Friday, 18 May 2012

Put them all together and what have you got?

I can’t recall the last time I was so unmotivated to review a film I’d seen, as I am as it regards The Avengers. And, it’s not because the film is a poor one, nor is it because I have nothing specific to say about it but The Avengers - before and after its behemoth success is not quite the canvas for an amateur/pseudo film critic to hone his talents on. It does, incidentally, raise one of the significant questions about “recreational” online film criticism – am I reviewing these films to tell people what they should or should not watch, or am I reviewing them to start a dialogue as to the merits and demerits of film – generally and specifically. I’m hoping that this ventures turns out to be more of the latter than the form especially since The Avengers has been so impossibly successful with critics as well as the general populace. So that the question which arises first is not even the usual why “review” it becomes why even criticise?

For the very ignorant – of whom I doubt any will be reading this – The Avengers is an amalgamation of various Marvel superheroes (or superhero adjacent) all present for this the endgame of all endgames (a follow-up to Iron Man, Thor, Captain America) ready to face off against a common enemy. After a brief prologue the main members of the group are introduced (and in some cases reintroduced) to each other and to us, the audience, sparks fly and soon enough shenanigans ensue. Of course. I’m worried about burying the lead in this review. Simultaneously, I’m a bit worried about putting my conclusion too soon to the beginning. Thus, I shall insert here for good measure – much of The Avengers does not work for me.

I italicise those two words to emphasise my point. During the final battle a certain arrogant hero is sent hurtling to the ground to his death – almost – but, not quite. A somewhat poignant scene buoyed by token humour follows. All the elements are in place for it to work but it really doesn’t work for me. For, unfortunately, this is how the film comes off to me – a series of expository scenes, set piece upon set piece, banter, explosions, more banter, more exposition and all of it engendering a continuous delay off pay-off until the very end. And, all of them are expected in a film such as this. The Avengers, after all, rests on the premise that separately these superheroes seem well and good as cinematic precipitants so together they must be just as good, if not better. Put them together and you’ve got a blockbuster. And, that’s both the good and the bad.

The Avengers is not a bad movie, but it is one which comes off to me as sorely lacking in true conflict. The film is written and directed by Joss Whedon, but thematically, visually and tonally it seems to be different in few respects from any entry in the annals of the series. True, Whedon’s typically penchant for irreverent humour surfaces occasionally but that only augments my issues with the film. I’ll be specific even as I’d never indict it for being lacklustre – it all too often feels false, indolent and most offensive of all inert much too often for me to truly surrender myself to it completely. The film essentially becomes a reunion for these characters (and, I suspect, the performers) and turns into exactly what you’d expect from such an amalgamation of “heroes”. Whedon handles the transition from setpiece to setpiece well, the performers range from underused and somewhat static (Renner, Jackson) to competent (Evans, Paltrow, Hemsworth) to good (Johansson, Ruffalo, Hiddleston). But it makes my thoughts return to that aforementioned scene of Stark hurtling to earth. He doesn’t die, of course – and this is no spoiler. And manages to eke out a typical Starkian quip (not a spoiler, either). And, I could see myself watching it knowing what my response was supposed to be, and it didn’t work even as I knew that with its specific type of throwback appeal it would work for those it’s made for. But, that person is not me. And that’s not a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing either. (For me off course, not for this uber-successful gargantuan thing.)

What Can You Lose? / C


Nick Prigge said...

Great review, Andrew, in so much as this movie also made me think less about the movie itself then my unenthusiastic attitude to it as compared to the masses and to the necessity of criticism in the face of a film like this.

I agree that a critic is often trying to start or promote dialogue about a film but - and maybe I'm being too judgmental - I feel like a lot of people have their minds made up about this film before they go in (not unlike me and The Iron Lady really).

What IS it about this movie that I'm not seeing that supposedly makes it so "thrilling"? Whedon is so clearly not a brilliant stager of action sequences and they just all felt so perfunctory to me. And I'm not jaded! I swear! I loved Haywire and Salt and the Bourne movies!

Maybe it's like you say that the conflict is just felt so phony and pointless.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

nick and, i'm not jaded either (i don't think). true, i don't got for the genre generally but i liked salt and bourne, i LOVED serenity, but this just didn't work for me. perfunctory is the best word, not bad but unenthusiastic for me.

Margaret Perry said...

This movie wasn't so great as far as plot complexity, but I thought the script was really witty. I was really laughing a lot because I think the chemistry between the super-heroes really worked. Like some of people's favorite TV shows, I think we love this movie because we get to hang out with the characters, not because the movie itself is all that. I wrote two posts about The Avengers on my blog. One is a straight up review and the other one is more about the women in The Avengers and how women are portrayed in other super-hero movies and how it's getting much better but we're not there yet!