‘The Avengers’ – You’ve Seen It All Before

by Trey Hock on May 4, 2012

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Minor Rock Fist Down]

The Avengers is already a winner as far as buzz, and soon will reign supreme over the box office. It seems almost silly to review it, since my small voice will be drowned out in a sea of screaming fans.

You know what? I’m okay with that.

We are all inherently critical beings and we should expect a lot from a movie that has unlimited resources at its disposal.

So does The Avengers live up to the hype?

Sorta.

It does give fans the long craved for assembling of the mightiest heroes that has been hinted at for years, but regardless of the can’t lose hype machine that seems to drive this all too perfect union between comic book superhero film and geek legend Joss Whedon, there’s something really wrong with the film.

Let’s start with the good.

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner is excellent. Ruffalo uses his small amount of screen time to craft a character that is both vulnerable and a ticking time bomb. He makes the character real and human.

There are also some pretty impressive action sequences, which culminate in a 30-minute romp through downtown New York. Yeah it’s cool to see Captain America fight by Thor, or Iron Man throw down next to the Hulk, but this also gets me to the problems.

There is nothing particularly new or interesting about this film. It feels simply like the next in a chain of bland overly formulaic summer movies created to entertain us for a week or so in the theater, and later on our 52 inch flat-screen 3D capable TVs before the DVD is pushed to the back of the movie shelf, hidden behind 2013, 2014, and 2015’s offerings.

The visuals, especially in the fight sequences, are reminiscent of many recent Michael Bay films, from deliberate tracking shots which circle our heroes as the world crumbles around them to the disposable and indistinguishable Chitauri, who are as weak or strong as they need to be for any given scene.

All action films have flexible consequences. Our heroes walk away from crash landings that would kill everybody on board, only to get the wind knocked out of them with a well-placed punch in the next scene.

Suspension of disbelief relies on a consistency to the established rules within the story. Someone can jump from a moving plane, 40 feet above a building and land on the rooftop with a roll or two, but that person shouldn’t then succumb to a normal bout of fisticuffs. One does not allow for the other within the same context. The Avengers pushes us far beyond these limits, and consistently breaks its own established rules.

Let me be clear. I don’t care what the rules of any film’s physical world are. They can be anything, but that can’t shift willy-nilly as the needs of the plot dictate.

Finally the script itself is passable, but utterly predictable. If you’ve watched two big summer movies in the past 10 years, you already know what’s going to happen.

Bad guy steals powerful thing, messes with good guys. The good guys, after struggling with their identities and reluctance to accept the responsibility thrust upon them, finally get together and fight their way to the bad guy, and quell whatever mayhem the bad guy started.

Captain America (Chris Evans) talks in grandiose terms about being a soldier; only to have the cocky billionaire, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), remind him that he, Stark, is not a soldier. Owning a mobile weapon suit and moonlighting as a freedom fighter really doesn’t count.

Stark himself is reduced to a nickname-spouting sidenote in the unevenly handled ensemble.

Scarlett Johansson is there to look hot, kick ass, and occasionally act vulnerable when the dudes above need information from a bad guy.

Black Widow’s trick is so overt in the beginning of the film – she “interrogates” a Russian officer while bound to a chair only to bust free and dispatch her captors – that when she walks into to Loki’s holding block later in the film, the viewer should know exactly why she’s there. Her feigning weakness is just a ruse to draw information out of the Norse trickster.

One can see every plot development, every turn of phrase, every small character shift coming from miles away, and as they played out, I was not impressed that Whedon had stayed true to characters or storylines; I was just bored.

The final battle unfolds in glorious fashion and there are many big moments, but when everything goes by exactly as predicted, exactly as expected it’s like watching Whedon play with really expensive action figures.

I understand that I’m going to be in the minority on this one. Most people will go and blindly consume The Avengers getting exactly what they want without surprise or subversion of expectation. They’ll emerge from darkened theaters, punching the air; shooting invisible arrows from ethereal bows; deflecting imagined lasers with an imagined metal shield.

That’s all right by me.

Go and have a blast and forget the fact that you’ve seen this all before.

As for me, while I watched The Avengers I could see Joss Whedon resign himself to his chains that he created years ago out of the hopes and dreams of fanboys and Comicon attendees everywhere.

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael Bird May 4, 2012 at 11:34 am

I’m staying away from this. As incredibly impressive as the action piece seems in the trailer, so did the Transformers flick from last year and giant mechanoworms destroying a building do not a good film make.

