“You lack conviction.” – On Marvel’s The Avengers
I was excited about this movie when I saw its preview at the end of Captain America last year, and again had my interest piqued in a Time article from this week, praising Whedon for making an enjoyable movie. Though this movie is proof of Joss Whedon’s juggling abilities, it is inherently limited by its own premise. No matter the amount of care gone into sculpting a film like this, each individual character will lack development. Sometimes writers choose to develop leaders more (X-Men: First Class), though here, no one seemed to care too much about Nick Fury.
How can a movie like this be anything more than a mess? Half the time, we are meeting new members of the team and explaining their subsequent backstories, struggling to make them all fit together with some semblance of coherence. As a result, any overarching story is lost. The climax was far too reminiscent of last summer’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon – a portal in the sky opening to another part of the galaxy and letting in aliens who want to enslave humanity over a skyscraper background? Sound familiar?
Orson Scott Card once wrote how each character added a whole new layer of complexity to the number of relationships that need to be developed – between A and B, there is one relationship: A with B; between A, B, and C, there are four relationships: A with B, A with C, B with C, and all three together; and so on, and so on. Think it’s hard with four people? Try ten on for size. When they all stopped fighting and actually talked to each other, I thought some good character dynamics came out. It was reminiscent of a Final Fantasy game – flying in the sky on some sort of ship, visiting different characters in the cockpit or laboratory, getting to know everyone… While I can’t stand Tony Stark/Iron Man, I dislike Steve Rogers/Captain America even more. There was some nice vicarious catharsis each time the two went at each other.
In terms of acting, casting Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow felt like a poor choice. I found her scenes to be unconvincing and flimsy, even grimace-inducing. I thought Cobie Smulders (Robin from How I Met Your Mother) as Maria Hill, Fury’s assistant, would have made a much stronger main character to develop and focus on. By the way, did anyone else totally think she was Jennifer Connelly? Mark Ruffalo also did an excellent job as Dr. Banner/The Hulk; he was probably the best of the set. Jeremy Renner, who I will always love for The Hurt Locker, was splendid though plain as Hawkeye.
Joe tipped me off to the not one, but two secret codas during and after the credits. Most of the audience left after the cliffhanger afternote set the stage for a sequel, (nowadays, everyone expects one secret preview at the end of a movie), but we stayed until the credits were all finished. Apparently, Robert Downey Jr. needs five hairstylists or so. The second secret scene was actually adorable, living up to the cuteness of the movie as a whole. All the characters have a continuous stream of one-liners and running gags, all to be expected from a Whedon production, with self-deprecating humor that is surprisingly charming.
Overall, I have to give this a 3.5/5 – it has good tension and dynamics, but the characters take up too much space and edge out any meaningful storytelling. It’s a nice kick-off to the blockbuster season, but not anywhere close to earning its current 93%-96%-8/10 rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
By the way, I talked to Orion, who is currently giving this movie a 4.5+. Maybe it’s because he’s read/watched all these heroes in action before. I’m not sure how people who have no history of comic books will feel about this film, since we are, after all, in the Marvel Universe, which seems to me like a very sentimental storage attic the size of a football field.
And one last endnote – we saw the previews for the Expendables 2, and I have to say, it’s ridiculous. Stallone, Statham, Jet Li, Chuck Nooris, Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger…they seem to have given up on any semblance of serious storytelling.