01/06/2012. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper
This epic superhero film is the fulfilment of plot hints dropped in many previous Marvel films and brings together Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, and Black Widow into a spectacular dustup directed and co-written by Joss Whedon. While the film lacks the visual imagination of Thor or the period feel of Captain America, it has more of a sense of structures on a huge scale being blown up by even bigger explosions. This film can be seen equally well as a piece of literature or as some mindless screen action. It seems to be a real audience-pleaser.
But it is somewhat less recommended if you have not seen the films that lead up to it. This film will probably make up for much of Disney's John Carter losses.
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
This is the kind of film that I really have to decide who my reader is in order to review it. Staid people not used to superhero films will be lost and confused watching The Avengers. But few of them would be reading this review anyway. On the other hand I am not the kind of fan who has read all (or any) of the "Avengers" graphic novels. In the continuum between the two kinds of viewers I am somewhere in the middle. Bear that in mind. For the kind of person who likes this sort of superhero film, this film delivers a lot of what they like. There is a lot back-story to The Avengers from the comic book and from previous Marvel Comics films. I have not read the comics and though I have seen the prerequisite films, their recollection has melted like the snows of yesteryear.
There may be more strands to the overall story than to War And Peace. Watching you feel you are seeing something substantial. Then suddenly you realize you are looking one guy who looks like he's dressed in a flag for the Fourth of July, another who is about ten feet tall and is the colour of asparagus, a guy wearing a robot suit, and another decked in pseudo-Norse dress armour (Who fights in a flowing cape?), and they are facing down a man in a gold helmet with goat horns. My recommendation is to just take the film for what it is - a light piece of entertainment.
The plot is something like this. Thor's brother and enemy Loki is inviting aliens to conquer the Earth. But Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is trying to assemble a team of superheroes including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They seem like the perfect candidates to fight Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who actually is more impressive as a villain that veteran actors like Downey, Johansson, and Ruffalo are as heroes). All these big name superheroes have to learn to work together in a common cause. And with so many big name actors in the film, the stars if the film probably had very similar conflicts.
Loki wants to get the MacGuffin, the Tesseract that is the source of great energy and will open up the doorway to Asgard. (Apparently someone thought the name "Tesseract" was keen and nobody knew what a tesseract really is.) Speaking of people using words without knowing the meaning, how did the studio censor ever let Loki call Black Widow "mewling quim?" But the people I saw the film with did say that the screen characterisations of the heroes and villains were fairly faithful to the characters on the printed page.
The writing is not really that impressive, even if it is full of beefy quotes like "we need a plan of attack!" and the response "I have a plan - attack!" and eloquent pep talks like the immortal "Hulk, smash." What sells the film is the special effects - which are impressive on a large scale - and the art direction. The Asgard scenes of last year's THOR were impressive. But unfortunately Thor is on Earth in this one and he has left Asgard behind. For that matter what was impressive about Captain America was the re- creation of the wartime patriotic feel. This film does not take place in the 1940s. There is nothing as remarkable in this The Avengers except for the feel of large machinery crashing. Visually it all works well except that the big green Hulk looks too much like a Toon playing against humans. He does not feel like he meshes correctly with the live action. Hulk looks like he came from another film. So do the alien dragon ships.
You want to know what I do not like about superhero films? At one point a character is flung around like a ragdoll in an angry dog's mouth. Okay, I figure that is it for that character. All your bones broken is effectively a "game over." No, he apparently just pops back into shape. As a friend explained to me later, superheroes have incredible recovery powers. In one sequence Tony Stark falls a great distance and at the end has a stop that would have left him soup in a metal suit, but apparently the suit has inertia dampers or some darn physical impossibility thing that protects him. His suit is made of metal stronger than the metal in any alien fighting machines. Stark fighting the bad guys comes in two flavours: the stone hitting the pitcher or the pitcher hitting the stone. Either way the villainous pitcher loses. The superheroes may lose some of the fights at the beginning of the film, but they only win toward the end. In almost any fight the viewer knows from the beginning who will win that particular clash.
This just means to me that all these superheroes really have the same super-power: they have the writer(s) on their side. That is a superpower that will save them no matter what they come up against. Your hero gets run through a meat grinder and each little piece is teleported to a different galaxy? No worries. His special Fubergamamite Powers will call back all the pieces, reassemble them, cure him, and send him back into battle. Every battle for a superhero is a "heads I win; tails you lose" proposition. No villain is strong enough to defeat a hero with the writer determined he will live. This makes these titanic battles just eye candy. Even a good writer like Joss Whedon cannot get me to worry about the fate of characters whose safety is never in question. The dialog can claim that the heroes are in danger, but only minor characters will be fatal casualties. I guess you do not go to a superhero film to be concerned your favourite hero will be killed, but without that it seems so pointless to watch the fights. They are all just good-guy superheroes beating up on bad guy villains, perhaps suffering discomfort along the way. You know that no superhero who has been in a previous film will be killed. They are too important to the series.
This is a movie with the same problems as any superhero film. It is a fun watch for the art direction and the special effects, but in spite of a huge budget, it is no Lawrence Of Arabia. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [Hint: sit through *all* the credits. There are two post-credit sequences. Marvel films punish viewers who will not sit through all the credits.]
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper
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