Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Avengers, Part One

The Avengers is fucking awesome. You know it. I know it. A few million people know it.
Mainly because of stuff like this.
Image taken from here.

Spoilers below:

The script is amazing. The biggest reservation I had—after Captain America's terrible costume—was the amount of screen time, and thus development, each character would get. With six main characters, even when they were paired up for development, giving each one their fair share of 200 minutes was a challenge I wasn't sure Whedon was up to. I had some misgivings about Whedon as a whole actually, I like Serenity, but I never watched Firefly or much of anything else he's done. I had no doubt he could make a movie I liked and his interest in developing female characters was well established, but I wasn't sure if he was up to anything that had to be this big and this broad in its appeal.

And there came a day, unlike any other, where shit all over New York blew up for no damned reason.
And in the Marvel universe, that day was forever known as "Tuesday."

While I was expecting it to get dropped immediately, the "Hawkeye gets mind controlled by Loki" angle was one of the best ways to handle this. After getting a quick scene showing how sharp he is, his characterization is based solely on his portrayal as the villain's number two man and Black Widow's description of their past. The Avengers rolled the character development of one of its protagonists into the villain side of its story, saving a sixth of its screen time.

Of course, that makes the villain side of this equation the underdeveloped legs that are trying to holding up the muscular torso of the rest of the movie. That's not bad; it's just that Loki making an untenable deal with a third party to invade earth with an incredibly shitty army and sit as ruler just to piss off Thor is a straightforward plot that doesn't lend itself to many twists or turns.

Definition of Shitty:
                1. clumsy, as in the manner of stoned cats
                2. possessing the tactical acumen of stoned cats
                3. being as or less bullet proof as cats (stoned or otherwise)
                3a. Possessing little resistance or other defense against weapons generally less effective than bullets (arrows, warhammers, fists).

The Chitauri army, c. 2012

The only problem with the Chitauri's inability to win a ground war against Switzerland is that their overpowering force requires an overpowering force from the heroes, which The Avengers (and Marvel heroes in general), don't provide. We all know Hulk and Thor are packin', and Iron Man's nothing to sneeze at, but the other half of the team is based on having an exceptional skill set (or, single skill...Clint). There wasn't too much they did that thirty guys with automatic weapons and air support couldn't have done better, although it would've been done with remarkably less spectacle.

And less color. And can we talk about how fucking awful Captain America's outfit is? Can we talk about how garishly bright it is? I felt bad he had to duel with Loki(?!), but I felt worse because he had to get his ass kicked while there were f*cking wings on his cowl, a cowl whose insanity I thought had peaked just by existing. I'm not opposed to bright colors and I'm not opposed to suspension of disbelief. I'm opposed to dumbass attempts to explain things away as "something that people need right now," as if its bugs are somehow features. It makes sense with fanboy Coulson having designed it even while Steve Rogers cringes at it, and it's going to stick around in memory of his heroically martyred ass, but damn, it's not going to get any less cartoonishly ridiculous.

Don't get me wrong; cartoonishly ridiculous isn't always bad. Look at Nick Fury. He walks out of a helicopter like he's got protection from rotor blades. He fires a rocket at his own fighter, and then pulls out a pistol with the intent to shoot down another fighter with it. He uses a pistol not to shoot an enemy, but to mug that enemy and steal his gun so Nick Fury can have a bigger gun. He tries to shoot Loki with a pistol. Either the guy doesn't ever give up or ever back down or he's simply incapable of categorizing his own threat level below "One-Eyed Weapon of Mass Destruction." If movie Nick Fury were thrown into a Beanie Baby store, he'd try to kill Loki with Flash the Dolphin and look bad ass for every second of it.
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Provided he didn't talk. I often talk about how Jonathan Frakes spent seven years on Star Trek: The Next Generation polishing dialog turds and delivering them on a silver platter. It wasn't every episode, but he took some spectacularly bad lines and fucking committed to them in a way that few have. Because—and it's important I say this—he is awesome and one of the few Trek actors to become a serious Trek fan. I'm not saying Samuel L. Jackson isn't an Avengers fan, what I am saying is that a lot of his lines were beyond fucking redemption. I can almost hear a fatalistic sigh every time he says something that's supposed to be a dramatic, standalone declaration. I don't know if it's his, Whedon's, or mine, but it's there and it's sad and heavy.

