Avengers Disassembled

30 May

This isn’t a movie review. Or maybe it is, we’ll see.

So there’s a movie out called The Avengers (sorry, Marvel’s The Avengers), which is about comic book heroes and is generally quite a bit of fun. It is a good time at the movies. It does what a movie promises to do – diverts your attention from your crappy real life.

It’s a good movie. And that is all it is. It is a by-the-books, cookie cutter superhero action film. It does nothing more or less than the average movie of the same genre.

The film was directed by Joss Whedon who is best known for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He is a cult hero amongst fanboys, and justifiably so. He tells a good story, writes sharp witty dialogue from strong characters, and is a fanboy himself, so he generally understands the material.

But if I hadn’t known that he directed The Avengers, I would never have guessed he had anything to do with it. The movie has no imprimatur of the Whedon-esque style. The movie is enjoyable, diverting fun, but never once does it go further than that. Never once does it try to be something more than what it is.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, The Avengers is unofficially the seventh movie in a series. So far we’ve had Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America. All of those films lead into this one, and if you haven’t seen those movies and have no knowledge of the comics they are based on, you would be slightly lost as to certain plot points and character motivations. It’s kind of like trying to watch Return of the Jedi before seeing its predecessors. I’ve actually seen all these movies, but even I felt that this was just another chapter in a book, or an episode of a TV show.

But moreso, The Avengers is an effortless movie. Usually saying something is effortless is a compliment, but not here. I felt this movie to be inherently lazy. Rather than try to do something wholly original, The Avengers feels more like a greatest hits album – Iron Man is quippy, Scarlett Johansson is Scarlett Johanssony, Hulk is smashy, Captain America is old-fashioned, and Samuel L. Jackson is a one-eyed bad ass motherfucker. Been there. Done that.

The Avengers may be good, but unfortunately it also settles for being good enough. It is a well-made movie. It is nothing more than that.

This disappointment stems from it also being directed by someone I like. When you see a movie by a director you like or read a book by your favorite author you expect to like it. Putting these creators on a pedestal is more than just admiring them. It is saying that we expect their work to be better than the average. We actually judge the things we like harsher because of this.

A great example is The Simpsons. This was a show that during the 1990s was the cultiest TV show around. People who liked it loved it. Fans and critics alike hailed it as one of the best shows of all time. And yet I currently have three of their recent episodes saved on my DVR but have no real interest in watching them. Most agree that The Simpsons is not as good as it once was. Even more, they bemoan this fact. It is as if they take The Simpsons’ decline in quality as a personal slight. But The Simpsons is still good, but too often it feels – like The Avengers – like it has settled for good enough. Watching it now can only lead to comparisons with the past greatness of the show.

Similarly, when Woody Allen started making a bunch of stinkers (I’m looking at you Celebrity), the animosity towards his movies was far greater than would be given to any other two-star romantic comedy.

The recent Haruki Murakami novel 1Q84 was not good. It was long, repetitive, predictable, and continued his weird fascination with incest. I generally love his books, but this one not only disappointed me, but it made me angry at the author. If it had been written by some no-name I would have put it down after the first 450 pages.

When we invest in an artist any type of failure is magnified. Worse, when they make something that is only decent (Martin Scorsese and Casino come to mind), we can only regret the greatness that might have been and not see the quality that does exist. (Or we go the opposite route and become artistic apologists and say that “if so-and-so did it, it has to be great.” Ask someone who likes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull if they really like it, or if they are just too scared to admit their own disappointment in the movie.)

Worst. Indy. Ever.


Our favorites can be like our children. They please us more than their peers, but can also disappoint us more because we expect better things from them.

So The Avengers is a good movie, but not a good Joss Whedon movie.

I wanted to discuss a third reason for The Avengers so-so-ness: the concept of The Well Made Movie. However, I think this idea deserves a full column, and I will hopefully have that to you shortly. Until then, let’s hope Prometheus lives up to our Ridley Scott-is-doing-a-sorta-Alien-prequel expectations.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Forget About Star Wars - May 15, 2013

    […] None of that is to say I won’t see Star Trek Into Darkness this weekend. I will. And I will probably like it. I will also see the J.J. Abrams directed Star Wars sequels. I will probably even see the next Avengers movie even though I wasn’t so hot on the first one. […]