I really, really wanted to like The Avengers. And I actually did enjoy many of the components of this movie. It’s a spectacularly made film; in fact, some of the action sequences (an aircraft carrier that flies) are just breathtaking.
My problems with The Avengers are two-fold: One, Batman; two, Loki and his alien horde, the antagonists in The Avengers.
I’ve tracked the origin of my problems with The Avengers universe back to my viewing of Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s masterful deconstruction of Gotham’s hero. I didn’t realize how brilliant and creative Batman Begins was until seeing Superman Returns, but having seen it, no other comic-book story can compare, not even the latest serials of Spiderman or X-Men.
Batman Begins reinvented the entire genre, making a superhero relevant to today’s movie viewer. We can believe that a Batman figure could exist in our universe. In fact, pop culturists have actually computed a price tag for how much money it would take for an ordinary citizen to become Batman. Nolan’s work on Batman Begins is genius because it does not rely on SPFX to show Batman’s heroics, rather he filmed most of the Caped Crusader’s action without relying on CGI or movie magic.
And no, making Batman more human did not deflate his mythical status. As a comic-book here, Batman isn’t a superhero, he’s just an ordinary man doing extraordinary things.
Having seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, having seen Chris Nolan deconstruct the comic book universe, having seen the uber-talented Christian Bale play Bruce Wayne, having seen all of this makes Thor and Loki look silly in comparison.
A version of The Avengers that may have actually worked is The Avengers minus Thor and Loki and the aliens, eliminating all of the supernatural gobbledygook that ruins the movie.
A movie like that would still be a blockbuster while not making the audience feel silly. I mean, really ANOTHER movie in which there is a portal to another world with an alien army waiting on the other side? Hello Transformers 3. Really, alien army so advanced it doesn’t have the strategic sense of children playing capture the flag?
These issues are the kind of questions that boggle the mind of any respectable fanboy. Either go Full Superhero (Superman) or don’t (Batman) but please don’t attempt to straddle both worlds.
And it’s not the larger issues that bug me, it’s also the trivial ones that irk me so much I cannot enjoy the story.
As Roger Ebert once pointed out in his scathing criticism of Superman Returns: “Watching Superman straining to hold a giant airliner, I’m wondering: Why does he strain? Does he have his limits? Would that new Airbus be too much for him? What about if he could stand somewhere? Superman is vulnerable to one, and only one, substance: kryptonite. He knows this. We know this. Lex Luthor knows this. Yet he has been disabled by kryptonite in every one of the movies. Does he think Lex Luthor would pull another stunt without a supply on hand? Why doesn’t he take the most elementary precautions?”
This is the same sort of problem I had with last year’s Green Lantern. Dude has a ring with powers limited only by his imagination and the best he can do at times is a gatling gun?
The same kind of questions persist in The Avengers. Thor is from another world, has access to an unlimited energy source and can harness the power of lightning, yet he is decidedly vulnerable to human technology. Captain America is strong until he’s weak. Iron Man is unstoppable until he is.
Yet, what’s most disappointing about The Avengers is the failure of director Joss Whedon to do for Captain America and Iron Man what he did for Buffy the Vampire Slayer: make these all-powerful figures and their allies and enemies interesting for reasons other than their superpowers.
Instead, the entire movie plays out like one of those side-scrolling arcade games from the 90’s. Those were only worth a quarter.
Like I said, my opinion is likely in the minority, so here are a selection of other opinions on The Avengers.
Alyssa Rosenberg also comparesThe Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises:
I’m excited to see an intellectual debate between [The Dark Knight Rises] and The Avengers. Christopher Nolan’s Batman’s movies have always had an element of monkish sacrifice to them: to be an impactful superhero, Bruce Wayne’s had to surrender his true public image (in the first film, he acts the playboy to disguise his intentions), the love of his life and of the populace, and now, it’s implied, either his life or his physical health. … The Marvel franchise, and The Avengers in particular (without spoiling anything), take the opposite tack. Its superheroes become better individuals more closely drawn to their communities for their experiences as superheroes. Tony Stark stops cackling over his power to kill and begins craving the approval of those around him, a selfish motivation that ultimately teaches him to engage with their needs.
Zach Baron has mixed feelings about The Avengers:
The Avengers is already a smash. Our reward? Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2, and if the obligatory post-credits sequence in Avengers is any indication, Avengers 2. Whedon did something near miraculous, making Avengers into something entertaining. But that is an awful lot of a good thing.
Douthat seconds him. Christopher Orr has fewer reservations:
Now it is true that if you don’t like superhero movies, you probably will not like The Avengers, which features all the tropes that inevitably accrue to the genre: the flying and punching and force-beams and silly costumes. But if you are even modestly open to persuasion, Whedon’s effort is right up at the top of the Marvel heap, with the first Spider-and Iron Man and the first two X-Men. Given the degree of difficulty inherent in the undertaking, it’s an accomplishment only modestly short of a miracle.