Someone who makes good work with what they're given? Ruffalo. He plays Banner as a pissed off guy. A guy who's so angry he can't be angry anymore. He figured the worst that could happen is that he would die; he took a risk thinking he knew the cost and ended up saddled with a burden no one could have imagined. He's a freak and he dangerous and he's hunted and in some warped way it is his fault but simultaneously it's not and if he didn't laugh at it he'd probably smash half of where ever he is. Banner probably has the least screen time of all the heroes, and some of the most passive dialog, but Ruffalo does a fantastic job with it.


SkilTao said...

Random thoughts as they occur to me while reading your post:

Didn't notice the wings on Cap's helmet.
Wouldn't have known Whedon was involved if somebody hadn't told me afterwards.

My biggest worry walking into the movie was that Loki would be a terrible fit. Walking out, I am convinced that Loki was the best possible fit. No matter who the villain is, this movie is fundamentally about the Avengers meeting and getting over their differences of trust/motives/methods. By choosing Loki for the villain, you can wrap all that intraparty strife (all the talky stuff aboard the helicarrier) into a single coherent 'rising action' conflict, make it do double duty as the first major villainous triumph, and not have to spend much actual *screentime* on Loki to make it work. Loki seems to be the only reason the Avengers could defeat the Chitauri landing force: the faceless aliens don't know anything about Earth that Loki hasn't told them, Loki picked their landing zone, Loki is the one giving them their crap combat orders, and Loki really isn't looking out for the Chitauri's best interests.

I suspect that "typical movie goer" wouldn't understand how "Thor trying to pick up his hammer" parallels everybody else's "get over yourself and work together" scenes if they hadn't already seen Thor's movie, which is kind of annoying since a movie that weak shouldn't be necessary viewing for one this good.

Annoying that the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man do so much while the human-scale heroes do so little. I mean, c'mon, at least try to steal Loki's staff again, they had it once, why oh why not try for it again.

They all walked into this fight half-cocked, and Clint doesn't seem to have much experience walking into situations he hasn't prepared for, but still, how do you *not* realize that 20 arrows aren't going to cut it?

Spoiler and maybe double-spoiler: Coulson heroically martyred, or Fury heroically lying?

Very glad that they didn't overplay Coulson's fanboyness, and that it paid off as a dramatic element the way it did.

Noticed that many of Samual L Jackson's lines seemed like they were there because the plot required someone to say them, and yeah, a lot of them did seem below par.

Couple of problems with Banner: his secret to not getting angry makes no damn sense, it's not consistent with either of last decade's Hulk movies, and there's no clear explanation for how/why/what Hulk is uncontrollable on the helicarrier but (apparently? I guess?) controllable at all other times. Also: his secret to not getting angry is just so awesome that it overrides all of that.

SkilTao said...

Er, that last sentence should read something like "Despite all that, his secret to not getting angry is so fun that it overrides any little nitpicky problems."

Friend of mine just saw Avengers yesterday, and I'm finding that talking about that movie is like eating Pringles: once you start there's no stopping.

VanVelding said...

Yeah. I like the idea of trying to steal Loki's staff again. They can outwit Loki, take down a few Chitauri, free the professor in a way that's less contrived, and protect him while he starts closing the portal.

To the movie's credit, it did address the "finite arrows" issue, though yeah, that was a high level of finite.

Whether Coulson really died or not is a "Lady or The Tiger" sort of situation, so I'm trying not to worry about it. If I pick a side, I'll just be disappointed when the next movie comes out.

SkilTao said...

May be more Lady and less Tiger - a friend was telling me that Phil overrode Stark's security (way at the beginning, offscreen) the same way Vision does stuff. I know too little about Vision to say though.

VanVelding said...

All I know about Vision is that it's the comic book equivalent of a three way between Martian Manhunter, Red Tornado, and Hank Pym.