To call Joss Whedon’s The Avengers bad would be to call the entire superhero genre bad. Which is a fair complaint; the formula has become so predictable – and numbingly uninspired – that it would take more than a legion of super powers to defeat it. But even with a team of superheroes at its disposal, The Avengers rarely rises above the cliches of its genre.
Perhaps that’s the point. Beyond just a culmination of years of other Marvel films leading up to it (The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor, and Captain America were meant to feed into this film to make it feel more like an “event”), The Avengers seems more a culmination of the DNA of a decade’s worth of Hollywood’s mighty men in Spandex. The result is the most polished, decadent, and laser-focused superhero film ever, the textbook example of a genre taken to its logical extremes.
I say “logical” because, sadly, there’s little to be found here that takes the genre anywhere new. There are no new insights, reflection, wonder. My biggest complaint of Thor was that its generic visual flair seemed a terrible waste of potential. Here, too, we have a film that stubbornly refuses to go beyond its generic inspirations, instead choosing to spruce them up in the most overextravagant fashion. Did Joss Whedon, champion of pop culture hyper self-awareness, have this intention in mind?
The plot is of almost no concern. It involves a master scheme by Thor’s brother Loki to overtake the Earth, his ultimate wish to enslave humanity by “freeing them from freedom”. The peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D. recruits a team of superheroes – Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, and Hawkeye – to team up against the threat, and despite their bickering and reluctant participation, the motley crew come together for many spectacular scenes of carnage, with superhero-vs-superhero set pieces that seem more like Whedon’s fan service bucket list than pages from an actual script.
Many of these superheroes had previous movies dedicated to developing their characters, fleshing them out, giving us a reason to care about them. And yet we don’t, really. At the start of the film, we’re given a series of mini episodes dedicated to the recruitment of each team member, and while each episode is sufficiently lengthy, they seem so ham-fisted, and the characters seem so one-note, that we never really connect. Do the Avengers ever really seem in danger? Do we care?
But this is incredibly polished stuff. It’s clear that Joss Whedon (who both wrote and directed) has a thorough understanding of the essential components of a Hollywood comic book film, and in no less of a fashion than he did with Cabin in the Woods, you can see the elements of a genre distilled to its most basic elements, then obliterated with a Hulk smash. The Avengers overflows with the good stuff from nearly every preceding superhero film, cuts out the fluff, and delivers exactly that and nothing more. The real question is, where does the genre go now?
Score: 6.0 out of 10