Coming out on the heels of his inventive horror movie The Cabin in the Woods, I’d certainly hoped that writer/director Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Serenity) would work his cinematic magic on The Avengers, the much-anticipated Marvel superhero movie which brings together various characters from the Marvel universe: Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk among them, as the new crime fighting unit called The Avengers. Unfortunately, this latest superhero movie is just another tired, pedestrian film whose elaborate special effects pretty much bury anything original, witty or creative inherent in the material. In short, it’s the same old thing: an impersonal franchise movie with little entertainment on offer.
Carefully calibrated in terms of storyline, and following on the chronologies of The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor (all conceived by Marvel Studios as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe), the movie features most of the same actors in their parts (only Edward Norton who played the last incarnation of the Hulk didn’t return, after contract talks broke down. He’s been replaced by Mark Ruffalo in the role). Incidentally, the current comic book version of The Avengers line-up showcases some other characters, including Spider-Woman, Red Hulk and Protector, whom I’m not familiar with. X-Men’s Storm is also a member, but The Incredible Hulk and Black Widow, both of whom are in the film, are not.
|Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow|
The operative word here is eventually, as the movie takes an awfully long time to get where it’s going. First off, The Avengers have to squabble among themselves, engage in one-upmanship, and fight each other before overcoming their differences and uniting as a team against Loki and company. That’s on top of the excessive exposition on tap in the movie – why not assume fans of The Avengers, who will, no doubt, make up the bulk of this film’s demographic have seen all or most of the other Marvel movies and are up to speed on who’s who in this cinematic world? It’s pretty slow going, but once The Avengers hits its supposed stride, the film still doesn’t improve much. I’m not sure if Whedon felt constrained by the rules Marvel sets out for any film adaptation of the comic books – let’s not be too radical here! – or, more likely, that he felt intimidated by the responsibility of helming such a big-budget extravaganza and displayed excessive caution for fear of fucking things up. In any case, the film evinces virtually none of his trademark wit or style. Other than a few good physical jokes, usually involving the Hulk, this movie could have been directed by any competent director, that’s how little personality it actually has. (He’s on record as blaming the studio for gutting his three-hour, supposedly more personal cut of the film; the final bland version runs 2 hours and 20 minutes.) Oddly, the film’s (too) many actions sequences are especially disappointing since he demonstrated such a remarkable facility with those types of set pieces in Serenity – Whedon’s superb big-screen adaptation of his equally distinguished Firefly (but quickly cancelled) TV series.
|Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury|
And while Skarsgård and Clark Gregg, as S.H.I.E.L.D. special agent Phil Coulson, aren’t given that much to do in The Avengers, the biggest waste is Cobie Smulders as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill. If you’ve enjoyed her acerbic wit and sly characterization as reporter Robin Scherbatsky on the long-running sitcom How I Met Your Mother, well keep watching it. All she gets to do in The Avengers is look fetching and worried, hardly a proper use of her talents.
|Tom Hiddleston as Loki|
a course on American cinema of the 70s.