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May 7, 2012

Film Review: THE AVENGERS (2012): Joss Whedon, Robert Downey Jr.

The Avengers Art

The Avengers (2012) Film Review, a movie directed by Joss Whedon and starring Scarlett JohanssonClark Gregg, Robert Downey Jr, Chris EvansChris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie SmuldersTom HiddlestonStellan Skarsgård, Lou Ferrigno, Jenny Agutter, Gwyneth Paltrow,Paul Bettany, Alicia Sixtos, Frank Powers, Darren Kendrick, and Joseph M. Abbott.

The beginning of The Avengers is far better than its ending because of one specific reason: the unexpected happens multiple times at the beginning of the film. The viewer is in outer space, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is given an unparalleled battle instrument (think The Bride’s Hattori Hanzo katana sword in Kill Bill), and characters and situations are conterminously introduced (“The Hawk? He’s in his perch.”) in unique ways. At the end of the film there is one major and one minor surprise as the viewer sits and watches special effects and listens to explosions reverberate.

The beginning of The Avengers is more violent than expected but that independent variable could be anticipated. The PG-13 rating has become broad and how much violence a viewer can be exposed to under its banner has been increased e.g. The Cornucopia Scene in The Hunger Games. The intensity and flow of the first half-an-hour of The Avengers is at odds with parts of its second and third acts. The beginning of the film is far more serious than its latter segments. As the film progresses, action and suspense are chased and harried with mounting moments of levity, monologues, and convenient conflict resolutions.

Those convenient conflict resolutions showed themselves again and again in how superhero fights were ended in the film. Most of the fight scenes had no pay off because of the state of the people fighting, a situation completely absent in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. During the diverse fist-a-cuffs between members of the eventual The Avengers team, nothing is really at stake, except in one of the fights (Hulk vs. Black Widow) and that fight, theoretically, should have had a different conclusion. With everyone’s super powers, no one can be hurt or killed so there is nothing at risk (except property damage) and nothing to lose. The viewer seats and watches colorful crash dummies throw each other through walls or into inanimate objects. The two times someone’s life was actually on the line during a fight was the Black Widow/Hulk confrontation and the Black Widow/Hawkeye fight.

Perhaps Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) can’t even be killed in human form because of “the other guy” but a grenade blast through glass seemed to hurt him, so did we see a contradiction? Regardless, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has no powers, yet gets up (from the same blast and glass) and runs from the Hulk as if a grenade blast had not blown her though a glass wall. Adrenalin plus imminent death: a possible explanation. When Black Widow gets smacked up against a wall by the Hulk then gets up with no bruising or broken bones, it’s the moment when: a.) even human members of The Avengers‘ team are shown to have unbreakable bones and titanium outer skin, b.) the viewer realizes that no real damage will ever happen to even the human members of The Avengers team (Agent Phil Coulson [Clark Gregg] is not a member of The Avengers, he is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent) because they must remain active, in one piece, and most of all, comely.

After taking that hurtling with no concussion from a grenande blast and the Hulk’s hit, Black Widow fights and defeats fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who is uninjured going into the fight and at the top of his game. Because of everything that happened before and after this fight, it is blatantly obvious that this is the Marvel ‘verse, with no semblance of reality, and that this type of situation and more are to be expected.

If The Avengers is an exercise in escapism like most “tentpole”, “popcorn” films and how could it not be deemed as such, these quips and qualms are irrelevant. On with the show, err, the review.

What was hoped for and delivered besides the many fight scenes in The Avengers were instances of strong dialogue. The three greatest of these moments were the laboratory argument between former U.S. Army Captain Steve Rogers/ Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) (part of it being a sly wink to Stark’s eventual character arc in the film), the extended laboratory conversation between Dr. Banner and Tony Stark, and segments of the conversation between Loki and Black Widow. These moments in the film showed that the film could be more than  just superheroes and superhero fight scenes. They showed that The Avengers could be an examination of who these  people are as individuals.

Then there were almost brillant, non-dialogue moments that were too few in the The Avengers: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) trapped in the falling Hulk cage from the Helicarrier and Captain Rogers bludgeoning a punching bag in a gymnasium. The latter scene is actually superior to the former because it was intercut with memory imagery. The viewer derives the emotions of Captain Rogers from what they sees in his mind’s eye and from the intensity of his punches. The viewer might also be witnessing what a soldier who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder sees in his or her head.

