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Review: “The Avengers”

“The Avengers” should please just about everyone looking to see a group of Marvel characters battling it out with aliens and each other. As for everyone else, it should at least amuse them, too. And it’s the film’s accessibility that becomes a hindrance, as pleasing just about everyone inevitably means thrilling no one. The characters that audiences care about are all here, and they take turns performing in greatest hits fashion, though rarely are we supplied with a reminder of why we liked them in the first place.

Of course, some will consider this a rousing creative success as long as it’s well lit and the characters names are pronounced correctly. Director Joss Whedon, geek darling and actual comic book writer, handles the material with predictable respect. Perhaps too much respect, so much that none of the characters pop as they should. Their fates are never in question, their dilemmas never rise above a muted sense of general danger. The bad guys must be stopped, yes, but is there anything else to it? Even Thor (Chris Hemsworth), whose brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is the primary villain, seems a bit nonchalant about the whole thing.

The Avengers assemble to battle Loki as he plots his conquest of earth, similar to how the film’s components themselves feel snapped together like machined parts. The film rolls the team members out one at a time, lingering a bit more on those without their own franchises, for a slow but functional first act. Once everyone’s together, the plot mercifully ratchets up, with the action scenes coming both lengthily and plentifully.

Whedon handles the louder moments with workmanlike competency, though they suffer from an uncharacteristic lack of imagination. The stronger team members hit one another with lightning, lasers, or their fists, causing them to fly backwards into trees, buildings, and other hard surfaces. Despite this, no one ever appears too hurt by the effort, or even in danger of suffering a serious injury. The weaker team members (i.e. regular humans) trade martial arts strikes and generally avoid the aforementioned more powerful beings, leading me to wonder how long even a talented soldier or spy could battle with the gods and expect to survive unscathed. But regular humans get off easy here, as an alien assault on Manhattan with dozens of warships seems to produce no human casualties whatsoever.

This film’s status as the “Nashville” of major superhero films results in a packed 143-minute runtime, with a roughly even amount of attention afforded to each hero. Nice in theory, though this might have been a mistake. Putting the viewer in the mind of single hero, such as a leader like Captain America (Chris Evans) or a mere mortal like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), could have lent this story the urgency and vulnerability it lacks.

“The Avengers” is cinematic art in the same way that fast food is cooking; even a great example of such a thing is put together with stock ingredients, prepared with skill but not passion, designed to be satiating but forgettable. It’s almost hard to complain about something that does succeed at delivering the goods, but after five years and five films worth of anticipation and development, shouldn’t this be at least as exciting as the trailer for “The Dark Knight Rises”?

B-

About James Frazier

James Frazier is a freelance journalist and film critic. He has written for various newspapers and websites, including the Washington Times. His five favorite movies as of this moment are "Blue Velvet," "Casino," "Memento," "North by Northwest," and "Sideways." James resides in the Midwest and can be reached at james@criticspeak.com.
  • andy

    nice review. i hope to see it in theaters. did not see thor or captain america…. or any of the hulk films. i have a feeling i won't need to see them. it's one of joss' strong suits leaving human casualties to a minimum or not at all when he writes for the super-powered. but i have a feeling that it's more to do with the non-violence to humans that marvel adheres to in their comics (poorly aimed lasers instead of lethal bullets, webs instead of rope/cuffs). violence/death does come to humans in the marvel universe, but it is something that isn't depicted often… at least in the titles i've read.

    • Nick

      After all those years of writing soon-to-syndicated TV for the WB, maybe Wheedon doesn’t even consider human casualty an option in generating exigency.

  • Thanks! You're right, at least from the 60-90s. From what I've seen Marvel titles have gotten much more grim over the past decade, with lots of civilian casualties and gratuitous violence. In the case of this film, I mainly think it was shooting for something not too rough, although there is a nasty little scene where an innocent bystander suffers a grisly fate. Nothing near the level of violence of The Dark Knight, though, which probably should have received an R.

  • Ramin Honary

    People have been talking about this film like it was really good, but I just cannot believe a Marvel comic movie could ever be good. Your review was very informative, much more so than that of all those other reviews I read which, had I not known better, seemed to be written by teenage fanboys.

  • Colin

    Avengers was a great superhero movie. The reviewer doesn't dislike the Avengers movie so much as he dislikes the concept of big-budget superhero films. This movie should have crashed and burned because of how ridiculous the concept is, but the fact that this was the most fun I have had in a theater in years and probably the best Marvel film next to Spider Man 2 just shows the brilliance of Joss Whedon as a writer and director. It's also a tremendous testament to Joss Whedon's skill as a filmmaker to make what is probably the best Marvel film ever made in the wake of the mess created by the directors/writers of Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor. Give the guy some credit for taking these broken franchises and creating not just a good superhero film but a great film. And it's hard to believe that audiences find the movie unforgettable when it smashes 2nd and 3rd weekend domestic gross records.