Monday, May 7, 2012

My Two Cents on Marvel's $200.3 million (and counting) Cash Draw

by Scott Speegle

      Let me preface this review by saying that I love comics. Comics are the first thing  that I actually decided to love entirely of my own volition. So any of the points of contention (and there'll probably be a few that will put bunches in panties) that I offer towards Marvel's huge summer outing The Avengers, come from a place of deep love for the medium. I'll also be working on the assumption that you are at least vaguely familiar with the characters and themes in this review. If not, there's the door.

    Ok, now the film opens with a painful cliche and its first ten minutes are a pretty rocky start. Right out of the gate Avengers has a massive problem: It needs to set itself up, and that takes time, a lot of time as it turns out. "But Scott, all of the previous Marvel blockbusters have been leading up to this epic and exciting culmination of super awesomeness." Some of you are probably saying from whatever delusional realm you reside in. In reality every "piece" that has been primed to fit into the puzzle that is Avengers actually exists within it's own separate bubble, all bookended by Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury doing a bit of fan service in post credit sequences. Iron Man is really the only character that feels organically integrated into the established continuity of the Avengers film, this is largely due to the fact that the aforementioned Nick Fury has spent the most time with Mr. Stark. Everyone else is kind of just thrown into the mix and the awkwardness of that is visible throughout.
     So Avengers has that problem, tricking you into watching the prelude to the prelude while making you think you've just opened the puzzle box and have all the pieces laid out before you, waiting to be dare I say it.... assembled.

Hit the jump to read on.

     Of course it wouldn't be a Marvel movie without the signature shit brained, laugh/tear inducing, nonsensical, and completely inexcusable casting decision. Enter Cobie Smulders. Now I'm not going to belabor the point that she's really only known for her role as Robin Scherbatsky in the show How I Met Your Mother but that's kind of something that should have kept her pretty far from even being considered as post Fury S.H.I.E.L.D Director Maria Hill. "Hey Cobie, we know that anyone seeing you ever would only recognize you from that really long lived and extremely light-hearted role that you had on that massively popular sit-com that one time, but why don't you try out this very serious character which you embody exactly no part of?"

"I really don't think I'm qualifi--- screw it why not?"

       And why was it even necessary to include Maria Hill as a character in the movie in the fist place? She was only relevant when Fury was AWOL and since that has never happened in this continuity, we can only assume that she's in the film because that can just happen for no fucking reason.
       The worst part of all of that is that she, as a character, serves no purpose other than to follow Nick Fury around and to do cool spinny stunts in a jeep.

"Someone bet me that I can't drive this at 80, going backwards in a straight line, while shooting a gun. Anyone?"

This wouldn't really be that bad if Smulders wasn't so prominently featured throughout the film while being so obviously unnecessary. I haven't wanted a character to die so badly at the beginning of a movie since Jar Jar.

Pictured here: Jar Jar Binks doing his best Cobie Smulders impression.

 After Avengers gets all of its heavy lifting done, in the way of telling us exactly who each character is (sometimes by way of tedious flashback), we get to move on to the substance of the plot. That huge divide comes up again in that Avengers needs desperately to be a self contained spectacle of a movie but also strives to be a sprawling culmination of past arcs. Those two can't exist at once especially when those past arcs (save for Iron Man) are themselves self contained spectacles. The result of this paradox is essentially an expansion pack to compliment the previously released Thor.
    Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, is mad at his brother Thor over whatever dickish reason he was mad at him in his own movie and he's intent on spilling their bickering all over the place.

"If you touch the hammer again, I swear to dad I'll tell dad."

Loki's stupid and convoluted plan (he uses the time tested villain method of getting yourself captured for literally no reason) takes shape over the course of several stages, there's constant allusion to the greater outside force that is helping him but it feels so amorphous and vague that it's hard to really care about the whatever the fuck-ians that are attacking Earth.

     One of my largest gripes with Avengers is pretty much the same complaint that ruined Thor for me: Why the hell is any of this even happening on Earth anyway? This is basically Thor 2 and the tiniest fraction of attention is given to the ethereal space sequences that supposedly drive the conflict. Avengers is even brazen enough to throw up a picture of Natalie Portman on a computer screen even though she could not have less to do with the plot if she was Batman. Only at the absolute end of the movie is the otherworld aspect given any relevance. Since Loki is on Earth and his plan involves the absolute largest amount of hinderance to himself, Thor is conveniently popped out of Asgard by way of the Cosmic--- I mean Tesseract. God forbid in the universe where guys wear starred pajamas we call something the Cosmic Cube, that just sounds ridiculous.

Pictured: A Pop-Tart

Wouldn't it be more so much more convenient for Loki to use the power of the Cosmic Cube to make sure Thor stays in Asgard, or better yet do nothing since the Rainbow--- Bifrost was completely destroyed? Nah, I guess it wouldn't make much sense to not have Thor in Thor 2. 
     Loki's plan involves having all the heroes fight each other for some vague reason, which comes off as a transparently forced child smashing his action figures together scenario. Incidentally this lazy writing results in some of the most interesting and fun bits of the movie. And while it's kind of embarrassing that Joss Whedon is apparently unaware of the mechanics of how a fight between Iron Man and Thor would work, it's negated by a large portion of people seeing the movie not really giving a shit. 

