Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The Ultimate Tie-In
I've said it before: I'm not a comic book guy. And I'm not much of a fan of the Big Blockbuster Action Movie. I feel I always have to put in these caveats before I review a film of this type. Especially a film like The Avengers, the Big Blockbuster Action Film Based On Comic Book Characters. This kind of film always seems to have the most tenuous of pedigrees: theme and character roots in pre-pubescent male entertainment, and then developed for the largest possible American audience. That's just too Network TV for my tastes. No doubt the world is happy that my tastes do not predominate, but they're my tastes just the same, and The Avengers was not a film to which I was looking forward.
But I always end up seeing more of these films than I expect, and more often than not I find my own a priori distaste excessive, if only a little (I keep showing up, after all). The prequels I saw were not excruciating--Thor and Iron Man and Captain America. I gave the original Iron Man a grade of B (though with the usual caveats). It was funny enough and written well enough and acted well enough and it was paced so that you didn't sit there and think about stuff.
And so it goes with The Avengers. It's a film saved from its overweening save-the-universe gravitas by a big dollop of humor. Our director and screenwriter here is Joss Whedon (who also wrote the screenplays for Captain America and Thor). Whedon has quite the extensive resume as a writer for TV: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse. I've seen none of these, but the shows seem to have garnered plenty of adherents. Apparently he's known for is his feminist leanings (which immediately endears him to me). His female characters are apparently more capable and more interesting than the Hollywood norm.
However, he has almost no opportunity to tell a feminist story in The Avengers. The Avengers themselves are all men but one. There are a couple of big name women in the film--Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow--but they have to share their screen time with what seems like a dozen prominent men. (Having said that, Whedon has given the women entertaining roles.) If the story has to be mostly male, at least Whedon has a fine stable of men at his disposal: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Tom Hiddleston. (There is also a bit of screen time given to Samuel L. Jackson's sidekick, Maria Hill--played by Cobie Smulders--who is great.)
But what makes the story work for me is that it's just a lot of fun. I found myself laughing a lot, and lots of the characters' jokes come at the expense of the other characters. To me, this means nobody takes themselves too seriously. Even an inherently humorless character like the Hulk is the butt of jokes. Well played. If you look at movies purely as entertainment, this is your film. Given the limitations of genre and source material, I daresay Whedon as done as well here as possible. It's a film your kids will love--the boys, anyway--and you won't hate yourself for having to go.
Within the genre, I'd give it an A. Out in the wild, I'd say more like a B+.