have never said that this is a perfect movie, or a masterpiece, or a movie that nobody could possibly dislike; nor for that matter have I read any reviews that claim it or know anyone who claims it. Yes, I’ve seen and heard mostly positive reviews along the same lines as mine, that it’s funny and exciting. But I’ve also seen and heard some negative reviews that say it’s stupid and boring. I’ve read reviews that variously claim the movie was stolen by Iron Man, The Hulk, Nick Fury, Thor, and Captain America. People like it for different reasons and dislike it for different reasons. Opinion is generally positive but hardly monolithic.

  16. Jun 6 2012

    True. And I believe that those that love it the most are the comic book fans that know how accurate the film is towards the comics (character-wise) and also that never believed that the film would ever be made.

    I hadn’t read any of the comics depicting any of the characters from the Avengers team, or Avengers comics, and I much prefer the previous films that they star in simply because I don’t like teams and I like deep character analysis and development; and this film didn’t give me any of that. The previous films gave me what I wanted (save for Hulk, he’ll never be interesting to me -just like Wolverine) so it’s possible that I walked into this film with a biased opinion.

    Then again, I love Inception so now I’m confused. U_U;

  17. Aaron Ploof
    Jun 6 2012

    Captain America gave me no character development at all.

    I thought the film was a necessary step towards character development for the team. They have no time in the film to devote to individual character arcs, and to expect the team to come back together afterwards is not going to help anything.

    BTW, Nir, I recently saw South Park’s parody of Inception, and I LOVED it. Even though I did like the film.

  18. Jun 6 2012

    Insheepiton is an awesome episode, indeed. And their latest season, season 15 is awesome as well. :O)

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