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Sunday, May 19, 2024

In Review: The Avengers

Rating: 2.5

The Avengers is the fruit of perhaps the greatest marketing gimmick of all time. Make no mistake, this film is so far from any sort of progressive artistic endeavor that we should all hesitate to grant it the rank beyond fan fiction. Fan fiction being the rehash, the ode to, the celebratioTHn of that which has come before and the promise of more after — what you love will be perpetuated, drawn out and squeezed of all its life so the loyal may lap it up off the floor.

The Avengers is painfully close to that definition, though it is not quite there yet. Jamming Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk and others into a brisk, shallow narrative, Marvel has created the illusion of freshness. For better or worse, it appears there is more to be squeezed from this series.

That may be because The Avengers is not without merit. Often it is a penetratingly funny, engaging and an admirably constructed film. The leads, who we “know” from a dizzying array of loosely connected prequels, banter with each other at a mile a minute, and the film’s greatest sense of friction arises when the heroes prod each others’ borderline self-righteous chests.

Robert Downey Jr.’s Stark/Iron Man is what we’ve come to expect. His tongue is razor sharp, and his narcissistic wit is held up high — the flagship of his character. It’s the other scientist, though – The Hulk/Bruce Banner – that is the best thing going on here. Mark Ruffalo plays the human part with a rare sense of emotional verve — we sense, magnificently, that there are various emotional dimensions at work in his superhero soul (and the CGI Hulk definitely “smash good”).

The other characters more or less blend into the backdrop of the scenery, which is not so much the fault of the actors as it is a deficiency of their dulled character types. We know everything about Captain America at one glance: He is a statue of leaden moralism. Thor is not far off, except that he is a demi-god and thus can’t really die. Which makes one wonder, where is the threat? The others are hardly even worth mentioning they are colored so gray.

Where the film ultimately fails is in its devastating emptiness. Throughout the explosives and the carefully constructed development, Joss Whedon, the director, teases toward something more — a potential heart underneath the 200-million-plus hauberks. But as the credits roll, it becomes clear that The Avengers is slick and leans to a point of anorexia. There is really nothing else there.

It is inevitable to conclude that The Avengers’ success is not justified by what it achieves on screen. It is a special sort of monster, less a film than an unrepentant celebration of our own commercial obedience, and the immense glorification of our deep cultural excesses. The film moves at lightspeed, and impresses itself skin deep. The Avengers 2, with more, will be out tomorrow.

JAMES O’HARA can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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