As some of the talking moments of The Avengers slow it down (e.g. Loki telling civilians to kneel before him, done with far more zest and malevolence by General Zod in Superman 2), non-talking scenes like the aforementioned ones were welcome.

Also welcome were the scenes in outer-space, brief though they were, but well-written, especially the second and the last one.

The third act of The Avengers housed the most levity in the entire film, a detrimental, excessive amount of it. The humor jarred the viewer out of scenes and situation that should have been taken seriously or remained serious.

Also a joke was how Hawkeye and Black Widow decided to enter an unprecedented military conflict and war zone.

Hawkeye and Black Widow walk into a New York City battlefield with no body armor, helmets, or radio communication gear. AAHHAHAHAH…sorry but I did mention that the last act of The Avengers housed many humorous scenarios. On top of this monolithic lunacy (remember, we are in the Marvel ‘verse), Black Widow only brings hand guns with her instead of an M-16 or some type of fully automatic rifle to fight with. Hoping for the best but planning for the worst did not occur to either of them (or to screenwriter Joss Whedon), which is at odds with two individuals whose lives depend on planning ahead e.g. Black Widow bringing a squad of men with her to talk to Dr. Banner, just in case he Hulked out. Contradictions like this should and could have been easily avoided.

One situation that wasn’t contradictory but hackneyed probably went unnoticed by the viewer. The alien race in the film, the Chitauri, were not developed in the slightest (though I understand why: this is a film about The Avengers not the Chitauri).

Like in most alien invasion TV or film productions (except in Space: Above and Beyond, Battlestar: Galactica, and other examples), the aliens in The Avengers were all ordinary and indistinguishable from one another, unlike the six opponents they fought. Where was the alpha group in the Chitauri (the Rangers, the Special Forces, their superheroes),  their marksmen (like Hawkeye) or snipers, et cetera. What was their battle plan? It could not have been just to swarm but evidently it was, a retread of countless, brainless alien invasion films. Even the aliens in Independence Day had a slapstick plan (more the film than the plan) and strategy.  If this was not the case in The Avengers, the viewer would not have seen The Avengers beat soldiers in the third act who were no match for them. The viewer would also not have seen The Avengers effortlessly out-think the Chitauri’s chaotic “swarm”  strategy.

The Avengers‘ ending was stereotypical. The Avengers ends exactly as the viewer believes it will end, harming the narrative even before it began. This is inherent to all Marvel films though: the franchise must continue so the hero can’t die or be seriously injured.

As lauded, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is gigantic, flawed, exhilarating at times, and a candy cruncher, far better structured and scripted than Iron Man 2 and Thor were. The ending of The Avengers in the park was nice to look at but made no sense. Why take a war criminal and a demi-god, who is virtually impervious to human weapons, out into the open with civilians just to transport him to Asgard? The possibility of him breaking free (like he had already done numerous times) or of The Avengers maintaining their secret identities (if people see them with Loki and Thor, they will eventually put two and two together) were evidently of no concern to them. Many scenes of this grade happened throughout The Avengers and nothing is supposed to be taken very seriously (just enjoy the ride), a dramatic choice that means no Marvel film shall ever be a true classic or masterpiece. Some shall be epic in scale like this film, some will be theatrical events (like this film),  some will be good films (The Incredible Hulk), others great films (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger),  but classic or masterpiece will never be bestowed upon them.

Rating: 8/10

  • aightellya

    Man, I kinda feel bad for you that, even when watching a comic book superhero movie you still aren’t able to just let go and enjoy it without nitpicking over stuff like, “why wasn’t she hurt more by the grenade?” You’re thinking things as flaws that really aren’t too, like the fact that everyone knows how the movie is going to turn out in the end… Of course they do, its a superhero movie, people have come to be entertained and see them save the day, if any of the main heroes had died or they had lost the battle then people would have left the cinema feeling pretty bummed out about what they had just seen, your suggestion that the movie would be better or more of a masterpiece if it contained elements like this is ludicrous. It might make a different type of movie better but this? A superhero movie? It would ruin it outright.

