‘Marvel’s The Avengers’ is a very good superhero picture without being a particularly good movie. It could just as easily have been titled “Triumph of the Byte, and Humanity Be Damned.” And for that, full credit goes to writer/director Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige.
Whedon gives his own jocular spin to “Earth’s Mightiest Superheroes,” carving out space so that each member of the team — Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye — may display the depths of their soul, as well as their ability to crack wise with excellent comic timing. If you’re on the same wavelength, it’s very amusing to watch Whedon blow hot air through the mouths of his characters and then suddenly deflate them, seemingly at whim.
It’s all part of a detailed plan, of course, and quite necessary when balancing the egos of an ensemble cast, several of whom have already starred in their own individual superhero movie. It’s no great surprise that Mark Ruffalo steals the show as Bruce Banner / The Incredible Hulk; not only is Ruffalo an excellent actor, but Whedon approaches the character from a different angle than what was presented in Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk’ and Louis Leterrier’s ‘The Incredible Hulk.’ That soupcon of freshness adds a healthy variety to what is otherwise a familiar stew.
While Whedon carries out an admirable balancing act, and draws from a large store of witty quips, what’s left out of the picture is any semblance of humanity, which in the previous Marvel-controlled movies allowed for a give and take between audience and the heroes we’re meant to worship. And though real-world issues of importance to anyone but the hardcore geek community have never been on abundant display in the Marvel films, such thoughtfulness has been rooted out almost entirely in Whedon’s Avengers universe.
Oh, a supposed real-world issue is utilized as a plot device, but it’s given short shrift and not discussed or resolved in a convincing manner; most audience members will be hard-pressed to remember the problem, since it’s quickly whisked off-screen in favor of extended action sequences that are nearly as incomprehensible as those that concluded Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon.’ Slicing and dicing action into tiny bite-sized portions enables CGI and body doubles to be utilized to the fullest extent possible, which is why the whirlwind editing scheme has been become a de facto standard. Yet it also creates a yawning gap between the action and the viewer, especially one who has seen the same game played over and over again with little variation.
Naturally, there’s no requirement that ‘The Avengers’ do anything more than provide disposable, diverting popcorn entertainment that has a limited shelf life. After watching ‘The Avengers,’ it’s impossible to imagine that Whedon, or anyone else involved with the project, sat down and said: “I have a burning desire to say something about life and the way the we live it, and I want to use this opportunity to express myself creatively.” Instead, the overwhelming credo seems to have been: “Let’s give the people what they want.” Alternatively, it might have been simply “Don’t screw it up.”
Within those parameters, and despite the clunkiness of all the action scenes, ‘The Avengers’ works quite well, and may provoke wild cheering, even if it leaves certain audience members wondering afterwards, “Now, what was all that about? And why should I care?”