Friday, May 24, 2013

The Avengers (2012) **

You have to give Marvel Comics credit.  In a genre ruled by guys like Superman and Batman, they chose to make comics about an enraged, green monster; a hokey, patriotic bodybuilder; and figments of Norse mythology.  Even more remarkable is that a modern-day movie studio turned these characters into tent-pole franchises.  By stringing together a series of films (Iron Man I and II, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and finally The Avengers), all linked by a subplot involving a secret government agency called S.H.I.E.L.D., Paramount Pictures and Marvel have created a true economic juggernaut.
I haven’t seen all the films in the series.  I thought Iron Man was okay, and Thor was surprisingly watch-able given its goofy premise.  For me, these movies never managed to balance spectacle with intellectual heft the way the “X-Men” series did.  I had high hopes for “The Avengers,” however, when I learned that Joss Whedon was directing.  This is the Joss Whedon who created the TV show “Firefly,” the coolest and most fun sci-fi western ever to get prematurely cancelled. With Whedon teaming up with actors like Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, the project had real potential.
I suppose that’s why I was so disappointed with “The Avengers.”  When I watched “Thor,” my expectations were low, and I was pleasantly surprised by the film.  Not so with “The Avengers.”  Like “Iron Man,” the movie takes excellent actors and refuses to give them much of anything interesting to do or say, instead dulling the senses with nonstop action and gee-whiz CGI effects.
The movie finds Loki, who was banished to another dimension for his crimes in “Thor,” making a comeback.  Aided by alien allies, he returns to Earth to claim the Tesseract, some sort of high-energy cube that the government is trying to figure out.  After he busts things up and takes the cube, SHIELD agents Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assemble the crew of misfits who will become the Avengers: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Thor.  Action ensues.  One-liners are exchanged.  Thirteen-year-old boys are delighted.
I was particularly disappointed by Loki.  Loki is supposed to be the god of deception and mischief, but this film reduces him to the role of petty, would-be tyrant.  Other than occasionally fooling someone with a false image of himself, he doesn’t really engage in much trickery.  Tom Hiddleston is excellent in the role, but it’s just another example of unmet potential in this film.
If I seem to take these comic-book movies too seriously and judge them too harshly, it’s because I refuse to give points based purely on spectacle.  I’ve already seen men flying, things exploding, and girls in skimpy outfits, and I’ve heard all the zippy one-liners from action heroes I need to hear.  Am I up for seeing more of this stuff?  Damn straight!  But for a movie to impress me it also has to have all the other elements of a good film, like well-developed characters, good dialogue, and a compelling plot.  Apologies to Joss Whedon, but “The Avengers” falls flat in these areas, and with better films like the X-Men series and “The Watchmen” out there, there is no excuse for it.

2 stars out of 5

No comments: