The Avengers (2012)

Film, 2012

  • This is a movie that, to both its credit and its disadvantage, comes with a lot of baggage. It’s the latest in a series of films that, despite incremental cosmetic changes, are all firing with the same cylinders. Whatever your feelings are about those films, you’re bringing them to this one. Although I love talking and thinking about the Marvel superhero films, I’m pretty ambivalent toward them. I compare my feelings to someone who loves sports stats, having an opinion on who got traded to what team and speculating about why that is or isn’t a good choice, but has little to no interest in actually watching sports. I find myself spending most of these movies being distracted by their murky narrative structure and being mortified by terrible, terrible jokes (Captain America being the biggest exception thus far). So how did The Avengers stack up for me? It was bad in the same ways as the previous films, but not as bad. I focused really hard on the narrative and was able to decipher what was going on, but I could see how someone watching more casually could have easily gotten lost, and the jokes more often than not triggered only moderate eye rolls. Overall I think The Avengers actually benefits from a general lack of ambition, perhaps having used all of its ambition on the massive amounts of money and coordination the film must have required, and hedging its bets when it came to things like jokes that consist of more than a cliche and a nod or villains that aren’t squarely generic. Because what happens as a result is this weird thing where, because they didn’t try and fail to do anything risky, and the spectacle was so smooth, I found watching the movie to be very, very easy. It would have been harder to stop watching it than it was to continue watching it, if that makes any sense, and all the complaints I might have had about the storytelling or jokes just kind of floated away. The end result, upon reflection, is a movie I feel pretty neutrally about. I found myself comparing it to Spider-Man 2, my favorite one of these. Spider-Man 2’s low points are far lower than anything in The Avengers, but it’s much more ambitious, and my favorite parts of Spider-Man 2 mean much more to me than anything about The Avengers.
  • One thing that I thought was really interesting about this movie was its big standout moment, when The Hulk beats the tar out of Loki. What we’re cheering at here is The Hulk, a big dumb brute, pummeling Loki, a literate Shakespearian figure. In the world we’re living in, where popular culture is all but dictated by the taste of nerds, the jock is the underdog we’re rooting to victory.
  • The Avengers is a really paint by numbers superhero affair. Superhero comic book readers will recognize it as a bare-bones presentation of the archetypical big superhero crossover story. It made me wonder if these films are going to follow the same evolutionary path that their comic book counterparts did. This trick is only going to work so many times, and I wonder where they’re going to turn when it loses its magic. Will people be ready for a big superhero deconstruction piece in a few years? I bet someone’s realizing that they should have held off on making that Watchmen adaptation just a little bit longer.

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