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Movie Review – The Avengers

Jon is the latest contributor to join Graphic Policy.  Expect many more reviews to come.

The Avengers started life as a marketing gimmick.

Desperate for another super-hero title to part kids from their hard earned nickels, Stan Lee commissioned Jack Kirby to throw together Marvel’s B list characters in a single series. Eventually the team uncovered  Captain America, frozen in a block of ice, and the comic book incarnation finally surpassed it’s lackluster origins with a few rare moments of brilliance. In the movie version Captain America has already de-frosted before the opening titles, but even the living legend of World War II can’t help this cinematic turd from falling flat on it’s face.

The story begins with Loki, last seen causing mischief in Thor, being sent by a race of mysterious aliens, to recover The Tesseract, the cosmic McGuffin featured in Captain America, and lead an invasion of Earth. It all goes down hill from there as Samuel L Jackson assembles his team of super heroes to save the world. They fight with each other for a bit, have their asses handed to them by the enemy, finally get their act together and, SPOILER ALERT, they save the day and go out for swarma. It’s  enough of a  plot for a 24 page comic or a two hour film but after being bloated to two and a half hours by unnecessary complications and a lot of superfluous thud and blunder (much like modern comic book story arcs),  it becomes a real chore to sit through. By the end I was squirming in my seat, waiting for it to be over so I could eat and wishing I had mowed the lawn instead of going to the movies.

Of all the elements of storytelling that Avengers fails at, characterization is perhaps the weakest link.  Loki’s motivation is muddy and his intentions seem a little unclear from the word go. He’s also much too active in battle and doesn’t display any of his trademark tricks, preferring to slug it out with all comers, and relying on a form of alien mind control that’s so effective it can be undone with a bump on the head. Several characters do things that are just plain dumb just so that the plot can move along (trusting the guy whose been Loki’s puppet for the entire movie to fly a jet into battle is a good example). The dialog displays Joss Whedon‘s usual flair for the sarcastic, and adequately differentiates the characters from one another, but the actors don’t quite manage to pull it off and it winds up coming out flat. That’s not to say that the acting is bad.  Everyone except Scarlett Johansson (who seems painfully aware that her role exists solely to get some feminist cred while showcase a good looking butt in black leather) does a competent job.  I think part of  the problem is that  Whedon’s genius as a director is his ability to cast actors that work well in an ensemble and to pick people who can really make the words sing. It’s hardly surprising that the one stand out performance is delivered by Mark Ruffalo in the role of Bruce Banner, Whedon’s one major casting decision. It’s a shame that he wasn’t the point of view character for the entire narrative, as he is at once a likeable every-man and a deeply troubled, compelling individual with a problem that many in the audience can understand and sympathize with.

The Avengers lacks the emotional core that is essential to all of the best stories. It is a turgid behemoth of the movie that we are conditioned to believe is fun because of it is full of  bright colors, big explosions and beautiful people. I really hope that Whedon decides not to return for a sequel, though the sad irony is that Disney will probably give him helicarriers full of money for Avengers 2, but not a penny for more Firefly.

Overall rating: 6.5

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  • I enjoyed it because it was a fun summer blockbuster, but if I knew the original comic books (as you obviously do), I might have the same reaction. Really nice insights here.

    • I can certainly enjoy a mindless summer blockbuster. I loved Thor and that was equally untrue to the source material… but Thor was also thirty minutes shorter and was about real relationships between the characters.