MSN Movies Blog

The Pictures: 'Avengers' Dissemble, Pt. 1

Can Earth's Mightiest Heroes Take a Little Criticism?

By James Rocchi May 10, 2012 2:20PM

Now that Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" is busy making all the money, I feel a little odd about it -- while, to name but two other, similar, films, it's "Citizen Kane" compared to "Fantastic Four" or "Green Lantern," I still feel a little underwhelmed, especially hearing of people who've gone to see it five, six, seven times. A highly-placed friend in the industry -- no names -- mailed me from their desk to state that while they couldn't ask this publically, was I the only person in the small-ish circle of film writers who found it unsatisfying and mediocre?  

No, I noted -- Amy Nicholson of Box Office Magazine, Karina Longworth of the L.A. Weekly, A.O. Scott of the Times and Andrew O'Heir of Salon, among others, also weren't "Avengers"-mad as every other film critic seems to be, but, you know. My friend was relieved to know that not everyone was drinking the kool-aid.

And that's the problem: Compared to a lot of watered-down drek in the sub-genre, "The Avengers" tastes great -- but, considered as more of the same in the field, it's a lot less filling than one would hope.  While I do like a lot of the bits and bobs and business in the script -- the jokes, Galaga, Ruffalo's CGI-aided take on The Nutty Professor, Chris Evans playing Captain America as muscle-bound Jimmy Stewart and Robert Downey Jr.'s continuing work as what is, essentially, Dean Martin wearing the annual U.S. Defense budget  -- It's not hard to see all of that stuff as very Joss Whedon mortar around very big, very familiar bricks. I'm not trying to argue anyone out of liking "The Avengers" -- because, hey, good luck with that; even our own Glenn Kenny is on the flying aircraft-carrier bandwagon for his own well-argued reasons -- but I did want to briefly list a few reasons why I think of "The Avengers" not as the kind of film that'll be remembered fondly 20 years from now, but, rather as a flash in the pan, one of those movies that, like a Belgian waffle, is awesome while it's hot but awful when it cools down for a minute ...

1) Here's Your Cape; What's your Hurry?

It seems odd to call a 140-minute film "rushed," but, that's what happens here -- I challenge anyone walking into the film cold, for but one example, to figure out who Jeremy Renner is, and why he's suddenly working for the bad guys.  And that's just one example of things that feel rushed in order to make more time for, well, fights between the lead characters. I know that having people fight the second they meet is a comic-book tradition -- another example of why I'm glad I don't live in a comic-book -- but having all the leads battle a) makes the whole thing feel like Pokemon with Sundance actors and b) burns up time we could have used, oh, I don't know, getting to know the characters and smoothing down some of the more awkward exposition in the plot; whenever Loki talks to his alien allies, they sound like they're reading from, as "Beetlejuice" so memorably put it, stereo instructions. And speaking of which …

2) Underbaked Bad Guys

Look, I know that in comics history, Loki brought the Avengers together, and all of that. But aside from his wanting to be the ultimate fascist, there's not much to his plot -- and his allies, CGI-crafted aliens who a) are hard to hear and b) so facially odd as to be faceless, don't work especially well as anything but indistinguishable ground troop redshirts. It's comparing apple to oranges, but Hans Gruber from "Die Hard" had personality, style, secrets and motivations -- and a crew of minions I still know to this day, including "Neck-Broken McGee," "Neck-Broken McGee's Nerdy Little Brother Glasses McGee" "Hungry Guy in the Lobby Jenkins" and "Premature-Gloating-Gets-You-Shot-in-the-Legs Jones." And I know those aren't their real names but come on: I recall them. They were people, not just bodies to be disposed of. A little personality, as Nick Fury once said in his two-eyed afro'd criminal days in "Pulp Fiction," goes a long way. The second film is teased as a cosmic battle, but I'm going out on a limb here to suggest that a) the second film would benefit from a few human bad guys in opposition to our heroes and b)  I'd much rather see a group of human characters with faces, backstories and motivations against the Avengers, especially if Whedon can return to direct and recruit stalwarts like Nathan Fillion, Morena Baccarin and Neil Patrick Harris, to name but three examples, to play super-villains. I'd far prefer that to another round of this film's videogame-like demolition of faceless waves of respawning baddies culminating in a battle with the big boss.

Tomorrow, a few more notes -- about structure and, yes, workplace diversity -- but if you think I'm crazy (or are crazy-eager to share similar thoughts), join in the discussion … 

May 25, 2012 2:04PM
Wow, so an entire film each for almost every main character (Hulk excluded) is not enough character development for you. And any average fan watching the movie knew why Renner is working for the bad guys. It is completely illustrated on the screen. No, most didn't know who he was ahead of time, but to say that people didn't know why he went bad is laughable.

I do agree with Loki though. I felt the same way with the Thor movie. But you seem to want Marvel to re-write comic book history simply for your own pleasure, while ignoring the millions of other fans who would have boycotted and rallied against the film. I could almost guarantee that is Marvel had done that, you'd be sitting here writing about how much of a massive failure it was to change how it all originally happened.

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