The sheer numbers are staggering. Marvel’s “The Avengers” crossed the $1 billion threshold at the global box office on its 19th day in release. This after the Disney release shattered records with a $207.4 million opening weekend in North America.
So the question is: Given that these figures surprised no one, why did the filmmakers play such a conservative game? They didn’t set out to make a great movie. They simply made sure not to screw it up so badly that all these box-office figures remained within easy reach.
The template did exist: Several of the films leading up to “The Avengers” were damn good, especially the Robert Downey Jr./Jon Favreau “Iron Man.” If the filmmakers wanted to get jokey and goofy they could look to the “Men in Black” film series. If they wanted to get super serious about crime fighting than there are the Christopher Nolan Batman movies.
Instead you get the convoluted mess that is “The Avengers.”
“The Avengers” arrived as the summer’s first tentpole movie with a team of Super Heroes going up against one lonely villain. Ever hear of the word “overkill?” “The Avengers” is overkill with a vengeance.
Whatever one thinks of Super Heroes in general or Marvel Comics’ iconic Super Heroes specifically, they go down so much better in single shots rather than as tutti-fruitti blended cocktails.
A little backstory: The original Marvel comic book series, first published in 1963, caused many cynics in the day to feel it was a me-too lift from rival DC Comics’ Justice League of America. All Marvel did was bring together a trash heap of characters that never really made it on their own — including Captain America, a World War II character who got benched once the Cold War was underway — and ran them in and out of a series of comics as you would dress extras in a ballroom scene. But movies can do wonders to “unstable” creatures, as these Super Beings are called at one point in the movie written by geek-savvy director Joss Whedan from a story he dreamed up with Zak Penn.
Downey’s Iron Man proves once again it pays to be a witty Super Hero. Mark Ruffalo is the latest actor to take a whack at the Incredible and incredibly boring Hulk — acceptable in human form but as a Big Green Monster all you can do is stifle a yawn and watch the destruction. Scarlett Johansson, barely introduced as Black Widow in “Iron Man 2,” almost needs a new introduction for her super powers seem to keep changing to fit the story’s needs. Aussie Chris Hemsworth flexes his muscles as Thor. Ditto that for Chris Evans’ Captain America, looking like he is auditioning for a Village People cover band. Jeremy Renner turns up as Hawkeye but is shanghaii-ed into the enemy camp far too early.
These Super Egos, as they should be called, spend most of the movie fighting among themselves, which may be just as well given that the nominal villain, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, is dull enough to be a Republican presidential candidate. In fact, the nearly two-and-a-half hour movie hits the 90-minute mark before Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of an international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., actually pitches the idea that instead of fighting each other they should team up against the villain. Hey, there’s an idea.
It seems the door to hell or a portal to another dimension has opened up and Thor’s half brother Loki has slipped through. He bristles with threats — world domination, human slavery, broadcasting an AM talk show. (No, the last one I made up.) He says he’s a god but the Avengers tend to toss him around like a sack of potatoes so I’m thinking demi-god at best.
But he has stole the Tesseract, which you may or may not remember was an all powerful energy cube found at the ocean’s bottom in Captain America.
As I said, a good 90 minutes pass before the battle scene is set up in midtown Manhattan. (What, you were expecting maybe downtown Des Moines?) At this point, Whedon abandons any sense of story or characters and turns things over to the visual and special FX folks, not to mention a legion of stunt personnel. You either like seeing Manhattan destroyed or don’t. This one has featureless warriors and giant sphincters that float about mid-level to all the high-rise buildings with tails that seem to destroy half of them.
The whole movie is a strikeout where it comes to imagination. Were Marvel Comics really this bad? The villain is tired, the Super Heroes engage in ego games and Downey has all the good lines.
The movie comes in 3D in some venues and for once the 3D isn’t bad at all. The problem is the story is flat and it’s the characters that lack dimension.
Opened: May 4 (Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios)
Production companies: Marvel Studios in association with Paramount Pictures
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow
Director/screenwriter: Joss Whedon
Story by: Zak Penn, Joss Whedon
Producer: Kevin Feige
Executive producer: Alan Fine, Jon Favreau, Stan Lee, Louis Esposito, Patricia Witcher, Victoria Alonso, Jeremy Latcham
Director of photography: Seamus McGarvey,
Production designer: James Chinlund
Music: Alan Silvestri
Costume designer: Alexandra Byrne
Visual FX supervisor: Janek Sirrs
Special FX supervisor: Dan Sudick
Editors: Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Lassek
PG-13 rating, 143 minutes