Interesting that my instincts seem to be somewhat in line with your experience. I thought Ruffalo looked interesting but I’ve been really, really underwhelmed by the last Iron Man, Thor and Captain America films (the latter of which was an absolute turd). Joss Whedon has never made anything that didn’t bore the hell out of me (sorry Browncoats). There isn’t a single point of attraction in it for me. Before I get a rousing chorus of “You have to have read the comics…” I did grow up with the Marvel universe, but the Avengers essentially collected the least interesting members of that universe and tried to sell their half-developed ideas as hotdog-like extrusion of leftovers without any top-of-the-rack appeal that the others in their bullpen possessed. But then again, if anyone craving depth were meant to have ever been satisfied by the Marvel universe, there never would have been a rise of the alternative publishers and this just goes to prove it. Marvel shot their wad with X-Men.

And really, I’m glad he made it through rehabilitation and resuscitated his career and all, but I am sick to damn death of Robert Downey Jr. He’s quickly sliding into a Nicholas Cage-like, self-parody of himself. Too many franchises, too little acting. It’s a shame.

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2 Trey Hock May 4, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Michael,

I really almost mentioned pink slime in my review. Thanks for the kind words, but I think we’re gonna be in the limited minority.

As roughed up as I felt by this one, if you have any desire to see it, you should see it on the big screen, and not in 3D. You may like it more than I did, but it did feel a lot like Dark of the Moon.

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3 Adam May 4, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Disclaimer – I loved the Avengers. It was formulaic, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good IMO. While I did think the overarching “Bad guy steals powerful thing, messes with good guys. The good guys, after struggling with their identities and reluctance to accept the responsibility thrust upon them, finally get together and fight their way to the bad guy, and quell whatever mayhem the bad guy started.” was formulaic…I’m not sure I agree with the idea that the details of how they got there were…especially in regards to the Avengers themselves’ backstories and origins. Plus the government stuff added in was unexpected and fresh.

All that to say…(and this is coming from an art school graduate who took a bunch of film classes in college and is very interested in film as art) I guess I just don’t understand how with these characters and with this type of a movie it could have been better or different? I mean thats kind of the point of a hero right? To rise up when he’s needed even when he doesn’t want to? Thats kind of where the interesting nugget lies in the heroes journey. Like the movie says…sometimes old fashioned is how its gotta be.

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4 Trey Hock May 4, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Adam,

I think if you were to make it different you would alienate the enormous crowd of folks who want only what they expect.

It would have been risky and divisive, but may have made a better film.

If you need a cinematic roller coaster, this will do, but I really was bored and disappointed that this movie didn’t bring anything new to the table as far the story and characters were concerned.

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5 crustian May 4, 2012 at 10:23 pm

and if Whedon had proposed an idea that was risky & divisive, he’d have lost the pitch. In the end, the studio doesn’t want a risky investment – it wants a surefire moneymaker if it’s going to drop 200 mil.

I guess in my jaded mind the saddest thing, is that an iteration of an iteration of a facsimile IS the most definitive way to make a profit on the public.

What was that monologue Loki gave outside the opera house again?

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6 Trey Hock May 5, 2012 at 6:15 am

Totally agree. This is exactly why Aronofsky withdrew as the possible director of a Wolverine film. It was due to family concerns, which is a cover often times for creative differences.

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7 Kyle May 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm

I’m just curious when people have complaints about a movie like this (which I think you could argue there really isn’t alot to compare to it) and attribute it to its ‘formulaic’ structure…how far does that sentiment go? Like, for instance do you view Star Wars the same way? Or is that one exempt because it helped establish the formula rather than followed it (in film terms of course, in the bigger picture of story telling its pretty much the most formulaic movie ever since hero’s journey = Star Wars)?

Furthermore I find it hard to understand how the arguemnt could be made against lack of character depth or not enough time to flesh out their feelings. One of the basic aspects of this film is that there were already others that established these characters (some to a greater extent than others of course). If you were to only watch Return of the King or Jedi, you’d probably have a hard time understanding every character’s motivation and inner workings. The other films aren’t absolutely essential to enjoy the Avengers, but they are essential to fully understand the Avengers.

I’ve never understood why films can’t just be designed to be fun, and even if you are able to predict pretty much everything that happens that doesn’t mean its bad. Did you really think the Joker was going to win in the Dark Knight? Did you think Gordon actually died? My guess is no, and I’m also guessing you didn’t have issues with TDK like you do Avengers. I understand that Michael Bay movies have almost ruined summer blockbusters at this point, both the film school grad and normal dude in me are completely done with the Transformers movies and will not be seeing Transformers 4 errr Battleship, but I don’t feel as if this can really be compared with Michael Bay movies just because there is a big fight at the end where bulidings get smashed. If you don’t like big action movies thats fine, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that being the reason you don’t like it, but pulling the ‘formula’ card I feel is kind of weak because, really, how many movies don’t adhere to the formula of their genre?