A fight between two humans and a god ends in a stalemate? Seems legit.

Visually, this is where some of the movie's strongest moments come into play. In the case of the narrative however, these are some of the more awkward and clumsy moments. Avengers is often too ambitious to actually execute properly what it's trying to accomplish. In J. Michael Straczynski and Oliver Coipel's run on Thor, it was possible to establish a substantial conflict between Thor and Iron Man because they had Tony Stark's post Civil War actions, and the effect those actions had on Thor, to fall back on and subsequently exploit. In that comic, when Thor hits Iron Man there's an emotional investment behind the punch that you can't build in five minutes. In Avengers they're fighting because they've just met and they don't know each other. That's on par with Mortal Kombat vs DCU's interpretation of story telling.

Pictured: Nonsense

Aesthetically, Avengers is the tightest and most cohesive effort of any Marvel movie to date and that's a large feat since most films Marvel stamps its name on could by and large exist in any other universe. I won't get into minor aesthetic gripes because they're inconsequential, although I will say that at this point it seems like everyone is content to pretend that Thor doesn't have a helmet at all. 

   Aside from the Cobie Smulders debacle, the cast of the film mostly stands strong. Jeremy Renner serves as a sufficient Hawkeye and as one of the only main characters who hasn't had a previous feature he does an excellent job of not trying to compete for the spotlight. 
That 'mostly stands strong' up there is in reference to Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. Johansson (and this is where I know I'm going to catch the most heat) is an absolute chore and the film would have been so much smoother without her entirely. Every scene where she wasn't being punched in the face made me cringe violently. 

"My character is Russian? Haha fuck that."

Her bullshit "Russian" origin aside, why is she able to perfectly fly an alien hover craft without ever even seeing one before? Because boobs. I don't buy into the whole 'hot chicks get a pass on making sense because they're hot' thing and this is one of the most egregious examples of this in recent memory. 

   On a weird side note, Avengers has a moment of oddly overt hostility towards comic 'nerds' in its treatment of Agent Coulson's (Clark Gregg) set of "vintage" Captain America trading cards. Now I'm all for poking fun at how we nerds can be a little... compulsive and excitable about collecting things but when Bitch Widow up there rolls her eyes at another human being's hobby there's this snide air of "We're taking this 'comic' thing away from you and there's nothing you can do about it because you probably have a boner looking at me in this spandex." 
     I'll be the first to say that comic properties are becoming increasingly likely to alienate serious fans and at certain points Avengers seems like it could be the new standard. 

Hahaha he knows the difference between mint and near mint! What an asshole!

     I didn't come away from Avengers with nothing but resentment. I genuinely had fun with it and think it's hands down the best comic book movie I've seen. That doesn't mean that it's a great comic book movie but it is a great movie and I do recommend it. Captain America (Chris Evans) gets more moral progression and development in a couple of minutes than he got in the entirety of his own movie.  
     If you're like the increasing horde of non to casual fans then you'll likely have a blast with the movie and all of the substantial action and wit it has to offer. That said, there are things that should seem kind of glaring even to someone who doesn't read comics at all. One of the most quotable lines of the entire film is the labored and tedious build up of a moment that's payoff makes no sense. 

"If we can't protect these yoga pants, we'll damn sure hotdog."

On the whole, Avengers delivers and there's no question about that. Perfect comic movie? Not even close. At its very core Avengers is the largest version of an action film incorporating comic characters and every now and again you can find a genuine reference (Stan Lee's obligatory cameo is as enjoyable as always). It's a fitting foundation for the swarm of films that will follow (both in name and relation) and it's about goddamned time Marvel pulled out a villain that is formidable enough to even justify superheroes existing in the first place (stay for the first post credit sequence, skip the second). I just hope all of the people touting Avengers as the greatest thing ever stand by that sentiment when the initial shine of the new toy wears off and we're still seeing these scenes play out. Mark Ruffalo has signed a contract to appear in no less than six more movies and I'd be willing to bet 10 dollars that that's nothing compared to the iron clad contract they've got Robert Downey Jr. in. 

None of the issues that I have with the movie matter in the slightest since Avengers is already an absurdly massive success. There are a lot of good things to be said about it and it does a lot of things really well, even if towards the end it kind of devolves into one of Michael Bay's wet dreams.

Exactly what Transformers 19 will look like. 

Avengers may be perfection of the formulaic comic movie and it will likely become the mold for what other movies of the same flavor try to emulate. It has put up the most valiant fight of a movie in the alien arena of the comic medium and this isn't without hiccups. For what it is, Avengers is a smashing success. For what it wants to be it's an equally smashing failure.

Hate away.

Also, what the fuck version of the Marvel universe has its characters reading Lord of The Rings?


Scott Speegle writes regularly for this blog and his art can be found in the recesses of the internet.

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