Monday, May 07, 2012

I'm Holding Out For A Hero(es)

There's a whole lot to love about Joss Whedon's The Avengers... but I'm ultimately falling on the side on "like" with regards to the whole package, top to bottom, which is making me feel a little weird. Before the hate-mail comes let me make it clear that this is already my favorite of the Marvel Avengers movies. Although... given our history (fuck you, Iron Man movies) that's only half-praise.

It's just... the first hour just stands a little too disjointed. It feels like Joss reaching into his play-box and grabbing out a pair or trio of random action figures and then tossing them together to see what happens, without a whole lot of through-line. I suppose it's what this film had to be, even - structurally, I mean. Joss went about it in the right way. And it's fun to see what he came up with, and to watch these personalities rub each other various ways. But until the mid-point it sort of felt sketched-in to me. Individual moments were great fun - Scarlett Johansson needs to give Joss props on her tombstone - but one scene working on its own and then another scene working on its own, but notsomuch when smashed together... I just wasn't getting pulled into it the way I wanted to.

Even just from a film-making point of view there was an overdose of shot-reverse-shot laziness that Joss brought from TV and was relying on that was driving me crazy for a lot of the scenes - he gave them great things to say but I wish he'd found nicer ways to show them saying it. Joss shoots action well - he's always shown a deft hand at getting a fight scene choreographed in a memorable way, like music, where it swells and hits the right notes to keep us involved - but otherwise there's a lot of visual blandness tilting towards outright ugliness at points. Yeah Chris Evans looked good in that costume and was framed for maximum effect, but there were close-ups where his shimmering silver eyeliner would put RuPaul to shame - cover that shit up, Joss! That sort of thing just underlined a sometimes-cheapness and slap-dash quality that got distracting at times. 

So that said the second hour is a blast - once all hell breaks loose the camerawork itself opens up and starts doing interesting things right alongside the propulsive force of the action. There's a shot in the middle of that Manhattan battle that zooms from character to character to character through the streets of the city doing their thing that's one for the record books - it's about as perfect a shot as you could ever imagine  something called The Avengers to hold. It's why the movie exists. 

And everyone is great - I can't decide if it's because she's the sole girl in the group or if it's because Joss has always seemed to project the most of himself into the more human characters that fight alongside the superheroes (Xander! Westley!), but Scarlett's about a trillion times more interesting here than she was in Iron Man 2.  And Joss gives all the characters just enough, well, character, to make them more accessible than they ought to be in a movie stuffed so to the gills with giant folks doing giant things. I'm right there with everybody giving love to Mark Ruffalo's work as Bruce Banner. (Not to mention the Hulk looks so much better in this movie than he has before. Fine design choices there.)

All that said I'm probably going to go see the film a second time and I have a feeling a lot of my problems will feel less than worth crowing about then. He managed a pretty spectacular feat pretty well - wrangling what probably should have been a total disaster into a very funny crowd-pleaser. (Hulk... smash!) I think my problems with what it turned out to be are inherent with what the film was, inherently, and ultimately beyond Joss' grasp. He probably made the best Avengers movie that probably could have been made. And hey, it's my favorite Marvel Avengers movie by far! I mean it! Put down the stones, please.


Joe Reid said...


Jason Adams said...

If you liked it so much then you'll go see it with me the second time and convince me otherwise like that time we saw Southland Tales.

Rob K. said...

You tell 'em, JA. I fel the same way. It's a good & very fun movie, but it's not some sort of masterpiece of cinema that some (cough annoying died-in-the-wool fanboys cough cough) seem to be touting it as. The hype is just in hyperdrive at the moment - sooner or later folks will calm down and maybe look at it more objectively. In the meantime, can I just say Chris Evans had no shirtless scene and I was so disappointed. He be so pritty prittty.

Eve said...

It's a fair and balanced review, I guess...I disagree with some things you've said though (but that's ok).

P.S.: you mentioned stoning and I immediately remembered that scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian.

RJ said...

I'm with you on everything you said, although I'm a little more negative than you. The last act was such a blast and did a fantastic job of using all of the characters (even if it was A LOT like the last act of Transformers 3), but I was honestly pretty bored by a sizable chunk in the middle of the movie that involved everyone on that floating ship staring out of windows and delivering exposition about things I didn't understand or care that much about. This had the same problem as Captain America (which I liked a bit more) in that the villain didn't have a clear, well-articulated objective other than 'use magical MacGuffin because ...'

There is so much fun to be had here (Agree especially about Scarlett Johansson who was my favorite character), but every time the movie had to stop to get back to the plot, I was kind of unengaged.

RJ said...

Also, give the costume designer an Oscar for the tailoring of everyone's pants.

Jee Jay said...

"let me make it clear that this is already my favorite Marvel movie."

I haven't seen this yet -- but you liked this more than the Raimi Spider-Man and the Singer X-Men?


It just surprises me because based on all the trailers,etc. this movie seems like such a generic, corporate product, regardless of who is the director-of-record.

And, yes, when I see it I might have to eat those words.

Jason Adams said...

Shit I meant out of the Avengers individual movies - I should fix that. That's not what I meant at all, Jee Jay! And I knew Spider-Man and X-Men are Marvel, I don't know why I said it this way. Thanks for straightening that out.

RJ said...

Just want it on the record that I do NOT co sign any uppity 'fanboy' shaming related to this movie. Didn't knock it out of the park for me, but doesn't mean it didn't do it for someone else for perfectly valid reasons.

Drew F said...

Not being particularly sensitive (or knowledgeable, for that matter) about framing and shot construction and the like (though I like to think I can appreciate when it is particularly good and/or interesting), I cant comment much about that part of the movie or whether or not it should bother you. However, being the (quite obviously) total fanboy that I am I can tell you that Mr. Whedon hit pretty much EVERY SINGLE comic-nerd button he could. All of the random fighting in the beginning of the movie is one of two major reasons why most people read comics: showdowns between peoples' favorite characters. Everyone has a favorite (of the choices, I happen to be a Capt. America guy) and they want to see them punch everybody else's face in.

Also, to RJ who commented that the parts where people were standing around soliloquizing are boring: have you ever read a comic book? Thats how exposition happens. Fantastical, cosmos-altering stories are the other reason most people read comics, and that requires ALOT of exposition. It makes the action have that much more meaning when it does happen. Im actually really glad they've started to have more of that element in the movies. It adds a bit of mysterium tremendum et fascinans to the whole thing that I, for one, truly enjoy. If you dont, thats fine. But I suggest that you skip Avengers 2 b/c the last button Joss hit for us fanboys was the Big Bad (THANOS!) revealed in the first credit scene, and he promises a whole lot more standing around giving exposition...which I anxiously await :)

Eve said...

@ Drew F:

Totally agree with you. Watching The Avengers was like reading a comic book. Ang Lee tried to translate into the big screen the whole "comic book language" but, honestly, dividing the screen into squares and rectangles -- to make it look like a comic book page -- simply isn't that.

I think Joss Whedon's done an amazing job. And I highly doubt anyone else could have done it better.

I watched it again yesterday -- at least to me, the movie still looks fantastic after a second viewing.