Fidgeting & Sighing Chapter 6: The Avengers

Posted: March 25, 2015 in Fidgeting and Sighing
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There’s just over a month until the much-anticipated sequel, so what did I think of the original? Let’s see:

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Like a fine meal, I sometimes like to see how movies settle.  I have often left a theater feeling good about how I just spent the last couple hours, only to completely change my mind upon further reflection.  Some movies don’t stand the test of time, and a second viewing reveals all the flaws and plot holes.  In fact, about 90% of all films can be described this way. Conversely, some movies get better with age.

Marvel’s The Avengers had the biggest opening weekend of all-time (probably until the next one) and will probably rank among the highest grossing films ever, and the highest not made by James Cameron (Of course, at $14.00 a ticket, there’s no way it wasn’t going to).  After seeing it on opening day, I left the theater feeling good about myself.  When people asked what I thought, I said it was “fun,” which is true.  It was a fun, popcorn, mostly-brainless, fluff piece.  The 3D was pretty pointless, but if we have to have 3D in our lives, my attitude is “Do no harm,” which this instance did not.  There was just the right amount of humor, and ridiculous amounts of action, to make it worth the money.  Every character had a good amount of time and development, and considering all the stars that had to align to make the thing, Joss Whedon should be awarded an Oscar just for getting it done.  So, plusses all around, right?

Not so fast.  With a slight twist, or on the wrong day, a lot of those plusses can be flipped.  The “right amount of humor” could be changed to “borderline silly” with one more bad pun.  Each character getting their time to develop can also mean that it got a little long-winded (It did!) while they fleshed out seven heroes and a major baddie.  It could be argued that the 3D “doing no harm” was actually, in fact, pointless.  “Ridiculous amounts of action” can be spun as just plain “ridiculous.” Catch me on an off day, and those factors suddenly become major stumbling blocks to my enjoyment.

This is why movies are both great and cripplingly annoying at the same time.  The things that bother me seldom bother anybody else, and even when I point out a movie’s foibles, other people will agree with me and yet not change their opinion.  Which is good, because, I mean, what do I know? (I did once have a friend rail against me for telling her The Hunger Games sucked, shouting, “Just stop talking because I want to like it and you can’t stop me!”)  I tend to think that all movies should be judged with the same measuring stick, but most people tend to group movies in ways that often allow bad movies to get a pass.  Obviously, the expectations for the next Liam Neeson action movie are such that there will probably be no Oscars in Oscar Schindler’s future, but he makes millions of dollars and people seem to enjoy watching him use his “particular set of skills,” so why bother with story, eh?

The Avengers did manage to do both.  It is unique in being a sequel to five different films, with each one being a franchise on its own.  You would think that fact would set the bar incredibly high because they have been building up to this for many years.  However, when looking at the core audience for The Avengers, maybe it would have been hard for people to not like it.  Comic book fans have been drooling about this for eons, it would have to have been a disaster of Phantom Menace proportions for them not to enjoy it.  Entirely possible, of course, but unlikely, because it seems that if Hollywood has learned one thing over the last ten years or so, it is don’t piss off the fanboys.  Does this mean, though, that Avengers is a good movie, or did people will it good?

The film begins with Thor’s sniveling half-brother, Loki, exiled at the end of Thor, in league with an unseen force, conspiring to destroy Earth and capture an alien artifact called The Tessaract (which is apparently alien for “glowing cube of doom”), seen at the end of Thor and Captain America.  Basically, if you missed Thor and don’t read comics, you’re kind of out in Jotunheim so far.  Loki succeeds in obtaining the cube, and also using his mind trickery to control SHIELD agent Clint Barton and scientist Stellan Skarsgard (who both appeared in, you guessed it, Thor.  For a Marvel comic that not many people care about, this film sure owes a lot to that one.)

In an effort to stop Loki, SHIELD honcho Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, having way too good a time to collect a paycheck) calls in his team of Avengers; beings with extraordinary powers that he has been keeping an eye on throughout the previous five movies.  At this point, it’s just Captain America, Black Widow and Iron Man, but they are able to capture Loki and cart him back to their floating headquarters.  However, on the way, Thor swoops in and grabs his half-brother, wanting to keep it in the family.  This sets up one of the most interesting sequences in the movie, as Iron Man and Cap confront Thor and we get the first sense that these guys don’t really like each other. Thor tries to fry Iron man with some godly lightning and Iron Man’s armor absorbs it and turns it into energy, which was pretty awesome. Still, their squabble is brief, and they eventually all agree to hang together and see how this SHIELD thing plays out. Fury has also brought Bruce Banner into the fold, but for his scientific expertise, even though he can turn into a giant, indestructible destructive monster. This doesn’t sit well with the other would-be Avengers. And who can blame them? Sure, he may be the only one who can study the Tessaract, but is a flying headquarters really the best place for a Hulk?