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8 Trey Hock May 6, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Kyle,

If you want to read my review of Star Wars you’re more than welcome to. Knowing the outcome is different than knowing exactly how we’re going to get there, and with Avengers everything was laid out in all its boring glory.

To be clear I also had significant difficulties with TDK as well, though they were different issues.

Big action films can also be smart and subversive. This one was yawnsville at best. It’s a copy of a copy.

“pulling the ‘formula’ card I feel is kind of weak”

Well how do you feel about building a straw man out of references I didn’t make?

If you want a review that praises the brilliance of Whedon’s opus, then there are plenty out there. I’ve made my arguments and you didn’t agree. Why don’t you go and throw a few more bucks down that 200 million dollar money pit.

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9 Kyle May 7, 2012 at 4:41 am

My apologies for angering you. I did not take the time to read up on your reviews of past movies before I commented, and for that I also appologize. I was simply using two very well known movies to try and make my point. This is really something I was curious about and not just a way to attack you, as I said I really don’t care if you don’t like big action movies, but I just don’t understand how/why the formula thing is the reason.

I agree there is a big difference between knowing what will happen and knowing how it gets there, I just feel like the formula issue speaks to both. And again I feel like it applies to just about every narritive film. Something like tree of life would be an obvious example of non formula, but if that’s the only type of movie that’s okay it seems like a pretty limited amount of films to be okay with.

I don’t know if this is coming off as aggressive as my last comment must have, hopefully not, but I’d be interested in which big films you think didn’t have this kind of issue. I’d like to stress once again that I’m genuinely interested in your thoughts and not just trying to be an ass, that’s a waste of time for both of us.

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10 Trey Hock May 7, 2012 at 7:09 am

Kyle,

I didn’t feel like you were coming off as aggressive.

A couple of films from last year that broke the formula or used it in a new and interesting way were ‘Drive’ or ‘Tree of Life.’ Whether you love or hate either of these films is no big deal, I’ll simply describe how they used narrative in an interesting way.

‘Tree of Life’ is a loose meandering narrative over impressive visuals that allows a viewer to wander mentally. Some viewers loved this cinematic contemplation, some hated it, but it broke almost every filmic formula. Even films like ’2001′ which comes to mind when thinking of ‘Tree of Life’ is unlike it in a number of significant ways.

‘Drive’ is a job gone wrong film and is as formula as it gets, but as with well made formal poetry it’s in the content and phrasing. Refn crafted a super stylistic film and characters that both followed the formula and behaved in an exciting and unexpected manner. The more I watch the film, the more I see the formula underneath and the more amazed I am at how beautifully Refn used it to create an amazing film.

Whedon was constrained by Marvel and the fans, so couldn’t make anything other than a film that got us to that big battle scene in exactly the way we got there. It didn’t complicate any of the characters further. If anything most of the characters felt like digressions. The only exception would be Bruce Banner.

Not everything has to be an art film, and some films should be fun. The Avengers cost a huge amount of money and will make a huge amount of money. Isn’t it right for us to expect it to be the best?

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11 Trey Hock May 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm

And Kyle I do want to thank you for your thoughtful comments. I love these types of debates.

As both a lover of cinema and a critic, I always try to make a distinction between personal preference and how a film succeeds or fails.

‘The Avengers’ is difficult because I really do believe it could be a lot better than it was, but people are out there are loving it, so it obviously is speaking to a large population. I did try to manage my comments in my review, and am really thankful for this continued conversation.

Please keep the comments coming on either this or future reviews.

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12 edgar May 19, 2012 at 8:22 pm

this has to be one of the best most professional debates i have ever read. no low blows or rude comments were intentionally made to try to belittle the other person. well done guys. i was just as caught up in your debates as much as i was caught up by the avengers (assemble). well done sirs.

13 warren-j May 23, 2012 at 8:50 am

Speak for yourself, Hock. Goddammit, when I comment, I’m profane, petty, and petulant!!

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14 Trey Hock May 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Shit. Warren, I’m sorry about that.

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15 warren-j May 24, 2012 at 8:07 am

Atta boy, Hock! = )

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16 Trey Hock May 21, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Edgar,

Thanks for the kind words. We take our films and conversations seriously at Scene Stealers. We try keep it civil and interesting. Glad you appreciated it.

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