Sunday, 13 May 2012

Marvel's The Avengers

by Julien Faddoul

***   3 stars

d - Joss Whedon
w - Joss Whedon, Zak Penn   (Based on the Comic book by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby)
ph - Seamus McGarvey
pd - James Chinlund
m - Alan Silvestri
ed - Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Lassek
cos - Alexandra Byrne

p - Kevin Feige

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders

I have always felt that I have never been a keen enough expert on the intensity levels of fans. From the casual hobby to the full fanaticism. I of course am well aware of the concept itself and understand that fans were initiated probably the same day that great art was initiated. But writer Fran Lebowitz has always said that she rarely seeks the opinions of others because she, well, doesn’t see the need. If one is certain about their opinions why would one need to seek someone else’s? Although we’re not exactly on congruent topics here, I always think of this whenever I wonder why I don’t consider myself part of any family of aficionados, but rather just a single entity who likes the things he likes and dislikes the things he dislikes.

There certainly is a difference between the cinephile and the fanboy, but I don’t know that the difference is as huge as either group would want to believe. Marvel’s The Avengers, the latest comic book adaptation from Marvel (in case the title was confusing), this time under the commanding wing of Mr Whedon, is one part gorgeous, incandescent entertainment and one part assembly-line 3D superhero picture, and both parts certain fan pleaser.

It is, first of all, pleasing on the most basic fan level: the nature of the book itself is that we are permitted to spend time with several fan favourites (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow) who have been collected to fight alongside one another, calling themselves “The Avengers”.  But it is also pleasing on a more molecular level and it’s on that level that the film earns its aforementioned incandescence.

I am sure you are well aware that we are currently living in this hellish era of comic-book pictures that are coming at us faster than we can count them and are making mountainous amounts of money unlike anything that I’m sure anyone at Marvel or DC Comics would have thought possible – I am of course talking about Batman 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6, Spider-Man 1, 2 & 3, Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic Four 1 & 2, Ghost Rider 1 & 2, Iron Man 1 & 2, Captain America, X-Men 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5, Thor, Hulk 1 & 2, Kick-Ass, Superman Returns and Green Lantern – and that’s not everything but it’s definitely enough of something.

All of them have budgets that make global success an absolute necessity. Yet, with the exception of Mr Nolan’s excellent Batman films, no one, devoted fan or contractual critic, seems to be particularly enamored with any of these; I certainly haven’t been. Most of them are case studies in narrative ineptness and entertainment black-holes. So why do people continually flock to see them? This speaks to how much of a gullible sucker the family of fans can be. If one is a fan, one must go. They must. Because to be a true fan, you have to be totally conscience of all elucidations of the piece of work you love. Hollywood studios know this, much to their glee.

Speaking solely for Marvel, the only film that received genuine critical praise at the time of its release was Spider-Man 2. For me, the greatest superhero film ever made was released that same year: Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, which is a totally original concoction (the only fan you need to be is a Pixar fan). The Avengers lands somewhere in between Spider-Man 2 and Mr Nolan’s Batman films (none of these films are on the level of Mr Bird’s), and a lot of the credit for that should be accorded to Mr Whedon. The difference between this film and the other Marvel films is that this world, these characters, these situations are all actually about something – they contain meaning. I know that it seems silly to ask a genre of movies in which the entire destruction of earth usually hangs in the balance to have high stakes, but that’s what this onslaught of trash has reduced us to. Mr Whedon has heard our call.

The way his camera circles around his characters during their critical decisions, the way the dialogue between them gives insight into their fears, the way the editing and pace of the action elicits actual tension and awe within the audience is, in this day and age, nothing short of a miracle. It is that rare film that should certainly satisfy the fans’ yearn and maybe obtain some new followers. It is a film that brings together the cinephile and the fanboy through the one thing they both definitely share: the desire and hunger to be taken by true entertainment.

Now for the con. I will try to, without spoiling, deliver the plot’s skeleton. Nick Fury (Mr Jackson) a kind of experimenter of these heroes (in many ways that I won’t reveal) congregates his gang of diverse and unusual savers of the world. They come in three categories: A) Iron Man (Mr Downey), Captain America (Mr Evans) and the Hulk (Mr Ruffalo, who is the most convincing actor by far to undertake the impulsive green alter ego), are mortal men who’ve realized astonishing powers either through an accident of fate or the force of their own will. B) Black Widow (Ms. Johansson) and Hawkeye (Mr Renner) are akin to super-spies rather than superheroes, black-ops professionals with vast fighting skills but no powers. And C) Thor (Mr Hemsworth) is a demigod from outer space. The same goes for Thor’s brother Loki (Mr Hiddleston), who, as the movie begins, flees from his banishment to come to earth and enchain all humankind. He has the ability to do this because of something called “The Tesseract”, a MacGuffin that would have made Mr Hitchcock laugh his head off.

Loki’s reasons for doing this are where the film flounders. Although I can’t reveal all his intentions, suffice it to say that they are far too capricious to be taken seriously (or comedically for that matter). Mr Whedon here reveals himself to be too moralistically pietistic and the film, as well as the characters, gets bogged down in metaphors of morality at times when one really needs it to soar. This creates an effect where a great many plot and character holes are visible (especially in the totally unnecessary 3D) due to the reality that a much longer film was probably shot. The entire final act is devoted to the destruction of a major city (not dissimilar to Transformers: Dark of the Moon) that, again, is excellent in every conceivable technical way but lacks the narrative life for one to be wholly invested. It’s a peculiar thing that a film’s strengths can be so close to its faults.

But this is the problem with these comic book movies. It’s not that they’re all flawed movies; it’s that they’re the same flawed movie. But The Avengers is the leader of the pack. It shares only a few of these flaws and its excellence cannot be denied. With its exceptional orchestration, terrific cast, inspired visual effects and overall joy of storytelling, it is, without a doubt, the best movie Marvel has ever made. I hope the fans agree.

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