I saw the epically ambitious Avengers movie. Here are my thoughts.
Procedural note: This week’s episode of 11 Points Countdown had to be bumped to Wednesday due to post-production time.
I saw The Avengers this weekend. As a sucker for comic book movies (despite not being a sucker for comic books) I went in with high hopes. Rather than do a straight review, I thought I’d just throw out the random thoughts I had about it with the hope they’ll come together to form a review greater than the sum of the parts. Kind of like the Avengers themselves? (Wah-waaah.)
1 | The movie is magnificent in that it took on a huge challenge and won
As I’m writing this I see The Avengers had the biggest opening weekend in box office history and, yeah, that makes sense. The movie is a level of epicness no one’s ever tried to pull off before — taking a bunch of characters who carried their own blockbusters and throwing them together in one movie. That’s about as ambitious as it gets. It’s like The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones injected with three tons of HGH.
And they actually pulled it off. This movie had about 16,000 chances to go off the rails but didn’t. It’s not perfect, but it’s closer to “perfect” than it is to “abject disaster.” And I think that in itself is a spectacular achievement.
2 | The Avengers fall nicely into the group dynamic paradigms discussed in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
In one of the seminal episodes of Sunny, the guys lay out the necessary roles a successful group or team must have to succeed. They decide you need one person representing the brains, looks, muscle, wild card and useless girl. The Avengers hits that mark perfectly…
Brains – Iron Man
Looks – Captain America, as the face of the team
Muscle – Thor
Wild card – Hulk
Useless girl – Scarlett Johansson
And Hawkeye doesn’t get one of these because he’s so uncomfortably the bastard stepchild of the group . The mere fact that I just wrote one sentence about him means I put more thought into his character than the people who made the movie.
3 | As a native Clevelander, I would classify this movie as “Cleveland porn.”
A good portion of the movie was filmed in Cleveland (serving as a budget stand-in for New York and Germany). And it was amazing to me just how much of Cleveland I recognized. The best part was a scene set in Germany that’s so clearly Cleveland’s public square with some German flags put up. Which MUST’VE freaked out at least one person walking by who didn’t realize a movie was being made and briefly thought the Germans finally did it.
4 | The most surprising big role went to Robin from How I Met Your Mother
The movie was directed by Joss Whedon, who did the TV version of Buffy, which starred Alyson Hannigan, who’s now on How I Met Your Mother with Cobie Smulders. (I had to spell check every name in that sentence. No freebies there.)
And Smulders got a surprisingly large part in the movie. She’s probably got 50 lines. And yet… it’s a completely throwaway character. Half exposition, half generic “second in command” type of stuff. A huge part, filled with sound and Nick Fury, signifying nothing.
5 | This is the first movie to properly use the Incredible Hulk
Two Hulk movies have failed in the past decade. And The Avengers shows why. The Hulk is perfect in smaller doses. You see his wimpy side, his inner conflict, his Hulking out, and then he goes a-smashin’. That’s what you want from the Hulk. That’s what he gets to do here when he doesn’t have to carry an entire movie. The Hulk is like a jet ski. Riding a jet ski is a ton of fun, but you couldn’t have it as your only means of transportation. The Hulk in this movie is like a jet ski; in his own movies he flounders under the weight of also being a car, bus, train, plane, set of feet, bicycle, subway, rickshaw and Segway.
6 | I feel bad for the one and only non-extra to die in the entire movie
I don’t want to give away a spoiler but only one character with a name dies in the movie. When he died, my instinct wasn’t to feel bad for the character — it was to feel bad for the actor who plays him. Because that guy has been riding this Marvel cash cow like a champ. And now it’s done. I’m sure when he found out his character was being killed off he had to cancel his order for a solid gold rocket car.
The storyline justification for his death was that the heroes couldn’t be Avengers until they had something to avenge… but that felt like a stretch. Most of them weren’t really buddies with this guy. Couldn’t they just have gotten the dad from Red Dawn to come in for a cameo to yell “AVENGE ME”?
7 | The bow and arrow is now officially the hottest weapon in the country
Hawkeye is the throwaway Avenger in the movie, but he does get to shoot some Inspector Gadget-type multi-functional arrows. Between this movie and Hunger Games, the two biggest films so far this year both heavily feature the bow and arrow as a weapon of choice. And the country is apparently already seeing a rise in archery lessons. Which should, of course, be followed in a few months by the rise of apples being placed on little brothers’ heads.
8 | This had my favorite post-credits bonus clip of all
The Marvel signature is a brief bonus clip after the credits. In past films, those clips were used to set up The Avengers. So for The Avengers itself, they went for comedy with great results. It was a 60-second scene with no dialogue and was absolutely worth sitting through the 20,000 people listed in the credits. (Seriously. It takes a village.)
9 | It’s incredible how much further ahead Marvel is than D.C. in the movie game
I really only know the bigger name superheroes, but I do know this — D.C. Comics has both Superman and Batman. Their equivalent of the Avengers is the Justice League. And if they could somehow pull off a Justice League movie, putting those two together on screen would be an even bigger deal than The Avengers.
Only they’re nowhere, nowhere close. The Batman franchise is strong but exists in its own universe, not interconnected to other D.C. heroes. They’ve inexplicably been unable to get a Superman franchise off the ground (even though that feels like a “can’t miss” in every way). The Green Lantern movie was a flop, a Wonder Woman movie was shelved and the only Aquaman movie ever made starred Vincent Chase.
Translation: If they tried to use Marvel’s build-individual-characters-then-bring-them-together strategy, they couldn’t pull off a Justice League movie until maybe 2019 at the earliest. By that point, Marvel will have figured a way to get their Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four deals back from other studios and we’ll get in our flying cars and have our robot chauffeurs drive us to see the most epic super movie of all time.
10 | Using Thor’s brother as the bad guy was an interesting choice
On one level, I get that they needed a big enough threat to justify forming the Avengers — and a demigod from another planet bringing a space army down to destroy Earth certainly constituted a threat of the proper magnitude. But… Loki was a bit too shaky of a villain to carry the movie. A story this big felt like it needed a bad guy who was more clear in his motivations and powerful in stature — Loki is smaller, sniveling and his motivations felt amorphous throughout the film. It would be like if they made a movie with you as a superhero and the bad guy was your 90-pound 15-year-old cousin instead of the 300-pound sociopath who’s standing outside of your house right now. I would’ve liked to see the heroes take on a real world threat for this movie and save the supernatural one for the inevitable sequel.
11 | Would I recommend the movie?
Absolutely. It’s shlock, but in a good way — think of it as the anti-Dark Knight. The tortured souls are popcorn tortured. There’s no grittiness. At one point Robert Downey Jr. makes a Point Break reference. The movie is not perfect but it’s damn good… and it’s the kind of spectacle that the past decade of blockbuster movies have been leading up to. Plus it might have an outside chance of doing better box office than a James Cameron movie and that guy needs to get knocked down a peg or two, right?