AGAINST THE GRAIN: The Avengers (2012)

Richard has a long-standing beef with Joss Whedon’s superhero team-up. Here’s why. 

There’s something about The Avengers that just doesn’t work for me. At first, I wasn’t really sure what that was, but now I know the film is all plot and no story. Part of the issue with the overall narrative is the fact that the film expects you to know what certain things do and who certain people are. I hope you did your homework before watching it, because, if you didn’t, it can get pretty confusing and it doesn’t do a whole lot to truly engage you.

The movie starts off with some exposition about the Tesseract, or the McGuffin of the film, if you like. What is the Tesseract? How does it work? What does it do? This is never explained and you’re left wondering why so much focus is put on it. I saw the first Captain America film after I saw this one, and they more or less went into detail on what the Tesseract is in that movie. But if you didn’t see The First Avenger  – which may be the case for future generations – you’ll be lost. I’m not saying Joss Whedon should have gone into absolute detail, but he should have, at the very least, had a scene that caught first-time viewers up. Yet he doesn’t and fails as a storyteller in that regard.

Anyway, in the beginning, Loki shows up and right away becomes the villain of the piece. You’re probably thinking, “The same Loki from Thor?” Well, yes, but because Marvel Studios doesn’t have the rights to truly great Marvel baddies like Magneto or Doctor Doom, I’m afraid we’re stuck with him. Not that Tom Hiddleston is a bad actor or anything, I just don’t think he’s given enough solid material to work with to make his character interesting or threatening. In fact, the weak script is prevalent throughout the entire film, and it becomes more and more obvious as the story or lack thereof goes on, especially when Loki talks about taking over the world (of course!), and saying lines like, “Freedom is life’s great lie, and once you accept that, in your heart, you will know peace.” So… his motivation is to free people by enslaving them all to his will? Yeah, Loki’s motivations are very inconsistent and make little to no sense. I guess he’s doing what he does because… evil? Well the writer clearly didn’t give a damn about making the eternal trickster interesting or having the viewer invested in the slightest. So, why should the audience?

Also, Nick Fury aka Samuel L. Jackson playing Samuel L. Jackson is given weak dialogue like, “You’re talking about freedom? I think you mean the other thing.” Is that supposed to be funny? Because it isn’t.

After some pretty boring action, we are introduced to our heroes. First up is Black Widow in a scene which doesn’t really connect to anything that happens in the wider story. This is another problem with the film because you’d think that it all leads to an important plotpoint, but nope! It’s simply there for the sake of showing that Black Widow is a sexy, skimpily-dressed yet strong woman who can kick butt! The fact that Scarlett Johansson is a boring one-note actor doesn’t help either. She is also given bad dialogue like, “Oh, you know Stark trusts me about as far as he can throw me.” Yeah, great writing there, Joss.

Then we meet Bruce Banner/Hulk who has once again been recast with another actor, this time being Mark Ruffalo, who I think is a pretty good star when given the right role. But here, he feels out-of-place and like all the others isn’t given much to work with. He seems like a placeholder and never truly makes the role his own, which makes all of his scenes feel dull.

There’s a line of dialogue where someone says, “The Avengers Initiative was shutdown.” Now, if you watched the previous films in the Marvelverse, then you would know that the Avengers was being set-up beforehand and you’d assume that it was going to pay-off in this film. But why was the Initiative shutdown? It’s not explained how or why this happened, and what does it add to the film? Absolutely nothing, because the Avengers team gets assembled anyway, and this just feels like a pointless throwaway line. And the film is jam-packed full of those.

I mentioned earlier that Loki’s plan seems a bit confusing because it is; he gets himself captured on purpose in order to… actually, I’m not sure why Loki does this because it’s never made explicitly clear. I guess The Joker did it in The Dark Knight, so therefore that’s the new thing for villains to do?

Anyway, this leads to a scene that has a massive gaping plothole. After Captain America and Iron Man capture Loki, Thor somehow arrives to take back his brother. Wasn’t the rainbow bridge – the link between Asgaard and the human world – destroyed in the first Thor movie? So, how the God of Thunder got there is very confusing and it never gets brought up again. After a brief and very pointless fight scene where Iron Man, Cap and Thor battle each other for no real reason, other than the fact they have massive egos, the team goes to the SHIELD helicarrier where the film slows right down.

