The UnPopular Opinion: Marvel's The Avengers
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Watching the trailers for THE AVENGERS never really riled me up. My five-year-old son flipped out when he saw that there was a movie with the "real" Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Hulk all together. I watched his eyes glaze over at the tons of toys and t-shirts lining the shelves at Target. He has both an Iron Man and Captain America costume in his closet that he dons with regularity. So every time he had a really good day, I would pop on the trailer for THE AVENGERS and let his little heart leap at the spectacle on the screen before him.
I wish I felt that way about the movie. But, I never found myself all that excited to see it. Maybe it was because I never joined the Cult of Whedon. I tried watching BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER but never got into it. I never really thought FIREFLY was that great, either. While I completely feel that he did a competent job directing THE AVENGERS, I am still baffled at how anyone can really think it was the greatest superhero movie ever. For my money, both X2: X-MEN UNITED and THE INCREDIBLES are better superhero team movies than THE AVENGERS.
This poorly Photoshopped poster should have been a clue to the cobbled together nature of the movie itself. Half of the actors feel like they are in a different movie.
To start I must state that THE AVENGERS was the first of the films featuring these Marvel heroes that I saw in a theater (unless you count Ang Lee's THE HULK). I have seen all of the Phase One films on DVD or Blu-ray and liked CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER the best, followed closely by the first IRON MAN. I went into THE AVENGERS completely expecting to like it. I wanted to keep my expectations low despite it having already grossed well over $300 million by the time I saw it on the big screen. I sat in the theater and by the time the end credits rolled, I felt like I had eaten a Big Mac. I was full but knew I would be hungry a few hours later.
Lets start with the biggest problem in THE AVENGERS: the plot. The movie hinges on Loki as the central villain despite the fact that Thor is probably the third or fourth main character in the story. Iron Man is clearly the front runner as team leader even though Whedon tries really hard to make you think that Captain America is the leader. As much as I think Chris Evans is a good Steve Rogers, he just doesn't have the presence the Captain in the comics does. Robert Downey, Jr. inhabits his character so fully that none of the other actors comes even close. This movie is essentially IRON MAN 2.5, Even when Tony Stark has his face-off with Loki in the penthouse of Stark Tower it feels like they are forced to exist in the same movie. I like Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Loki and think he is an excellent villain, but he should be restricted to the THOR movies.
Then you have the Chitauri who are, lets face it, the most useless fighting force ever. Whedon must have felt that using the green skinned Skrulls would look too cartoony for THE AVENGERS so he instead used an alien race that only comic book fans would recognize and he made sure to outfit them from Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS garage sale. The entire final battle of THE AVENGERS felt like a copy of the Chicago sequence in DARK OF THE MOON. I have said it before and I will say it again, superhero movies work better when the villain is in some way either human or was human. Who are the best comic villains? The Joker, Norman Osborn, Doctor Octopus, Magneto, Lex Luthor, Red Skull, The Mandarin. When your villain is a faceless race of aliens, they just don't seem that big of a deal. Or, in the case of Loki, you know there is no way that humans, even superpowered ones, will defeat a god.
The good news was they got the Hulk right this time. The bad news is he was only right for fifteen minutes.
Which brings me to the next biggest problem with the movie. The single best part of THE AVENGERS was Mark Ruffalo's portrayal of Bruce Banner/The Hulk. The special effects were better than in either of the prior HULK films and Ruffalo brought a better human side to the character. But, for more than half of the movie, Hulk was a villain. Both of the movies with Hulk as the star failed because he spends the majority of the time smashing shit to oblivion with no semblance of control over his actions. He seems more like a wild animal than the Hulk in the comics. Once Bruce Banner finally finds his inner balance, the true Hulk we have been waiting for comes out to play. This Hulk is the one who can pulverize Loki and then say "puny god" and laughingly punch Thor without looking. This is the Hulk we have all been waiting for and he gets about fifteen minutes of total screen time.
Whedon may have succeeded in making a successful nexus for the Marvel movies, but he didn't make a great movie. The pacing felt way off for me. I could have dealt without the entire middle section of the film from the forest fight between Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America until the helicarrier sequence. That entire segment of the film was boring and overlong. It was right around the death of Agent Coulson that my five year old turned to me and said he never wanted to own this movie on DVD. Once the battle for New York City began, he turned to me again and said he wanted to own the DVD, but just not the first half. I have never been in further agreement with a kindergartener.
The best scene in the movie features no dialogue and comes during the credits. That speaks volumes for this movie.
At least when you have Sam Raimi, Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, Bryan Singer, Marc Webb, hell even Brett Ratner, you know there is going to be some sort of visual distinction to the movie. With THE AVENGERS, you really wouldn't know it wasn't directed by Joss Whedon if his name wasn't plastered everywhere. Sure, his style comes out in the screenplay but on screen there is just nothing unique to grab onto. Sam Raimi made the SPIDER-MAN trilogy feel like a comic book while Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT films felt like a gritty reality. THE AVENGERS feels like a mash-up of all the directors who made the individual hero films that made up this super team. If there had been something distinct in this movie visually, I may have felt differently in the end. But, what we got was a very workmanlike film that lets you see everything on the screen without trying anything special with it.
Same goes for the score. Alan Silvestri's music feels like a recycled version of his CAPTAIN AMERICA soundtrack, updated from the 1940s to the 21st century. It was neither obtrusive nor memorable. None of us will forget the iconic music from THE DARK KNIGHT or SUPERMAN. Even SPIDER-MAN had a nice musical feel to flesh out the story on the screen. I was just left wanting more from the music. I was left wanting more from pretty much everything in this movie.
The entirety of THE AVENGERS felt watered down. Tony Stark is sarcastic and has his typical Downey Jr charm, but he feels like a lighter, safer version compared to the Jon Favreau films. Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye and Scarlett Johanssen's Black Widow both feel like placeholders for bigger superheroes in THE AVENGERS 2. Evan's Captain America, Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury were the only characters who came into the story as advertised. Bur, they neither blew me away nor disappointed me. But that could be said for the entire movie. I came out of the two and a half hours in the theater neither disappointed nor blown away. That is what makes this movie a failure in my eyes. It should have blown me away but it simply plodded along and set up Phase Two for Marvel. I hope that when Whedon sits down to pen the sequel that he puts some tension in the plot. I want to feel that at any moment, these heroes could fail and the world as we knew it would crumble. The comic counterparts for THE AVENGERS feel more realistic than these live action versions because the comics take risks. THE AVENGERS was flaccid and to me, the third best superhero movie of the year.
|Extra Tidbit:||That's right, folks. Third best. Despite the major flaws they all had, I still have more positive things to say about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.|