Wednesday, May 9, 2012

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: “Marvel’s The Avengers” Review

Is Joss Whedon’s Star-Studded Superhero Flick the Comic Book Movie To End All Comic Book Movies, Or Just Another By-the-Numbers Blockbuster?

There are people out there - and I assure you, there are a lot of them - that think “Marvel’s The Avengers” is not only one of the best comic book movies ever made, but perhaps one of the best Summer blockbuster, media-extravaganza action flicks of all-time.

Well, I caught “The Avengers” this weekend, and although I thought it was a pretty fun movie, it was FAR from being anywhere near the greatest superhero movie ever made, nor was it anywhere close to being what I would consider a true popcorn cinema classic. All in all, to me, “The Avengers” was nothing more than the most expensive episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” ever filmed, which, while certainly appetizing to many, is anything but something I would consider “outstanding filmmaking” in any regard.

If you look at all of the truly great superhero movies over the years - from “Superman II” to “The Dark Knight” -  the one commonality they all share is that the humanity of the characters is central to the themes of the films. Essentially, that’s what separates a fantastic comic book movie (like “Spider-Man 2”) from a fairly ho-hum one (like “The Watchmen”) and especially a truly crappy one (if it has the words “Fantastic Four” in it, it probably fits such a bill). The key to a great superhero movie, evidently, is when filmmakers place an emphasis on the “hero” part of the genre as opposed to the super - a notion that director Joss Whedon very much ignores in the summer’s first bona fide box office smash, “The Avengers.”

It may be impossible to convince comic book nerds otherwise, but ultimately, “Marvel’s The Avengers” is a very silly movie. The plotline is formulaic, the dialogue is hammy and unrealistic and while the action scenes are admittedly quite entertaining, there’s nothing you’ll see in the flick that you haven’t already seen a million times before. The hardcore Marvel fan boys of the world might be able to overlook some of these flaws, but the aggregate filmgoer will probably scoff at the general goofiness and overt melodrama of the movie. When the fate of the world rests in the hands of a bunch of guys standing around a war room in their pajamas - while your stereotypical Alan Silvestri score swells in the background - how can you not think that what your watching is just a tad absurd?

Joss Whedon’s movie unfurls like a billion dollar episode of “Firefly,” and that’s both praise and criticism. Like a Kevin Williamson movie, nobody in the picture really talks in actual language, instead throwing out carefully sculpted zingers and one-liners in between paragraph after paragraph of exposition and pseudo-scientific hooey. The main villain of the picture - a metrosexual alien named Loki, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Ben Stiller’s character in “Heavyweights - seems to speak entirely in monologue, and there’s one particularly line - in which Captain America breaks up a donnybrook in Germany - that’s so stilted and wooden that you wonder why in the hell it wasn’t completely edited out of the film’s final cut.

The ensemble cast is pretty good, although Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark is really the only character that stands out amidst the faux angst and wannabe-Shakespearean prose of characters like Bruce Banner and Thor. Samuel L. Jackson turns in a solid - if not fairly predictable - performance as Nick Fury, although the inclusion of characters like Hawkeye and the Black Widow just seems to add more weight to the already jam-packed narrative.

The plotline of "The Avengers," you ask? To make Walt Disney a LOT of money, that's what.
The action scenes, however, are quite well done, even if the final act of the movie tends to drag on for ages. The movie ultimately fails in creating a true sense of peril, however, as there always seems to be some sort of convenient mechanism in place for good to triumph over evil. There’s an attempt to breed a little bit of hostility between the members of the team - which, in turn, provides the best drama in the movie - but since there’s such an (over)reliance on slam-bang action sequences and exploding metal, that conflict never swells above a few shouted lines in cramped quarters. A remake of “St. Elmo’s Fire” starring the same Marvel Characters would have resulted in a more engaging experience, I do believe.

While “The Avengers” is a very corny, cheesy movie, it won’t bore you, that’s for sure - even if at two and a half hours, there’s probably a bit too much too much in general going on in the picture. There are a couple of scenes that truly are fantastic, especially a scene involving The Hulk beating the living hell out of Loki, and the film’s big revel at the end - featuring a certain Infinity Gauntlet-sporting Marvel super-duper-mega villain - promises that “The Avengers 2,” whenever it comes out, will be arguably the biggest, baddest and most star-studded comic book movie of them all. That said, will you still walk out of “Marvel’s The Avengers” a completely satisfied ticket-buyer?

That, I suppose, depends on your definition of what constitutes “good movie making.” I definitely think that straight-up, hyper-budgeted action extravaganzas can still be outstanding, genuinely great films - which is why, to this day, I consider “Aliens,” “Terminator 2” and “Robocop” to be among the finest American movies ever made - and that’s not me being a smug, ironic prick, either. The problem with “Marvel’s The Avengers” is that while it certainly provides all of the oomph and awe of those aforementioned movies, it definitely lacks that philosophical human air that made all of the above intriguing and involving peliculas de popcorn. The thrills and conflict in “The Avengers” are largely synthetic (meaning the viewer never really feels a true sense of trepidation or danger for any of the characters within the film), and the movie is almost completely devoid of that “doomsday” aura that made “The Dark Knight” or even the first “Iron Man” movie such compelling stories as opposed to audio visual hullabaloo. The film may succeed at holding your attention, but it certainly doesn’t strive to do much beyond that.

I'd hate to be the kid on the playground that has to play Loki, then...
All in all, “The Avengers” is a moderately above average comic book movie, and truthfully, not a bad way to kick off the summer movie season. A lot of filmgoers have called “The Avengers” the movie “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” wished they could have been, and at the end of the day, I think that’s a pretty accurate way to describe Whedon’s film as a whole.

If you wanted the most slam-bang, ass-kicking Michael Bay movie yet, you’re definitely getting it with “The Avengers.” Unfortunately, if you want anything more substantial than that, I’m afraid you’re going to have to keep scouring the summertime slate, amigo.




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