Sometimes, a generation lucks out and the blockbuster film franchise that dominates its time is the original Star Wars trilogy: ground-breaking, pulpy, fun, and all-encompassing. Sometimes, a generation reveals it has made some sort of pact with the devil that’s gone awry, and it gets a depressing, muddled catastrophe as its signature franchise — like, say, the Phantom Menace trilogy.
The current generation, however you want to define that, doesn’t have to quite plumb the depths of Jar Jar Binks and tiny pod-racking Anakin Skywalker, but it/we have it worse in some ways. The Avengers is clearly the film franchise that is going to define this era. Transformers may be more of its time, but also seems destined to fizzle out under Michael Bay’s incompetent watch. Harry Potter and Twilight are huge, but cater to niche (if insanely devoted) audiences. The 2010s are all about superheroes, and The Avengers are here to see that we grow more weary of them than we ever could have of light sabers or muscle-bound dudes with machine guns.
Before Marvel and Paramount unleashed The Avengers on us last summer, we’ve already had to deal with Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. In addition to sequels to The Avengers proper, sequels to Thor, Iron Man, and Captain American are in the works. And given that more heroes can be added to The Avengers essentially at will, this cycle could continue in perpetuity. We are going to be watching these costumed dudes (and lady!) for a long, long time. So even if the Avengers films aren’t as awful as some other recent mega-franchises, we’re going to suffer more because of the sheer quantity of films thrust in our faces.
Plus, if it wasn’t quite in the same class as Transformers or Phantom Menace, The Avengers was still a rotting pile of garbage as a movie. And none of the films focusing on its individual components have been good either. Iron Man is inexplicably appreciated by critics, probably because of a bizarre infatuation with Robert Downey Jr., while Thor remains one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.
The Avengers, liked Iron Man, earned goodwill for purportedly being better than the common blockbuster. Better than the typical comic book adaptation. Smart. Funny! Exciting. But all that goodwill is wasted on a movie that’s not only unworthy of building a franchise upon, but a really bad movie in its own right. Let’s count the problems with The Avengers.
1) Hawkeye and Black Widow
Much mirth has been had at Hawkeye’s expense, on Saturday Night Live and elsewhere, for having no real superpower other than impressive archery accuracy. Which does seem a little silly when he’s standing next to The Hulk or whomever. But the real problem lies not with the character’s abilities but with the actor’s charisma, or lack thereof. Jeremy Renner, who is good in The Hurt Locker and fine in The Town, is a charisma vacuum in The Avengers. Whenever he’s on screen (which is a lot!), the action grinds to a halt while he stares straight ahead and mumbles his lines into his chin.
Which makes him a perfect match for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who is supposed to be a sexy, persuasive, manipulative spy but who comes across as a sexy lump of empty humanity. For all but the superfans, if you’re going to see The Avengers, you want to see Hulk smash stuff and Iron Man blow shit up. You don’t want character development of Hawkeye and Black Widow. At least not like this.
2) The Bad Guy
The choice of Loki as the villain in the first Avengers movie may make sense from a comic-book-universe perspective (I honestly don’t know), but it’s ridiculous for the film on a number of levels:
- It brings back the villain and main plotline from Thor, the worst or any of the Prevengers movies
- It makes the villain a “god,” an idea that’s never fully explained or developed.
- It gives Thor himself way too much screen time
- It casts a sneering Tom Hiddleston in a major role, fresh off his time on WAR HORSE.
- It sets up a primary conflict with no real stakes other than sibling rivalry between two alien gods from a distant galaxy. It would be like if the main plotline of The Hobbit revolved around The Stone Giants fighting each other. Yeah, yeah, Loki wants to conquer Earth because humans are meant to be subservient or something, but really, he’s just mad at his handsomer bro.
3) The Climax
The Avengers ends with our ragtag band of heroes defending New York City from an attack by Loki and…a band of robot aliens? Jesus. What better way to guarantee a total absence of suspense and drama? Seeing Hulk and Captain America take out faceless, emotionless robots by the thousands is like watching Adam West’s Batman thwock random masked henchmen or a live version of Space Invaders. Who cares, exactly, about robot aliens getting blown to pieces? Is that supposed to be satisfying in any way? Is it a nod to Transformers? Why not add some teen vampires to the mix?
4) The Creepy 9/11 Undertones
Well, even though it’s some combination of gods/robots/aliens/Norsemen attacking NYC, it’s still an attack on NYC with buildings crumbling, debris falling, people running and screaming, etc. Which is fine, but if you want to make a 9/11 allusion, fucking stand up and make it. Don’t film a scene of Manhattan getting destroyed and pretend it’s not going to remind anyone of 9/11. Ultimately, The Avengers is too lightweight a film to make a direct reference to 9/11, but even the indirect reference feels very out of place.
5) Robert Downey Jr.’s Smug Face
6) Captain America
Is it possible to be more boring that Hawkeye? Captain America will give it a try! You see, he’s a soldier, and he will fight for his country, and he’s from the 1940s, and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..It’s a shame, because when Chris Evans guested on Doug Benson’s Doug Loves Movies podcast, he was shit-faced drunk and seemed funny and amiable. For The Avengers II: Loki’s Revenge, they should get him hammered before all his scenes.
7) The Tesseract
ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ladies and gentlemen, the worst MacGuffin in movie history!
You see, according to The Avengers’ dedicated Wiki:
The Tesseract is an ancient Asgardian artifact of unimaginable power. It was kept in Odin’s artifact chamber but came to Earth by accident. It was kept in a viking church in Norway and kept under the Tree of Life. In World War II Johann Schmidt invaded the church and stole the Tesseract. He used the Tesseract to build extremely powerful weapons that disintegrated humans on touch (the weapons also severely damaged normal objects). Johann also used the Tesseract to make large bombs that could destroy capital cities. Johann held the Tesseract before he sent the missiles and it disintegrated (or maybe teleported to another dimension) him on touch. The cube fell in to the Arctic ocean and was found by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s creator Howard Stark some time later. The Tesseract was kept under guard by S.H.I.E.L.D. to make sure that it didn’t fall in to the wrong hands. In 2011 Nick Fury called in Erik Selvig and asked him whether he would help S.H.I.E.L.D. with making the Tessesract an unlimited power source.
8) No Getting the Band Together Montage
Seriously? If there’s one thing an Avengers movie should be able to accomplish, it’s a killer montage of S.H.I.E.L.D. approaching each and every Avenger, convincing them to join together (all set to a great song), and then a scene of them walking together toward the camera in slow motion. It’s not that hard.
9) Bad Acting, Insipid Dialogue, Weak Characterization, Fake-Ass-Looking CGI, and On and On and On and On….*
* Mark Ruffalo is pretty good as Bruce Banner, though.