One of my personal sweet memories with Ebertfest, which is currently being held as usual in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, was the gift basket I received at the hotel room on its first day. It contained various things including two bottles of wine and several kinds of cookies, and, though I would not taste much of them for the reasons I will not discuss in details in this review, I was happy to get it, and I still feel happy when I watch its photo posted at my blog.
You may wonder why I am talking about such a small, inconsequential thing like that, which is millions miles away from “The Avengers”, one of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters of this year. I tell you the reason right now – the movie is more or less than a snack gift set intended for the targeted audiences, and they will get as much as they pay. Here are good ones, and there are bad ones, but there is nothing new – and everything is wrapped up pretty nicely, and competently, with the big, loud, and well-made actions to entertain us instead of that nice black ribbon on my gift basket. To be frank with you, I was less impressed by the film than my precious gift, but do I really have to complain about the movie when it does exactly what it intends to do with the full service for its eager audiences?
Let’s look at its plot, which is more or less than the placeholder for the superheroes of Marvel Comics we have previously encountered in other 6 blockbuster films. Loki(Tom Hiddleston), the villain of “Thor”(2011), is back in business with his another evil plan. Intended to open the big portal to somewhere far, far from the Earth, he steals some mysterious powerful energy source named Tesseract(I am sure some of you have seen it in “Captain America: The First Avenger”(2011), right?) from the secret US government agency named SHEILD(Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division). His theft in the opening scene is accompanied with the spectacular catastrophe in which the characters manage to survive because it is CGI.
SHIELD quickly goes into the emergency mode. Nick Fury(Samuel L. Jackson), the director of SHIELD, decides it is time to gather a small group of people with special talents as the team for this serious situation, so we see the familiar characters one by one, including Tony Stark/Iron Man(Robert Downey Jr), Steve Rogers/Captain American(Chris Evans), Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk(Mark Ruffalo), Thor(Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow(Scarlett Johansson), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye(Jeremy Renner).
The director/screenplay writer Joss Whedon takes a considerable time in introducing these characters and distributing them appropriately in the ploy. Tony Stark is a little annoyed by the call when he is having a fun as Iron Man as usual, and Steve Rogers still has some adjustment problem after waking up in the 21th century, and Bruce Banner has managed to get his spectacular anger management issue under the control for a while, and, in case of Thor, well, he is Thor with the mighty hammer, and that explains all.
Though Whedon does a passable job of juggling many characters while keeping his story moving during the first half of the story, the movie frequently feels like a bland product from assembly line. Each piece is placed in the right place, but it somehow lacks synergy. It gives each of the superheroes the adequate space for some drama or humor, but there is nothing new revealed through their union. This is pretty much like watching the celebrities who just happen to meet each other at the gas station on the crossroad. I understand it is not easy for them to get along with each other, but their interactions or conflicts almost stall the narrative sometimes. At one point, I wanted to say something to Iron Man and Thor on the condition that I will not be injured: “Hey, guys, why don’t you just have a talk instead of fighting with each other, especially when a bad guy is waiting for you to be captured outside the screen?”
There are good things along with bad things in this mixed bag. Not so surprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. has a sardonic fun again as Iron Man; too bad there is no one who can counter his snarky wit in the film except Mis Pepper Potts(Gwyneth Paltrow), who appears only, alas, in three scenes. Mark Ruffalo is good as a man who has been burdened by his brutal alter ego; Dr. Banner is initially brought in as a technical consultant, but we all know there will come the time he should be very, very angry.
On the other hand, Captain America is less interesting than before, probably because his earnestness is not suitable for the 21th century. But he is not that boring compared to Thor, a noble thickhead whose evil brother Loki is as bland as him and far blander when compared to other great comic book villains I have encountered. When I saw Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. in the trailer, I saw a little possibility of witty Downey channeling Groucho Marx and clueless Hemsworth channeling Margaret Dumont. They could have made a funny superhero version of Marx Brothers film if the filmmakers had decided to be a little more challenging.
In case of ‘less special’ characters, I have to say that Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner manage to hold their respective places as the super agents surrounded by the superheroes, but what their characters really need are their own genuine stories to tell. Samuel L. Jackson, who has been diligently appearing in Marvel Comics films as Nick Fury, is as commanding as he always has been, and I hope he can teach me how to get out of the underground research building in less than 2 minutes(you will never know what will happen at my lab). And I like the boyish enthusiasm hidden inside the officious Agent Phill Coulson(Clark Gregg), whose job and live are probably envied by many comic book fans. If you cannot be a superhero, the next best thing is assisting them on their side. Who knows, you may have your dramatic moment to inspire them.
There are also several other things I liked. I enjoyed the sight of a huge aircraft carrier hovering in the sky and the expected action sequence in the aircraft. I sincerely welcomed the climax sequence on the streets of Manhattan in the third act, because 1) the movie finally stops spinning wheels in its tedious build-up process and 2) the actions on the screen are more well-organized than that dreadful climax sequence of “Transformers 3”(2011). People are still running away amid lots of, lots of, and lots of CGIs and noises, but, in this case, you always know where the characters are and to which direction they are moving. Unlike Michael Bay, Whedon did not waste his budget to nothing.
Above all, literally or metaphorically, our superheroes soar through this frantic moment with the sense of fun and excitement. But I am thinking of one familiar line now: “Thank you, (fill in the blank – the multiple answers are allowed), you save the day, but why did you come so late?” Before its third act started, I eventually surrendered to the temptation of checking my watch, and that was not a good sign to me.
In addition, Loki and his merry band of CGI cohorts are not menacing enough to provide the tension in the climax. Tom Hiddleston tries the best as he can, but Loki remains as a petty second-rated villain with family issue who always needs bigger villains to depend on, and I and the audiences certainly got a big chuckle when this spoiled kid got the spanking time. Oh, boy, I must report to you that some of the audiences actually thought that he was (gasp) cute. Maybe you think Lex Luthor is silly and funny, but he is not cute at all.
So, just in case you are still confused about my opinion on “The Avengers”, I tell you I had a simple conclusion with the convenient mathematical method. Due to the regrettable lack of synergy between its superheroes, the calculation is simple. I gave 3 stars to “The Hulk”(2003) and 2.5 stars to its sequel. I gave 2.5 stars to both Iron Man movies, and I gave “Thor” 2 stars, and I gave “Captain America” 3 stars. Therefore, my average rating for these movies is around 2.6 stars, so I think it is fair to give “The Avengers” 2.5 stars. If you have different opinions on these movies, then do the math for yourself. You may have a conclusion different from mine, perhaps, and I won’t stop you from buying the ticket. You have my word.
Sidenote: Never mind about 3D. I enjoyed the brightness of 2D while missing nothing.