    As for stufff like, “why don’t the aliens see more character development?” The movie was already two hours long, nobody wants to see/hear character development of characters that they don’t really care about, people came to see the heroes! And “they don’t seem to have any tactics against the Avengers other than swarm…”, what are you talking about? They didn’t need tactics, they had a strategy and it involved using Loki to dismantle the Avengers before the fight even began, in this they failed. Had they succeeded their swarm battle tactics would have been more than enough to overrun the city. Dude, seriously, next time take a chill pill before you go in to see a movie, you’ll probably enjoy it more. Damn.

  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book.com

    Sorry aightellya but I should not have to shut off my brain in a superhero film. Christopher Nolan proved that twice and is about to prove that a third time and final time.

    I did enjoy the film. I was there at the 12:30 am showing the Friday morning of its premiere with hundreds of other people, some dressed up like Marvel characters.

    “nitpicking over stuff like, ‘why wasn’t she hurt more by the grenade?'”
    Yes, your right. Grenandes do not hurt people. Their use in combat should be discontinued.

    “You’re thinking things as flaws that really aren’t too, like the fact that everyone knows how the movie is going to turn out in the end… Of course they do, its a superhero movie, people have come to be entertained and see them save the day, if any of the main heroes had died or they had lost the battle then people would have left the cinema feeling pretty bummed out about what they had just seen”

    Superhero movies do not have to be predictable or have a feel-good ending so that people do not leave the “cinema feeling pretty bummed”. That is an idiotic standpoint. The film and its ending should serve itself and its story not the audiences need for catharsis and joy.

    “your suggestion that the movie would be better or more of a masterpiece if it contained elements like this is ludicrous. It might make a different type of movie better but this? A superhero movie? It would ruin it outright.”

    Actually, I am correct. People would have been far more riveted if something bad or at least unexpected (unexpected does not mean something bad) had happened in the film. The Avengers wouldn’t have been just a superhero extravaganza (wow, look at Thor and Hulk fight mom), it would have been the new gold standard (currently held by The Dark Knight).

    Your assertion that a non-predictable superhero film where the hero loses the final battle or where people die would have ruined the film was not thought out on your part. Predictability and the absence of death does not un-ruin a film. Plenty of factors can ruin a film even if these variables are not present.

    “As for stufff like, “why don’t the aliens see more character development?” The movie was already two hours long, nobody wants to see/hear character development of characters that they don’t really care about, people came to see the heroes!”

    I agree and I said so in my review: ” The alien race in the film, the Chitauri, were not developed in the slightest (though I understand why: this is a film about The Avengers not the Chitauri).” So what was your point here?

    “And ‘they don’t seem to have any tactics against the Avengers other than swarm…’, what are you talking about?”

    I talking about the fact that the Chitauri army attacked an adversary with no obvious strategy besides throwing themselves at their enemy. A modern army would never do that.

    “They didn’t need tactics, they had a strategy and it involved using Loki to dismantle the Avengers before the fight even began, in this they failed.”

    They didn’t need tactics? What? That’s like saying they didn’t need training or weapons.

    “they had a strategy and it involved using Loki to dismantle the Avengers before the fight even began, in this they failed.”

    Which is why an army above the tween level would have had a battle plan, a contingency, in case Loki, a virtual unknown quantity to the Chitauri, failed. Thanos is a genius. He would never throw darts at a dart board like that, hoping that some of them stuck nor would a green PFC in the Army.

    In addition, the Chitauri would have to deal with the armies of Earth even if they defeated The Avengers. They would have to fight soldiers that did not just have two hand guns or a bow and arrows as offensive weapons.

    Swarm was and is a joke, both against The Avengers and armies of Earth after them. It made no military sense, and this is coming from a civilian. If I see this, whatever was on the command ship would have and Thanos definitely would have.

    “Had they succeeded their swarm battle tactics would have been more than enough to overrun the city.”

    And what military success would that have been? New York City is not an important point of opposition. Its a city full of civilians. Its not Washington D.C. Its not Langley, Virginia. So they take a city with no strategic value and no army defending it. What do they gain from that? They secure the Stark building and the portal opening, got it, but they didn’t have to attack the whole city to do that. They could have just set up a parameter around the building and the air space.

    Now all of the military targets that they didn’t attack in America and around the world first are given warning and time to prepare (we have nuclear weapons you know. Thanos would have known that). Oh yeah, great strategy (right, they didn’t need a strategy) by the Chitauri.