Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Avengers **½

Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth
Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner
Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders
Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow

The Avengers feels like a success because its very existence seems to be fulfilling a promise made to us with the advent of comic book movies: that one day we would get to see an epic popcorn flick in which all our favorite superheroes would get to have some fun together.
What once was thought to be impossible due to technology, budget and other factors, has finally become a reality and the result is disappointing because in the process, the film has become the equivalent of opening gifts as grown ups on Christmas morning: the magic has all but vanished.
The first part of the movie, consists of the "let's put on a show" plot that was much better used in last year's The Muppets, since the faces involved are all familiar (or at least they should given that this movie has no less than six prequels) all the audience is expecting to see is what they will do together.
The film however takes its time setting up the stage as we see Thor (Hemsworth) come back to Earth to stop his psychotic brother Loki (Hiddleston) from invading it. Joining the Norse god are brilliant playboy/Iron-Man (Downey Jr.), the slightly passive aggressive Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) whose Hulk is on almost permanent sleep, the thawed Captain America (Evans), the sexy agent known as Black Widow (Johansson) and ace archer Hawkeye (Renner), all led by agent extraordinaire Nick Fury (Jackson who seems to be more alive than in any movie he's made in at least a decade).
The entire film revolves around this group of heroes kicking Loki's ass and preventing imminent destruction at the hand of weird aliens who ride intergalactic mopeds and use fish like spaceships to wreak havoc on New York City (because where else do space invasions begin?).
The film often lies at a very awkward spot because its execution is often marred by the Whedonisms being repressed by the very epicness of it all. Whedon is an extraordinary director who has no trouble alternating and even normalizing the relationship between fantasy and "real life". Some of his greatest creations combine vampires, space cowboys and clones with a deep sense of longing, melancholy and geek humor.
His persona shines during some key moments in the film, mostly through, who would've guessed it, Thor and Captain America, the two towering men whose latent humanity shines through under Whedon's sensitive directing.
The Avengers thrives on its all-star ensemble but the running time (already excessive) doesn't give us enough time to delight ourselves with our favorite characters, unlike the Ocean's Eleven movies this one doesn't know how and when to use its assets best. It tries to be fair, when it should've been selfish in its purposes. As much as Downey Jr. shines as Stark, his smugness can get too grating, especially when Whedon is making Hemsworth and Evans act! 
It's a shame that the director never really knows what to do with the larger setpieces, because he has proven time and time again just how great he is at action sequences (remember the sense of Indiana Jones-like adventure he infused in the whole of Serenity?) The Avengers overflows with moments of almost-greatness that feel abrupt, as if Whedon wanted to jump but remembered he might break a bone upon landing.
The movie is unarguably efficient in its coherence, but it's almost too coherent, when it could have been playful, thrilling. Instead of inspiring us to want and turn the page to see what's next, more often than not we end up wondering if something fun will ever happen. Comic book movies are often a double edged sword because those who concentrate on the profoundness contained in the post-war plight for salvation are never really "fun" (any Batman movie under Nolan), and those that concentrate on thrills leave audiences feeling empty and self indulgent (any Spider-Man under Raimi).
Perhaps to concentrate too much on this would lead to an exploration of why comic books even matter and by the end we'd have lost all notion of the product known as The Avengers, which despite Whedon's attempts, misfires more than it succeeds and reminds us that the whole sometimes is lesser than the sum of its parts.

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