The Avengers (2012)

   Director: Joss Whedon With: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johanson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Gwyneth Paltrow, & Paul Bettany.  Release: May 4, 2012 PG-13. 2 hr. 23 min. 

Director: Joss Whedon
With: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johanson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Gwyneth Paltrow, & Paul Bettany. 
Release: May 4, 2012
PG-13. 2 hr. 23 min. 

 

In my review for “The Dark Knight,” a great movie, I discussed how certain films challenge the genre they reside in. They test the weight of the canvas that their characters and stories reside upon. Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” is not one of those movies. “The Avengers” doesn’t much challenge it's genre, but rather showcases how powerful that genre can be when you use the given tools properly and efficiently. If I am symbolizing these six best of the MCU films like that of the Infinity gems that will reside upon Thanos’ gauntlet in 4 days, “The Avengers” is the power stone that was once held by Ronan “The Destroyer.” With overwhelming approval from both critics and audiences alike and enormous financial success, “The Avengers” is a showcase of not how emotionally resonating these adaptations of comic books can be, but rather how powerful they can become. 

“The Avengers” isn’t like most comic book films before it though, while it may not challenge the capabilities of its genre, “The Avengers” does test the limits of franchise filmmaking. Being a revolutionary film in more ways than one, “The Avengers” was a film that showcased the power to be found in patient storytelling. Using the television analogy, “The Avengers” is the finale of season one in which the Earth’s mightiest heroes are finally joined together on the same screen. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has descended upon Earth with plans of destroying and conquering all those who seek to oppose both his rule and the God-like being behind him as well, who watches from his throne on Titan. Our heroes must resolve their differences and unite to fight the onslaught of the Chitaurian army that follows the would-be king in a cinematic event of epic proportions. 

A cinematic event. That is a term that should be coined by a movie like “The Avengers.” The film isn’t something of artistic mastery, but rather a powerhouse of cinematic experience. The story sounds simple enough, but the filmmaking can be quite arduous at times. Whedon manifests a film that is sleek in design and charismatic in its storytelling. The camera itself is nothing extraordinary but is worth noting. Whedon and his cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, provide a silky look to the film that is luminous and colorful. A lot of the film seems overly lit or unashamedly vibrant, but that’s a key attribute to the film's success. The visuality of the film matches its tone of levity in which there are few moments of considerable depth, but many moments of the film are endlessly enjoyable. Having a visual language that echoes that of the tone was a wise move by Whedon. 

Another wise move was to expand the story from the paradigm three-act structure to a Shakespearean five-act structure. The characters are far too pivotal to the movie’s plot, so Whedon and Zak Penn give them a larger space to expand their stature as heroes. From the first twenty-five minutes of exposition involving the inciting incident of Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) arrival and Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) rallying of the troops. To the next twenty-five minutes of rising action in which complications arise between our characters. “The Avengers” has a screenplay that I wouldn’t exactly call ideal, but the across the board excellent performances assist in making each drip of dialogue feel charismatically charged.

The story, while given an extended structure, is simple enough to follow. The bad guy shows up and threatens the world, and a leader brings together our heroes. Our heroes don’t get along  and their pride becomes their downfall, so the villain escapes and begins his devious plan. Then our heroes come together at the pivotal moment and save the day. Is it familiar? Yes. Is it simple? Yes. Does it ruin the film? Kinda. It’s not the simplicity of the story that turns some fans of filmatic drama away from “The Avengers,” but the lack of substance attached to this elementary story is what may have lead to the popular bashing of Disney’s “for children” superhero movies. While I don’t take sides in the battle of DC versus Marvel, (At least not in the sense of mine is better. Therefore, yours is awful) I could understand how this consequence-free storytelling can rub some the wrong way. The characters are all given arcs, but only one of them is given meaning. Tony (Robert Downey Jr) is a man whose lack of hubris begs the question of if he’s willing to lay it all down for others. This question gets placed under the microscope in “The Avengers,” and everyone else is given a magnified glass worth of focus. Big enough to become essential and small enough to notice their lack of emotional consequence to the story. 

It’s not just depth that seems vapid from the screenplay, but logicality becomes invisible at times as well. We see a man with no powers in an iron suit battle against a god-like being, instead of being destroyed upon the first incision of conflict. We also see soldiers who specialize in manipulation and marksmanship assist in a battle with aliens and heroes conversate to one another through radio transmission despite not having radios. Is their a small earpiece that they put in when the cameras weren’t looking? If so, where is the speaker? Is it attached to their suits (costumes)? I rest my case. 

This is a comic book movie though, and there is a multitude of storylines that, as a comic book fanatic myself, can assist in explaining the plausibility of these logical gripes. I can turn to my Grandmother and say, “well in this comic book this happens” or “in this short run from 1970 something to 1980 something, Marvel did this.” I can begin to explain some of these things to those who aren’t comic book devotees, but I shouldn’t have too. I didn’t have too with films like “Iron Man” or “The Dark Knight” or “Captain America: Civil War,” and I hope I don’t have to go through this same rigorous explanation of certain moments that paused my friends’ viewing experience with “Avengers Infinity War.” 

“The Avengers” became one of the best that the superhero genre has to offer with cinematically exalting action, charismatically charged performances, and efficient storytelling. But as much as I love Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man and the astonishing comic book visuality of “The Avengers,” I can’t say the film is great. It’s terrific, but that vacuum of emotional depth and the shortage of plausibility leads to moments that incite me to question rather than resonate. 

David Fincher once said at press junket that “there’s a very large talent pool of people who don’t feel there’s much for them in terms of sustenance working for Marvel.” I think film fans feel the same way in how cinematic aficionados like Alicia Malone can’t find it within themselves to fall in love with the comic book magic of these films. Some of us already fell in love with these characters as kids when they could only be found small panels with interlinking bubbles of dialogue. Now they're on a much larger panel, and some film fans want to join the fray of nerdom that follows these legendary emblems of human emotion, but they remain patiently stifled but the lack of substance. They, like the post-credits scene, sit around quietly enjoying the Schwarma-like tastes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, hoping something will barge in and intoxicate these characters with emotional depth and conflict that has merely been sprinkled instead of poured upon its cinematic storytelling.