The future of big-grossing films looks kind of dull: ‘Avengers’ ReviewPosted: May 13, 2012
Like Daria, Sassy, and Fiona Apple, liking Joss Whedon says something very particular about a person. You can get a good sense of their political persuasions (liberal), race (white), social status in high school (not especially popular) and profession (something in the arts/writerly way). This is not to say of course that there aren’t conservative black popular business men that haven’t gotten really into Firefly or something, but still, chances are high that if you’re a Joss Whedon fan, you hit at least one of those aforementioned criteria.
I should be a Joss Whedon fan. I should also be able to quote Daria from memory and know the full title of Fiona’s upcoming album. But I can’t do any of those things. I also never got into Buffy. I liked Dr. Horrible Sing-a-long well enough, but that’s because I like singing and acting at the same time.
Basically, I’ve never felt a personal kinship to the lord of nerds.
But still, I respect him. I implicitly expect him to bring a fresh perspective to things, to add some layers of nuance, to avoid the big, the dumb and the obvious. So when word broke that Joss Whedon, cult hero and scrappy nerd underdog was directing The Avengers, I was genuninely excited. Even moreso when the film did crazy good, like record -breaking-already-the-11th-most-top-grossing-film ever good.
But then I saw the film.
Ay currumba. So underwhelming and it sucks because it had so many good things going for it. Captain America! Thor! Iron Man! Black Widow! The Hulk! Samuel L. Jackson! Robin Scherbatsky! On eye candy alone, the film is easily one of the best to grace our screens in a long, long time. So many different types of hotness! Blond guy vs. Blond guy. Indie dude vs. indie dude. Then there’s the thrill of watching wildly different characters in the same movie. Square Captain America trading jabs with fast-talker Iron Man. The nebbish Dr. Banner arguing with the self-righteous Thor.
But then it just keeps going. It doesn’t stop. There’s another action sequence after that other action sequence. Jokes are kind of funny and then kind of obvious. People are stabbed fatally but manage to eke out a surprising number of sentences. Samuel L. Jackson plays Samuel L. Jackson kind of dully, believe it or not. The dialogue gets clunky. The self-seriousness gets unbearable. By the time the mandatory news reel clips of Avengers ‘eyewitnessses’ comes around at the end of the film, you feel like you’ve watched this movie before.
In other words, where was the Joss Whedon touch? Where was the nuance, the humor? So women weren’t solely sex objects as they would be if Michael Bay or Brett Ratner directed this movie, but it seemed like that was the only Wheedonian touch. Otherwise it was a basic superhero movie. Not bad, but not good. Totally lacking in panache.
But maybe that’s an issue with the genre itself. It’s gotten too formulaic. That all of the set-up films (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and the like) are set to have sequels (or threequels) in addition to Avengers itself is and that the revamp of the Spiderman franchise and the Dark Knight sequel are coming out this summer is proof that the superhero genre is oversaturated. There’s just no innovation in it anymore.
Suddenly a juggernaut grossing film like Titanic seems especially unique in retrospect. It was soppy yes, but it was rooted in our world and our reality. Every character was a mortal human being severely lacking in magical powers. Such an idea seems strangely anathema to the films that break box office records these days (Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, every superhero movie–they’re all set in other realms). It’s kind of a shame. I mean, I get that in some ways, the blockbuster as popularized by George Lucas especially, is supposed to take us out of our world. But I guess I’m partial to planet Earth.
I can’t help but hope for an adventurous screenwriter to come and save us all from these extraterrestrial fantasies.