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5.25.2012

I Did Not Care for The Avengers


I often find myself a dissenter when it comes to popular things. Not, always, mind you. Many times I'm more into the popular thing than the majority. But often I'm a hater throwing stones from the outside. There are three possible ways this makes me feel:

1) A strange and terrible sense of satisfaction. This is due to the lie my mind is trying to sell me: that I'm a superior being to those in the majority. They're stupid sheep and I'm an independent thinker. This is occasionally true and that is problematic because it isn't always. Sometimes I'm the stupid sheep for dissenting just because I think it's cool to do so.

2) A sense of alienation like there's something wrong with me for not being "normal." For instance, I do not understand dancing and I don't dance. Just don't get it. It's a weird human mating ritual.

3) A sense of utter confusion. Why, oh, why is that thing so popular?


I didn't really like The Avengers and it's giving me feeling number three.

"WHAT?!" Collectively shouts everyone in the universe - Marvel or otherwise.

You heard me. Did not care for Avengers. I wanted to. It had potential. It had Joss Whedon. It had good actors. I was excited to see it. But at the end of the day I think it turned out to be a big, hulking (no pun intended), empty action movie.

Honestly I'm not as confused about why it's popular as much as I'm confused about why people think it's so good. 'cause I just don't see it.

I'm sorry, but it's hard to fear such dorky-looking armor
Before I go any further I just want to say a couple of things. I've been in a lot of debates recently and I'm honestly a little tired of all the fighting. I am not posting this to start a fight. I am posting this to voice my dissenting opinion - to present an alternate viewpoint. That's all. Most will disagree and that's fine.

If you loved the movie - great. Awesome. I'm happy for you. I did not. I've seen people say it's the best movie they've seen in the last 5 years. One person said 10.

I think that's what really gets me. Really? 10 years? Didja not go to the movies for a decade? 'cause there've been way better movies. A lot of them. Heck, there've been better Marvel movies. Iron Man, the Spider-man trilogy, X-Men, Thor. Those were all better than Avengers. And that's to say nothing of Nolan's Batman trilogy or any non-superhero movies. Really? 10 years!?

Okay. Okay. I'll calm down.

Obviously this is all debate over opinion. Debating opinion is rarely productive. If someone honestly means that The Avengers is the best movie they've seen in 10 years (and not the only) then they are looking to get something far different out of films than I am. But I do think I've a few serious points to be made so I will go ahead and enumerate the reasons I didn't like Avengers. Fair enough?

First of all, there are a lot of things I liked. To be fair, it's funny, occasionally fun, Mark Ruffalo does an amazing job as Bruce Banner, and the Hulk is really quite amazing as well. And Samuel L. Jackson's in it... although he wasn't as much fun as I was expecting. He does have one pretty great line toward the end though.

Hulk was the only thing that actually scared me in the movie
Now with that obligatory praise is out of the way...

My criticism is very, very short. There is no soul in Avengers. Nothing happens. It's a story we've seen thirteenhundrenmillionbazillion times.

I want to make this clear: just because we've seen this story before doesn't mean it's bad. Formula becomes bad when it's either poorly executed or fails to alter the recipe in an effective and interesting way.

Avengers felt very, very "paint-by-numbers" to me. It was also, I feel, a waste of a movie. Instead of telling a real story with character development, I was presented with a video game that I didn't get to play.

Some argue, "hey, they developed the characters in the movies leading up to Avengers." Yes they did! That's no excuse for a two-hour sequence of strung together, weightless action sequences. Just because they established the characters in the previous films does not mean they get to stop developing them because this is a big, giant crossover.

Stories are about characters changing (or sometimes about how they should change and don't) and making choices. It's not just about a bunch of stuff than happens. That's called melodrama. In a good, really affecting story we can see ourselves and sympathize with the characters as they make difficult choices.

There are no difficult choices in The Avengers. No surprises. No sacrifice.

Massive white guy and doughy white guy. Contrast.
Okay, there's one tiny sacrifice. One middle-aged white guy that we've supposedly grown attached to bites the dust. I'm sorry, but Mr. Agent there wasn't the Marvel Universe equivalent of Wash. I was surprised but I did not care. Aside from that, there's no real sense of loss or sacrifice. There's almost a major sacrifice made by one of the main characters but then it gets undermined right at the last second. Bummer.

Like I said, there are no real choices made by the characters. They don't really overcome their differences, different powers, and different backgrounds to all work together for a common good. Nope. That would be too talky. Too deep. We have to have them fight instead.

