Before we start, let me note that most of the staff thought The Avengers was a pretty good film. You can even read our official review, done by Rob. That said, I came out of the theater with a very different opinion after two and a half hours of superhero malarkey: I thought it kinda sucked. I can’t be the only one in the world to believe so, but I’m obviously in the minority. So what was wrong with The Avengers? A lot. (Also: there are going to be plenty of spoilers, so please don’t advance unless you’ve seen it. Or simply don’t care.)
The Opening Title Card. Bank Gothic? Seriously guys? (Yes, I’m nitpicking.)
What Was Once New… Is Quite Old. For those unaware, The Avengers is a culmination of four years of work on Marvel’s part. After spending decades licensing their comic franchises to other studios (Spiderman to Sony, X-Men to Fox, etc.) Marvel decided to build its own stable of self-funded films featuring individual heroes that would lead to a Mega Film starring the superhero supergroup The Avengers (Marvel’s Justice League, basically). The approach made 100% sense in that you would allow each individual Avenger to shine and be successful, especially to those not familiar with the source material, and then you bring them together for what may as well be the most epic comic book movie ever.
The problem is that little’s changed since this ball started rolling. Marvel Studios’ first film was the very successful Iron Man starring a rejuvenated Robert Downey Jr. Featuring crisp photography by Matthew Libatique and a rousing partially-electronic score by Ramin Djawadi. When Iron Man succeeded in 2008, it essentially set the bar for the remainder of the Avenger films for the following four years, meaning that no film could deviate much from Iron Man’s example or be incongruous with the rest of the Marvel universe. Unfortunately, now that we’re four years later, the Marvel Studios style is looking standard and loaded with more CGI than one can really stylize with (all CGI just looks like Transformers now).
The other downer is that the music is roused by Alan “Back To The Future/Flight of the Navigator” Silvestri, who had done the score for last year’s Avenger flick Captain America, but now phones it in with the booming Action Hero themes while, presumably, he’s out on a long smoke. Maybe it’s difficult to coalesce all of these elements – and there are many – into a handful of helpful themes, but I cannot remember a single memorable note or melody in the entire film. It seems that in standardizing their approach so much, Marvel has genericized their own content, which is a shame considering how well the first two quirky Spiderman films stood out under Sam Raimi’s watch or how absolutely mind-blowing Batman has become because of Christopher Nolan’s serious eye.
Less Than The Sum Of Its Parts. The problem with building a crown on top of these five predecessor flicks is that, for the most part, they weren’t great. Iron Man was really good, but not great. The Incredible Hulk wasn’t fantastic and Mark Ruffalo, who replaces Ed Norton from that film as the green dude, bumbles his way through The Avengers like he does in all of his films. Iron Man 2 was a mess. Thor was okay, but hardly a film that I ever need to see again. I didn’t see Captain America. The primary thread of the film is actually a continuation of Thor’s story with his brother Loki serving as the primary villain, then with the remaining characters built around that. As a result of all this cinema, the film is required to spend the first act explaining how all of these characters come together and flesh out their back stories (which, if you’ve already seen those films, it comes off as a little repetitive, but you see why they need to). You also get these meaty non-special heroes like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) who seem like the kids who were brought along on their parents’ extra-special action adventure that really feel there out of completeness than any narrative need.
The entire second act of the film takes place on SHIELD’s supercarrier, a flying fortress that cloaks in an elaborate sequence for no reason whatsoever. So what happens? A lot of bickering and yelling between Avengers. And exposition. Lots and lots of unexciting exposition and character development. This is the point where I started to get antsy in my seat as more and more stuff continued to not happen on screen. Tony Stark carries every scene he’s in while Thor acts Scandinavian and the rest just kinda, eh. Even Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) feels like an obligation to the movie than an actual character. In fact, many characters do here. It was this pressure to get previous films in the canon to adhere to The Avengers’ build-up that supposedly caused Iron Man/Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau to leave the chair for the third film. Of course, we can’t leave the supercarrier without a CGI-saturated siege and a reason to unite and set up the third act.
The third act easily felt like like the last hour of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon in context. There’s a portal ripping the sky apart to summon baddies. There are giant flying semi-mechanical things ripping up a dense skyline. But as we watch our heroes fight from the safety of their safely green-screened shots, there’s really no innovation in what we’re seeing. Sure, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor are infinitely cooler than Shia Labeouf and Optimus Prime, but the rest is just an orgy of special effects that we’ve already seen in a score of other films that aren’t even Marvel-related. After a standard opening, a boring middle, and a tired conclusion, I was more than happy to bail when this two and a half hour train ride simmered to a conclusion (yes, even after watching both of the ending bits).
Not Enough Joss Whedon? Maybe Too Much? You don’t need to see the entirety of Joss Whedon’s work to fall in love with the guy. You could love Buffy or Firefly or Dr. Horrible, but what you really need to know is that he’s a genuine, perhaps overlooked talent (his brilliant Cabin in the Woods is still in theaters and YOU NEED TO SEE IT RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND). When Marvel announced that he was brought on to write and direct this Mega Film, I was a little concerned that after tampering with films like Iron Man 2, there’d be little of his voice left. I really don’t even know having actually seen the film. The Avengers carries so much of his quirky humor and it’s obvious that he should’ve written all of Tony Stark’s lines in those films, but the story is so one-dimensional and lame that it’s hard to tell where his influence begins and ends. Was he maybe too loyal to the comics? It’s hard to say, but this wasn’t one of Whedon’s classics in the story department. Maybe he expected some reverence to the original material.
I really wanted to like The Avengers (as every dismissive review is wont to say), but it just couldn’t latch in and go. Just having Tony Stark on screen made me want the film to ditch all those other guys and just make this Iron Man 3. I guess it’s cool that all those other guys were involved, but watching The Avengers was like going to a movie about Steve Jobs where most of it takes place in mundane meetings and the rest re-enacts Apple unveilings I watched live years ago. Marvel created their own monster here and while it’s not nearly as aimless (or pointless) as the Transformers films, it borrows a bit too much from their book to be genuinely awesome.