I’m not entirely sure why this portion feels so long, but what’s worse is that it doesn’t really add anything to the story either. I suppose that it was meant to show character-building of some kind, but it comes off to me as a pointless superhero pissing contest, with the likes of Stark and Steve trading verbal blows that ultimately come to nothing (although, Civil War might finally capitalise on that). The dialogue isn’t very interesting for one thing, and feels like another massive exposition dump when, all the time, I’m waiting for the film to get on with itself. Plus, the characters have no reason to be in conflict with one another. It feels like conflict for the sake of conflict, and inserting a subplot that is completely derivative. It isn’t needed and has no impact on the story whatsoever. I suppose it was placed there to put the team through some kind of arc, where they needed to overcome their differences, but they seem to coalesce almost instantly when the helicarrier ends up in trouble, and whatever it was they were arguing about gets instantly forgotten. Therefore, it was, you guessed it, completely pointless!

Agent Coulson gets killed off, but since we don’t know anything about him and he just served as a walking plot device in the previous films, his death has no resonance whatsoever. Would it have been better if they had bumped off Black Widow? I suppose that is just wishful thinking on my part. After Loki’s cohorts arrive and break him out, even though he could have easily escaped himself, and even more drawn-out scenes that go nowhere, we FINALLY get our big action set-piece which almost feels like a shot-for-shot recap of a final battle from a Michael Bay Transformers movie. It really isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, and at no point does it ever feel like the team or anyone else is in danger. Loki’s army, the Chitauri, get easily eradicated just like the battle droids from the Star Wars prequels. And another gaping plothole, which no-one has been able to explain, happens right in the middle of all this. Bruce says, “I’m always angry” and is suddenly able to control the Hulk, even though it was implied earlier that he wasn’t able to do this. Yeah, Dark Knight Rises haters, that’s a plothole! But anyway, by this point, I’ve given up on the film trying to logically explain anything because the script is terrible and it clunks away to its predictable ending with the heroes victorious. There wasn’t any doubt whatsoever that they would succeed. The film takes few risks.

A common defence for this film is, “It knows what it wants to be.” To that I would argue, how is that the case? One minute the film is kid-friendly and cheesy, the next it is serious and dark, and then it instantly reverts back to light-hearted and family-friendly again.

The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble) is a film that has many of the ingredients from previous films in the franchise, but none of them come together to make it greater than the sum of its parts. It has an identity crisis and Joss Whedon never finds the balance needed to make it work. It is all plot and no story for me, and it didn’t stick with me when it ended. Even Alan Silvestri’s score feels like a pale imitation of itself when compared to his epic soundtrack for The First Avenger. This film is definitely not the untouchable masterpiece it has been made out to be, and in my opinion, has not held up when placed under scrutiny just four years after its initial release.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Robert Downey Jr. kept food hidden all over the lab set and apparently nobody could find where it was, so they just let him continue doing it. In the movie, that’s his actual food he’s offering and when he was eating, it wasn’t scripted. He was just hungry.
  • There were very few times that everyone was in town at once, but on one night when they were, Chris Evans sent them all a text message simply saying “Assemble” (the tagline to the movie), prompting a night out on the town. Clark Gregg has stated that this is his favorite text message that he has ever received.
  • The final end credit scene was added after Downey Jr.. encouraged a scene rewrite: after Tony Stark falls back to Earth, he originally awakens and asks, “What’s next?” Robert Downey Jr. thought the line could be more interesting, and the idea of going to a local shawarma restaurant was born. The scene was added one day after the global premiere. Since then, shawarma sales in Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Boston have reportedly skyrocketed.
  • According to Joss Whedon, the original cut of the movie was over three hours long. About thirty minutes of the excised footage is included on the Blu-ray, most of which revolves around Steve Rogers struggling to adjust to the modern world.

Richard Bal

My name is Richard, I like beer, heavy metal and movies, but maybe not necessarily in that order.

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