Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Avengers

The Avengers
Grade: F
Cast: Robert Downey, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston
Director: Joss Whedon

Have you ever seen Ruby in Paradise, the 1993 North Florida indie that brought Ashley Judd to prominence?

There’s a scene where the uncomplicated runaway Ruby drags her pretentious bookstore boyfriend to an alien invasion movie. He storms out of the screening. How can you watch this junk, he demands.
I’m convinced they were watching The Avengers. Linear time be damned.

In his rave, Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers calls The Avengers everything that he thought it would be. I share this analysis but stagger toward the opposite conclusion. This is a film that does exactly everything you think it would do – and that’s the problem. There is not an unexpected moment in Joss Whedon’s very plastic superhero collision, sticking slavishly to its good-guy-bad-guy yay-team! template. Not only is The Avengers a 3-D return to the heavily corporate good-evil special effects distractions of yesteryear. It’s proud of it.

Six Marvel Comics superheroes – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow – assemble in the face of an alien invasion led by Thor’s evil brother, Loki. This leads to more than two hours of superheroes shaking hands, planning, bickering, duking it out in predictable misunderstandings, planning, bickering, and then taking off and landing, and taking off and landing again, and taking off and landing again, which the camera documents with a Lucasfilm -like obsession. There is also a ridiculous amount of ridiculous foreshadowing. And the score overpowers with volume rather than skill or elegance.

The plot involves a struggle to gain control of a blue interdimensional cube called the Tesseract. This leads to the squabbling superheroes uniting to fight an alien invasion in a prolonged final battle across the skies of a pixilated Manhattan. This unity is achieved on the intellectual cheap. The heroes come together not out of ideology or moral principle but because  -- dammit – it doesn’t look like much fun to be ruled by ugly aliens on space motorcycles.

But what if the invaders weren’t ugly aliens on space motorcycles, but well-dressed Mitt Romneys gently cruising to Earth in space Lexuses?  Christopher Nolan’s Batman series raised the stakes on comic book movies by introducing a moral dimension. The release of The Dark Knight Rises trailer this week makes the third entry in that series look like a sprawling crime saga more than a kiddie matinee. The Avengers gleefully reverses the trend toward smarter blockbusters and heads back in the opposite direction.  

The Avengers was always at risk of becoming Iron Man and Friends, with Robert Downey Jr. riding roughshod over a cast largely devoid of his star power. That’s essentially what happens. The others make occasional marks. Scarlett Johansson fights evil with the cool diffidence of a forties B-movie star – perhaps she should fight crime by rejecting the aliens’ passes. There is a great deal of praise headed in Mark Ruffalo’s way for Dr. Bruce Banner who transforms into The Incredible, who likes to smash.  But like most of these characters, and the film itself, it’s ultimately a one-trick show.  

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