Mostly their bickering is verbal, but there's actually a physical altercation between Thor and Iron Man at one point. Hey nerds! Who would win in a fight? Thor or Iron Man? We get to see that played out and guess what? It's completely pointless. They aren't even fighting for a good reason! It's just one thickheaded idiot with superpowers fighting another thickheaded idiot with superpowers. Thanks for wasting my time, guys.

So our "heroes" are basically fighting with each other right up until the bad guy escapes from their clutches because they were all acting stupid. I know it's implied that Loki influences everyone to fight or something like that, but if that's really the case then why didn't Thor warn them about Loki's ability to do that? Idiot.

Anyhow, after fighting with each other and foolishly allowing Loki to escape, they're forced to work together to save Earth. Yep. This is yet another summer blockbuster about saving the world. Naturally.

In case you haven't noticed: Earth gets threatened pretty regularly in this sort of action movie. It's not especially threatening anymore. Major cities can get destroyed onscreen and I won't bat an eye unless it's been set up properly.

"Okay, we're assembled! Now whadda we do?"
It's even less threatening when you have several invincible superheros running around. And when those unkillable superheros are the main cast of your film... well wave goodbye to dramatic tension, people. I mean they flat-out tell you the Hulk can't be killed. Thor and Loki can pretty much survive whatever the script needs them to. Almost nothing can stop Tony Stark in the Iron Man suit (and if it gets damaged, don't worry, he has a closet full of newer, better ones.) Captain America? Nothing onscreen tells us he's much more durable than a regular human, but we know he's got to survive so he can be in Captain America 2. I don't even care about Hawkeye or Black Widow.

So the movie proceeds exactly like every other movie like this. There's a giant looming threat we don't get to see for most of the movie. It finally shows up and blows up a few things. Good guys try to hold back the tide. Eventually they figure out a secret weakness to the threat and they knock it over in the last 20 minutes thereby proving that it wasn't much of a threat to begin with.

*yawn*

But it's even worse than that. At least in Independence Day, let's say, we've really seriously felt threatened by the aliens. And we understand that any of our heroes are mortal and could die. They could lose loved ones. They could lose the whole war.

I never felt like any of those things were even remotely possible in Avengers. Recall the threats presented to other superheroes in their respective movies. We're pretty sure they aren't going to die. But what about their friends and loved ones? The Green Goblin figures out another threat: "First, we attack his heart!" Similarly crime boss Carmine Falcone tells a desperate Bruce Wayne, "You haven't thought about your lady friend in the DA's office. You haven't thought about your old butler... People from your world have so much to lose."

Marvel could have done something similar here but they didn't. Perhaps this was to avoid the cliche of a threatened girlfriend. Well points for that, but they've still got to make me feel afraid somehow and I didn't. The only question was how much collateral damage would the aliens do before the Avengers stopped them?

Quite a lot, as it turns out. Half of New York is pretty much destroyed by the end, but hey! At least Stark Tower and the Empire State Building's still standing so I guess it's all okay.

Captain America... what a useless character next to Iron Man
In the end, everything's back to status quo like a sitcom. The only thing that's really changed is the precedent for superheros teaming up. Now that they've done it, we'll all scratch our heads during the next Iron Man or Captain America when they don't call for help.

All our heroes are alive to go make some more sequels. Nick Fury can go back to making superweapons in secret (which is completely and totally wrong in case you wondered where the filmmakers stand on that issue). Black Widow and Hawkeye are free to make their solo film debuts. And eventually we'll see all of you and more back here for Avengers 2.

I think that actually highlights the problem I now have with the Marvel film universe. It's so obviously a product - a franchise - a money-making web. They're thinking so much about how to make the next movie and how to introduce more characters that the essential thing for me - that is, telling a good story - is being lost to spin-offs, continuity, and sequel setups.

A recent article over at ScreenRant examined each movie leading up to Avengers and asked the question "was it worth it?" Not monetarily, of course. The thing's already made a several solid gold cruise ships of money. The question is was it worth sacrificing screen time in each film to help set up The Avengers.

Another thing that bothers me is how many people have cited the five-movie setup for The Avengers as being a really impressive feat. Sure, I guess so. That's never really been done before and it was a gamble. But it has no bearing on my actual enjoyment of the film and should not factor into people's opinions of it. Toy Story was a good film besides being the first feature-length computer animated movie. People remember it for being a good movie, not for its technical accomplishment however impressive it might have been. Avengers must (and will in time) be judged solely by its merit as a film.

I can't say that Avengers isn't a well-made film or even a good film by some standards of measure. But it's the kind of film I'm not terribly interested in watching anymore. I guess I'm just becoming a snob.