Review of The Avengers
I went to see The Avengers on Saturday. Being a massive fan of the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America movies, and a long-term reader of The Mighty Thor comics (though I’ve switched allegiance now that Loki has his own series) I had EPIC FEELS about this one. I’d been looking forward to it at fever pitch for months.
Which makes me rather sad to report that I don’t know what I think, now that I’ve seen it. I’m having a moment of cognitive dissonance here, because I enjoyed it thoroughly for about 90% of the way, and then in the last 10% I found myself getting more and more disenchanted until by the very end I came out feeling profoundly disappointed. I simultaneously thought it was awesome, and hated it.
I’ve spent all day today trying to figure out why.
Recap of the plot and spoilers everywhere below:
Shield have the Tesseract. Loki arrives via wormhole, mind controls Selvig and Hawkeye, steals the Tesseract and leaves, dropping a mountain on the secret Shield base in the process. Oh Noes! He’s going to use the tesseract to take over the world by opening a portal through which he can bring his spiky alien army! Fury must do something about this, so he phones Black Widow – who gets her own twisty psychological and majorly kickass establishing scene – and tells her to find Bruce Banner. She does so, bringing him to Shield’s new secret headquarters aboard the helicarrier. (Which is awesome.) Meanwhile, Fury has brought Captain America in, and I can’t quite remember what happens with Iron Man, but he’s there too.
Banner was new to me – I’d only ever watched the Hulk TV series and hadn’t bothered to see the films. Largely because I know what it’s like living with a rage monster inside you, and I can attest that it doesn’t make you any kind of superhero. However, although the Hulk strikes me as inevitably one-note as a character, Banner is a different matter. I liked him a lot.
This may have something to do with why the ending sucked. Banner is an interesting and likable character. By the end, he had been transformed to Hulk, and – even without my other Hulk related issues (of which more anon) – this resulted in less interest and liking to go around.
With all the superheroes, except Thor, aboard the helicarrier, there is much bickering and wise-cracking, which is all prime entertainment, because the one-liners are priceless, and who doesn’t enjoy a bunch of self-important, pompous heroes utterly failing to get along? Meanwhile Loki is up to something high profile and nefarious in Germany, where he gets to demonstrate his villainy by smiling a lot, extracting someone’s eyeball (I’m not sure whether this is literally or virtually) and giving the famous “you were made to be ruled” speech.
Cap and Iron Man are sent to take him down, which occurs with very little fuss. Someone mentions how easy it was, but nobody draws any kind of obvious inference from this, and Loki is bundled aboard a plane headed for the helicarrier.
At this point, Thor turns up, whisks Loki off for some brotherly talk that seems remarkably lacking in happiness, puzzlement, angst or drama considering (a) all the manly tears during their last confrontation in Thor and (b) the last Thor saw of Loki was when he apparently committed suicide by Bifrost. I was frankly expecting a bit more emotion from this reunion, but it turned out to be as casual and brotherly as my kids fighting over who gets the remote control. Which was… nice, in its way. Very “we’ve lived with each other for millenia, and can’t surprise each other any more.” But it also felt a bit like a lost opportunity to bring some genuine emotion to Thor, who was – as always – a large, blond, muscle-bound nothing of a character.
As is demonstrated amply when Iron Man turns up to try and get his captive back, and he and Thor have an epic smack-down that involves Stark getting every single one of the good lines, Cap eventually having to separate them like naughty schoolboys, and Loki sitting unsupervised on a rock watching the shenanigans.
But again, nobody asks themselves why he didn’t try to get away at that point, and they take him off to Shield’s secret base & imprison him in the Hulk-proof room. Here he puts into motion operation “piss-off ALL the Avengers” via a spectacular piece of nastiness toward Black Widow. She realizes what he’s up to, but again, nobody seems to do anything about it. Cue attack by minions, Banner Hulking out and destroying the helicarrier, and Loki escaping.
Up until this point, despite a not-major-but-fandom-beloved character being killed, and despite the nastiness (you can’t really be a Loki fan without expecting him to be, on occasion, breathtakingly petty and cruel) I was really enjoying myself. But it was at this point where things started to go sour for me, I guess.
First of all, Fury uses beloved-character’s death for a shameless scene of emotional manipulation. (And Fury… I liked him in Iron Man 2, but here I found his grandstanding kind of obnoxious. The whole “don’t take us humans on because there’s something about us that sets us apart and makes us more special than any of you aliens” message doesn’t get less racist just because we haven’t yet found another species to use it against.)
I disapproved. Also, this was the point where we went into finale mode. All the superheroes started working together (thus eliminating much of the entertainment value of watching them bicker.) The Chitauri arrived on awesome armoured space-whale/eel/turtles. Instead of actually using their interesting shape-changing abilities for anything at all, they decided to go for the full on frontal assault against Manhattan.
This meant that all the nice little character moments which had broken up and enlivened the fighting more or less stopped (except for Loki throwing Tony Stark out of a window.) Hulk was deployed and smashed everything with the result that I got the impression that we didn’t actually need the other heroes at all.
This, I don’t get. Banner is afraid of Hulk because he’s uncontrollable, he wrecks his own side as much as the enemy (as demonstrated by the helicarrier thing.) And yet at the climax of the fight, suddenly he’s indispensable? Suddenly he can tell friend from foe? Suddenly he can even raise the dead?
This has a flavour of the cop-out to me. If he’s that useful, why is everyone afraid of him? If they’re right to be afraid, how come he’s that useful? He’s like Mjolnir in the Thor comics – it’s an over-powered deus ex machina. If you have a problem, hit it with the Hulk. If it doesn’t go away, hit it again. (And I’m not saying this because of the final Loki v Hulk grudge match – I laughed too.)
But on the reverse of the dissatisfaction that someone has cheated with the plot as far as Hulk goes, I also have the feeling that someone has cheated with the plot as far as Loki goes as well.
I mean, as a villain, his deal is that he’s clever, manipulative, the master of mind games and the double cross. This has also been amply demonstrated by the helicarrier thing. So why suddenly have him stand and fight? Why is he going into the final battle without any kind of plan at all, let alone a fiendishly cunning one that no one can fathom until it’s too late? Why is he not switching sides, or claiming the Chitauri captured and forced him into this, or baffling Hulk with clones and running away? Suddenly he’s too stupid.
It seemed to me that two of the major characters had to go OOC to create the ending as it stands, and that left a bad taste in my mouth.
I guess I shouldn’t be disappointed that a superhero film ends with an epic battle of the ‘punch it hard enough and it’ll go away’ variety. But I did feel let down – I’d expected something cleverer, both from the villain and from the heroes. Something a lot cleverer than “lets fire the missile into the heart of the sun alien spaceship,” which has been done a million times before. I’d expected a final twist. I’d expected to be surprised by something that raised the game and made this film better than all its predecessors. It wasn’t there, and no amount of awesome space eels could make up for it.
The first three quarters of the film is a epic parade of brilliant character moments for all the characters, and I loved it. The final all-stops-pulled-out battle is an epic parade of CGI with very little plot, the aliens were under-used as nothing but cannon fodder, and I felt it was cliched, too long, kind of boring, and didn’t really provide any emotional pay off.
I like to think this isn’t just because I was rooting for the villain all along – that if they had laid the smackdown on Loki in some more inventive manner, while he was doing anything other than just standing there – I might not have minded so much. I may, of course, be mistaken in that, but I loved “Thor” and I thought he’d died at the end of that, so I don’t think I am, not really.