By Thom Yee
“You were made to be ruled.”
So began the trailer for Marvel’s The Avengers. And it seems that truer words were never spoken. Ruled by revenue expectations, ruled by fan expectations, ruled by audience needs for a comfortable movie rather than a challenging one. As Tom Hiddleston’s Loki puts it, “Freedom is life’s great lie. Once you accept that… in your heart… you will know peace.” The Avengers is technically a good movie. It’s pretty clear by now that, with well over $1.5 billion in worldwide ticket sales,
Disney’s Marvel’s The Avengers was, at the very least, a real crowd pleaser.
And that’s what I hate about it.
Now don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy The Avengers. I even [voluntarily] saw it in the theatre more than once (a rarity for me). The star-spangled shield slinging of Chris Evans’ Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America. The majesty and power of Chris Hemsworth’s God of Thunder, Thor. The unrelenting egotism of the Invincible Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man. The ill-defined character “arc” of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. I would, almost by definition, have to enjoy a competently executed Avengers movie. And this one was certainly competent. It’s even good. But it struggles under the weight of revenue expectations, fan expectations and a lack of challenge. It wasn’t spectacular. Or uncanny. And I don’t think there’s any way it could have been.
The Avengers is fundamentally an origin movie, as are most first instalments in superhero movies. By now, all of the major characters are established, either through the previous Marvel Studios movies (Iron Mans 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America) or general pop culture knowledge (David Bruce Banner’s “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”), and it’s this movie’s duty to show the founding of the team that will come to be known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”. And it’s all fine. I guess.
I’ll start with what I did like: the Hulk. This is the first time the Hulk has felt like a movie presence that people would like to see and like to see more of. A significantly more fun take on the character than that of Eric Bana or Ed Norton, Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner knows and has accepted what he is and has made the most of it. More than just an embittered, put upon man, more than just a wandering adventurer, Ruffalo’s Banner has an integral role to play as a scientist, and his Hulk has some game changing moments in the movie’s largely spectacular final set piece. By the film’s end, through the encouragement of Downey’s Tony Stark of all people, Banner and the Hulk have found some redemption and possibly even the path to a happy ending.
Now for what I didn’t like: a lot of the rest. While the movie comes together as a satisfying whole, there are missed opportunities that keep it from elevating above OK-Good. In particular, I didn’t like the way Hawkeye was immediately taken out of the movie. Rather than providing the audience with any insight as to why a guy who shoots arrows can stand proudly alongside the likes of the Hulk or Thor (or why Tony Stark couldn’t just give him a suit of armor like Rhodey got in Iron Man 2), he’s made into an empty vessel for most of the film. I’ve always liked Hawkeye, partly because he’s an underdog, and partly because a character who shoots arrows just looks cool.
I get it, I get why bow-and-arrow characters like Hawkeye, Green Arrow and even [Liefeld reference] Shaft have persisted in comicbook fiction. Shooting a bow and arrow just… looks… cool. But, as this Funny or Die piece so aptly illustrates, we still don’t know why the team needs a bow-and-arrow guy. And there was one really great moment where director Joss Whedon could have shown you just why the Avengers need Hawkeye. In the final set piece, as Iron Man was engaged in the Chitauri’s aerial assault, as Thor continued his bitter conflict with Loki and as Captain America acrobatically made his way back into the fight to lead his team, Hawkeye stayed behind and… helped people off the bus. And as I sat watching, that’s when I realized why the Avengers would need a Hawkeye — to look after us. While everyone else is up there, dealing with the monsters and magic and gods, Hawkeye is down here, the human element, looking after us.
But as the action rose and the team finally came together, rather than continue with this notion, that role is then given to Cap, as he saves the civilians trapped in the bank. Sure, Captain America is a symbol, the unifying presence that keeps the team on its feet, assembled and presentable to the public. As one of the news reports following the battle would later tell us, “Captain America saved my life. Wherever he is (and wherever any of them are), I would just… I would want to say thank you.” And… wherever… any… of… them… are. You may remember, at that time Hawkeye was still on top of one of the miscellaneous buildings, spotting bad guys as if Iron Man’s onboard sensors couldn’t have done the job just as well. Again, why do we need Hawkeye?
As for what I hated: the Black Widow. I don’t place this squarely at the feet of Scarlet Johansson (though I don’t think her portrayal matched the presence of most of the rest of the team) — she did fine in Iron Man 2. But a combination of Whedon’s scripting, an overly American portrayal of a Russian superspy, and a haircut and colouring that I really didn’t like, and I found myself really put off by the character. She just didn’t feel dangerous or unpredictable. As with Hawkeye, there was a moment in the film that could’ve solidified Natasha Romanoff (and Hawkeye) as a strong character, and that’s during her and Hawkeye’s exchange after his recovery from Loki’s mind control. A bit of sharpening, some stronger dialogue… just two minutes more of back-and-forth scripting, genuine emotional content, and we may have seen what these characters are really about. But it’s, again, by definition, almost impossible to ask for real emotional content in a summer superhero tentpole.
But I guess when it really comes down to it, the things I really didn’t like are those funny little Whedon moments that just gnaw around the back of my brain. Those little moments of banality that consistently draw laughs from some (most) and ire from others (me). Whether it’s the SHIELD agent resuming his game of Galaga, the Black Widow’s [painfully vocalized] “I- I don’t see how that’s a party…” or Cap’s “Son… just don’t,” there’s an odd nature to Joss Whedon’s work that I’ve always found irritating. It’s the same reason that I couldn’t watch Buffy beyond the first season, the same reason I’ve never liked Firefly that much, the same reason why I never thought about trying Dollhouse — I can’t take the dialogue, the cute little moments… it’s those little Whedonisms. Dialogue that may seem fine on paper but sounds awkward when spoken out loud. Moments that may seem funny, but just aren’t that well executed. Those scripts that convince me that actors aren’t as good as they are, that plots aren’t as strong as they are. It’s those little Whedonisms.
Or maybe it’s just me. Along with Bruce Banner, maybe that’s my secret too — I’m always angry. Or at least irritated.
Also, the musical score was pretty generic.
The Avengers final score: 8
On the Edge
- One thing I love about having been born in the ‘80s is how barely aware, but broadly conscious of culture from that era I am. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was weirdly delighted at seeing Growing Pains’ Ashley Johnson in the coveted role of “waitress with lines”.
- I hope they go back to a more utilitarian suit for Captain America in his next movie appearances. Despite how reasonable the suit looked in real life… it was still pretty silly looking and not nearly as bad ass as the suit in Captain America (the movie).
- Despite my protests over the use of Hawkeye, I really liked the bow and quiver mechanism for switching to different trick arrows. Finally I get how those trick arrows work.
- Can anyone tell me what show or movie Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill) was a good actress in? I’m not trying to be a dick about it; it… it’d just be nice to see.
- To anyone who missed it, make sure you watch the movie till the very end (as in after all the credits).