' ' Cinema Romantico: The Avengers

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Avengers

At a certain moment in Joss Whedon's bold, ballyhooed, box office bone crushing organization of several noted, beloved heroes of Marvel Comics, Robert Downey Jr.'s billionaire philanthropist playboy rockets into the picture in his sturdy high-tech Iron Man suit to the sounds of the rock group AC/DC. The irony was not lost on me. "The Avengers", as stated, are technically comic book characters. But really they're a colorful, costumed, high-powered rock group.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) is the coquettish, Gwen Stefani-like, ass-kicking front woman. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is the bland rhythm guitarist. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the long-haired, plays-by-his-own-rules drummer. Bruce Hanner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is the bassist, always teetering on the edge of crazy. Tony Stark/Iron Man is the lead guitarist and, by extension, the most charismatic of the lot and the one who's really driving the outfit. Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is the guy who left for awhile and just returned. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is the Manager trying to get them all whipped into shape for opening night in New York City. (Their first album, by the way, was called Glow Stick of Destiny.)

"The Avengers" has been a long time in the making, a product of four other film franchises whose characters have converged into this mammoth two-and-a-half hour extravaganza. (Save for Edward Norton who was replaced by Ruffalo.) Whedon, ever clever, has in a way picked up the style employed by Jon Favreau in the two individual "Iron Man" movies wherein character and dialogue are just as crucial as the action. His movie is as much about five disparate personalities converging and then adapting on the fly as it is about the flamboyantly sinister Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's adopted brother, who is hell bent, as he must be, on Earthly domination via the Tesseract, an exotic movie contraption that opens a portal to his universe from which he can unleash standard summer movie CGI-enhanced monsters on innocent extras.

Thus, Nick Fury, who runs SHIELD, whose operations are based out of a sort of futuristic Spruce Goose that can travel by air, water and underwater, and his second-in-command (Clark Gregg, getting to play a nice guy for once) gather The Avengers, much to the apparent chagrin of government higher-ups, to battle back against Loki and re-gain possession of the Tesseract.

Downey Jr. merely re-affirms the fact he was born to play this part, smirking and insulting the whole way through, teasing poor Bruce Banner in the hopes of upsetting the guy so he can get a much desired glimpse of the green monster within. And while Norton's performance remains unseen by me, Ruffalo uses his patented neurotic energy to great effect, crafting someone in very real anguish by his beyond-belief alter ego. Johannson settles comfortably into somehow simultaneously being a femme fatale and a mother hen while Hemsworth struts about with decent authority. Evans, on the other hand, comes across like a saluting extra in a 1940's WWII movie, although even he is practically brimming with zest compared to Renner. He makes shooting a bow and arrow look as fun as multiplication tables.  

When the characters share the screen, squabbling away like superheroes in a support group, aided strongly by Whedon's razor sharp wit, is when "The Avengers" transcends its box office bloat nature. But, of course, at its core it is still box office bloat and because it is still box office bloat this must mean that, as tradition stipulates, the third act must center around an invasion of the Big Apple complete with explosions and people running for their lives. Sigh.

"Really, Joss? This is the best you've got? I think we're a little better than this, don't you?"
No doubt Whedon meant this third act to poke fun at the genre. The problem: because its inherent goal was to be a smash at the box office (which it is) he could not follow through with the big-budget screwball spirit contained within the best parts of his screenplay.

It's not that this has "been done before", but that's it's not being done again with vitality. Whedon's wheelhouse is usurping the typical - and occasionally he does this even in the final act, such as the wondrous moment when a Big Speech is cut short - and too much of this movie is him just being typical. He could have opted for a "Ghostbusters"-esque End of the World Scenario centered around verbiage and rousing wit. Sure, there was the Marshmallow Man too, but that was as much about the idea as the effect. What does "The Avengers" offer? Aliens riding around on alien motor scooters? Bah humbug!

Tony Stark, like in his own movies, rises to the top, standing head and shoulders above the fray and looking down on it in sardonic disbelief, ribbing it and everyone else. If he had seen this rough edit he would have zinged Joss to hell and back. In fact, could Tony Stark be creative consultant on "The Avengers 2"? Because remember, as lead guitarist of this band he's no shill for Top 40. He's punk rock.


3guys1movie.com said...

nice review, this is the first post I have seen comparing the Avengers to a rock band. :-)

I enjoyed this film so much I actually saw it twice. That never happens because I am so cheap.

Nick Prigge said...

Thank you, sir. Yeah, I don't see movies twice at the theater that much anymore either. If I do, you know I mean business.