THE AVENGERS (2012, directed by Joss Whedon, 142 minutes, U.S.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Like an asteroid headed straight at earth, the unavoidable, unstoppable Avengers movie has finally made impact and resistance is futile. Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D has been making post-credit appearances in the Marvel super hero films for four years now, hinting at the arrival of the all-star super hero team. The Avengers is meant to top all the previous Marvel blockbusters of the past decade and it does that with the sheer scope of the frenzied destruction that, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk and the rest bring to New York City. Yet there’s something about this crowning achievement that also feels like the beginning of the end of the current super hero cycle (Batman and Spider-Man trailers be damned.)
Nick Fury (an authoritative Samuel L. Jackson) finally summons the hesitant heroes when the government’s experiments with dark energy draws Thor’s evil half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, F. Scott Fitzgerald from Woody Allen’s recent hit Midnight in Paris) to earth to steal the endless energy supply and enslave the population of earth. Even with the fate of the world in the balance, these lone cowboys (and cowlady, counting Scarlett Johansson’s tightly-clad Black Widow) are not natural team players, so you can count on some inter-mural brinkmanship before the spandex show-offs finally get around to rescuing the rest of us.
That short paragraph sums up about all the nuance The Avengers possesses. Over two and a third hours the film basically has an opening action sequence (fighting Loki over control of the energy source, called “The Tesseract”), a middle section in which “characterization” is shaded with a series of bantering arguments, and a over-extenuated finale, in which 9-11 mayhem is again unleashed on downtown NYC. Director Josh Whedon, who just a month back wowed us with his re-think of horror clichés in Cabin in the Woods, is in no position to re-think the super hero genre with this film. The Avengers is designed to deliver the Marvel formula by the numbers, if only a bigger scale and with more CGI-powered stars.
With that ambition The Avengers is undeniably successful. The script contains some real wit, a wit that also imbues the C.G.I. destruction and the beautiful design of the massive sky ships, that emerge from a hole in the atmosphere and swim through the air like armored eels. And who steals every scene he is in? The Incredible Hulk, that’s who. Although he was never able to front a movie that pleased his fans, The Hulk, now portrayed by Mark Ruffalo (with a voice by an uncredited Lou Ferrigno,), turns his brute force into muscle-bound comic relief, able to dispel the hyperbolic speechifying of his team members by mindlessly pounding things into the ground with his huge green fists.
The Avengers had last night’s midnight crowd squealing with delight and there is a sense that it will gross more money than has been minted since the beginning of time, yet often at the height of something’s powers you can often glimpse the seeds of their fall. When the Universal Studios monster cycle of the 30’s and 40’s rolled to its conclusion, the only way the series felt it could top itself was by bringing The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and Dracula all together in the films House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. That was the end, the only spark left in the monsters was as straight men to Abbott and Costello. After this super hero jamboree, where can the series go without back tracking? Will one hero even seem like enough again? P.S. Stay in the theater to the bitter end, post-credits The Avengers contains a fleeting glimpse of the team during downtime that is the most original scene of the movie. If only the next installment was brave enough to explore a hero’s mundane real world moments like this. After all, placing its heroes in something resembling our world was what set Marvel apart from its competition in the first place.