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New Release Review - The Avengers

Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlet Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, Stellan Skarsgard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cobie Smulders

A disparate band of superheroes come together to save the earth from a Norse God and an invading alien army.
If David Lynch brought the aesthetic of cinema to television, Joss Whedon has done just the opposite, transferring the blandness of network TV to the multiplex. What should have been a large scale rollercoaster ride is now an extended postmodern sitcom with a butt achingly long running time.
The concept seems like a screenwriter's dream; a bunch of superheroes each with their own character traits and skills, the Spice Girls of the comic book movie. In Whedon's hands none of them save for Downey Jnr's Iron Man really stand out. It's hard to see what purpose Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow actually serve and I never did quite figure out why the risky decision to take the Hulk on board was made. A writer with big screen experience would have introduced all these characters and their powers coherently and then deployed them individually at the movie's climax. It's an old writing technique called "Chekhov's Gun" but Whedon barely cocks the hammer let alone discharges the weapon.
That's the problem with many contemporary film-makers, they think they're somehow above the rules. In "Cabin In The Woods", co-scripter Whedon mocked the makers of horror films for treating it as merely another job. Well most of the greatest movies ever put on screen were crafted by men just doing a job. Directors like Hawks, Minnelli, Ford and even Hitchcock would clock in in the morning, eat the sandwiches their wives had prepared for them at lunchtime, and clock back out in the evening. They treated film-making like a trade, and they were damn good at it. Film-makers who set out to achieve "art" rarely reach that goal. In film, art is usually an accident, found in the swarf of craft. Give me a Roger Corman rubber monster over some smug bastards meta genre deconstruction anyday. The screenwriter of "Alien Resurrection" should be careful who he criticises.
At the halfway point a kid in the row ahead of me asked his mother if he could leave because the movie was boring him. He said the superheroes "talked too much" and I have to agree. If like me you don't pay strict attention to dialogue you'll have no idea what's going on in this film. Every other line is a pop culture reference, most of which will be lost on the average viewer under the age of thirty. Everything from Nick Fury's eyepatch to Thor's mullet is turned into a cheesy one-liner. Strangely though no reference is ever made to Johansson's ridiculously sexy PVC outfit. What made Whedon's short lived TV show "Firefly" so enjoyable was the sexual tension. Here he even gives Johansson the same hairstyle as Christina Hendricks character from the aforementioned show. One of the world's sexiest women is standing around in a tight black catsuit and nobody acknowledges it? This is a movie that quite literally lacks balls.
The main problem though is the lack of threat. Hiddleston's villain, despite being a God, seems quite pathetic and this is compounded (or rather pounded) in the movie's funniest moment, his confrontation with the Hulk. Unlike Metropolis and Gotham there's no sense of this taking place in any kind of world. The movie's ridiculously drawn out final battle takes place in New York but save for a few establishing shots of the famous skyline it could have been any North American city. There's no scale and the battle takes place on empty streets devoid of civilians in peril. None of the heroes have love interests to become embroiled in things so it's hard to feel any peril for a Norse God. It's this reason that horror movies set on military bases never work, we need someone we civvies can identify with. We need Lois Lane.
For a movie with a $220 million budget, some of the effects work is shockingly bad. The scenes of the Wicked Witch flying on her broom in "The Wizard Of Oz" look more realistic than some of the flying shots on display here. Mid air shots of Iron Man and others look like out-takes from an SNL sketch. After three attempts the Hulk still looks terrible. If his introductory shot doesn't make you think "Shrek" you're very forgiving.
Of course this will take in ludicrous amounts of money and we'll get the obligatory sequel. If the producers opt for a smart film-maker like Rupert Wyatt or Brad Bird I'll be tempted to check it out but if they insist on a smartass film-maker like Whedon I'll give it a miss. I prefer to watch my TV on TV.
4/10

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