Now within said flying headquarters, there is then a great deal of standing around and moving of holographic computer screens as they build tension and establish that Banner has a hard time keeping his anger in check, Captain America doesn’t trust SHIELD and Tony Stark is a total wise-ass.  Thor, in fact, sums up the squabbling quite well by telling his comrades that they are all “so petty… and tiny.”

True love through holographic doodads.

True love through holographic doodads.

As Black Widow interrogates Loki, we learn that she has a salty past, and owes Barton her life, so she is intent on getting him back on the right side.  We are also given a fairly useless red herring, as Loki leads her to believe that the he was captured on purpose, and that the Hulk is somehow going to be Loki’s maguffin to harness the power of the Tessaract.  It’s really all an elaborate set-up to get Banner to turn into the Hulk just as Loki’s forces attack the heli-carrier to rescue their leader, and chaos ensues.  I may have missed some of the details, but the whole Hulk/Power source storyline seemingly went nowhere, as it turns out Loki was really just pulling strings to get the Hulk running loose in SHIELD headquarters because he wanted to see the bad-ass fight between his brother and ol’ Green-skin. Guess he doesn’t have much faith in his own troops, but it did make for an awesome sequence.

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Anywho, Loki escapes (even though there was no real reason for him to be there, anyway), Agent Coulson is killed, and the Avengers are scattered in the wind.

Fury then rather callously uses Agent Coulson’s death at Loki’s hands as inspiration to help the Avengers to look past their petty differences and stop Loki. With the help of now-good-again Agent “Hawkeye” Barton, they go to New York, because Loki is going to use Tony Stark’s new repulsor-powered skyscraper as a conduit to get The Tessaract to open a doorway for an alien invasion of Earth. I don’t know what purpose the building serves, either, but it looks cool.

So, it is six Avengers against an entire alien army in the final battle, and the good guys finally learn to work together to save their planet. Captain America uses his leadership skills to help bring them together, and gives the coolest line of the movie when, while barking orders to everyone, looks at the Hulk and simply tells him to, “Smash.” Oddly enough, minutes before, we also got the movie’s most-unintentionally funny line, when Bruce Banner shows up seemingly out of nowhere on a moped and mentions that this alien invasion thing is “pretty horrible.” A deleted scene reveals that he landed in Jersey, saw the aliens attacking New York, and was given the moped by Harry Dean Stanton so he could make it there and help fight the bad guys. I get that the movie may have flowed better without it, but it did seem weird that Hulk just kind of showed up out of nowhere. Oh well. He did beat up a lot of bad guys.

Here’s the funny part about this movie. Despite being horribly out-numbered, I never doubted for a minute that the Avengers would come out on top in this one. And of course, the good guys were always going to win, but even within the reality of the movie, I don’t think the outcome was ever in doubt. Because Loki was the only real villain, and the rest of them were faceless drones, it would have seemed odd if Captain America was murdered by one of them. As I’ve said a million times, it is the writer’s job to convince the audience that there are real stakes here, and yes, an alien invasion should make for high stakes, but come on, “They have a Hulk.” The aliens never really had much of a chance.

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Still, how do you wipe out thousands of aliens when you only have six heroes? Why, the lame Phantom Menace ending, of course. You blow up their ship and they’ll all die for no reason. The good news is that there was a nuclear missile at play for just that task. The testy members of the World Security Council that order Nick Fury around decided that New York was a lost cause and the only way to nip this alien invasion thing in the bud was nuke the whole city. Fortunately, Iron Man was able to grab the nuke, fly it into the Tessaract-created portal, shoot it at the alien ship, and fall through the portal seconds before Black Widow used Loki’s own mind-controlling staff to close the portal up for good. Whew. That was a lot of stuff at the end there. Maybe there were high stakes.

The point of it all is teamwork. To further illustrate what a great team they are, most of them go their separate ways at the end. Thor takes Loki back to Asgard to face judgment. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner take off for the ultimate Bromance vacation. Black Widow, Hawkeye and Captain America are stuck working for Shield, even though Cap complained about their duplicity for most of the movie. However, according to Nick Fury, the team will be there if the Earth needs it, which will be at least three more movies.

I know there’s a lot of snark here, but to be perfectly honest, The Avengers is a very watchable movie. It has foibles, but what movie doesn’t? As I said in the first paragraph, it is sometimes t=good to see how a movie settles, and this one settles very well. There are obviously no perfect movies out there, but this one does its job. It entertained a lot of people, myself included, enough to be excited for the second one, and that’s really all that anyone can ask.

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