Tuesday, May 01, 2012

THE AVENGERS: MOVIE REVIEW



Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner
Director: Joss Whedon
Runtime: 143 min.
Verdict: An excuse for a privileged few to have a nice indulgent outing. Which makes it a commendable juggling act giving all of them a significant personality in a feature length narrative.
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Superhero

                Consider this. Thor criticizes his brother Loki about considering himself superior to humans, about how he misses the whole point of ruling, and how he better not touch his beloved planet. Yet moments before, Thor flies into the little plane where Iron Man and Captain America are escorting Loki to the Shield, knocks the latter with his hammer, and flies out with his brother. I would want to understand the dramatic logic of such behavior, or if there’s any for that matter. I mean, he could have one of those witty little conversations, couldn’t he?  And so I wonder if the sequence takes place only to have a silly little action sequence between Iron Man and Thor. And for Captain to join the mud-fight a moment later. The problem here, apart from the yawn such a lack of imagination to cause an “action” sequence induces, is that there’s only so much one can do with having superpowers fight each other. We remember Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix Reloaded, and we remember Potter and Lord Voldermort from last year, where all one can cause is a whole lot of thunder and lightning and smashes and flying long distances and breaking through walls and all that blah. It is silly. And it is so old everybody knows nobody is going to win, which makes it essentially meaningless footage. Or fun, if you would want to put it that way.
                The problem is, if one would want to call it a problem, is that The Avengers seems to be having tug-of-war between wanting to be some sort of ponderous pontificating piffle and fun. Fun as in the narcissistic kind, where the individual (superhero) is more concerned about a general level of coolness/awesomeness than anything else. How else can one consider the Hulk’s second coming, where he reveals his big secret, and then explain what he does on the Helicarrier, where his intentions seem to be to not merely replicate Harlem but to kill Ms. Romanov. He almost kills a pilot alright. Does he really consider them deserving of his destructive self? Or is it merely more of the film’s meaningless fun footage? Or, is it a literalization of the film’s central belief, which much like Watchmen, assumes somewhat of a genre-subversion – that these superheroes are merely weapons of mass destruction that we absolutely need to possess to fight anonymous fantastical other-worldly enemies? Sort of like an argument for war and a justification for all that has happened over the last decade. That energy is at the center of the conflict cannot be just a stock plot-point, right? I mean, the only difference between Mr. Limpet and Jake Sully is merely justification to be on the morally right side, right? What Mr. Whedon intends to propose is a justification for war to be fun and heroic, where the enemies can be safely classified under “others”, and where it doesn’t matter if the warriors are merely puppets/tools manipulated into action. In other words, a simplistic world of black and white.
                But let us talk about the other end, mostly addressed by Loki and Thor, and to some extent Nick Fury, which concerns some nonsense about our lack of compatibility with freedom as an absolute, and which is just as perfunctory as that action sequence I described above. And just as ludicrous. Loki, with his illusions of grandeur, turns into his Asgard self complete with robes and horns, so much so that we hear the crowd exclaim in the background. They run. And when he appears in multiple places and asks them to kneel in order to deliver his drivel, they do. It is astonishing how uninspiring the crowd behavior is. Here we are with a demi-God present in multiple places at once, which should at least stun the crowd. Remember the medical staff at the asylum in Terminator2: Judgment Day? But no, Loki speaks, people kneel and when he starts taking free jabs at mankind, an old man stands in defiance and observes – “We’ve had men like you before.” You wonder when.
It is this lack of, let us say reverence, or wonder, for Loki, or for anything that is, well not from around here that places The Avengers in a rather uninteresting place in the history of the summer action blockbuster. Consider for a moment Super-8. There’s no such regard for the uncommon here, much in keeping with the genre’s general disregard for wonder, where big is shorthand for awesome, and where most of the tricks are so tired they are conventions. We’re firmly in a fantastical world where there seems to be no place for the exclamation mark. Which, for some reason, feels some kind of a shame. I mean, if the crowd can believe anything, then why the need to have the Helicarrier invisible. Considering that everybody knows Iron-Man, and that the newsreel footage of The Avengers at work ought to establish them as a fact of daily life, and Nick Fury’s politics is essentially to present these guys as universal deterrents, it probably might be logical to have the Helicarrier wander about in the sky in plain sight. You know, big brother and stuff. Which is what makes me suspicious of a film like The Avengers, which sort of wants to stand for the criticism of Hollywood’s generally liberal behavior. I suppose Watchmen has already provided the answer to Mr. Whedon’s narcissist stance, which finds spectacular manifestation in the Hulk’s utter disregard for Loki. Mr. Ruffalo is one of our great actors and the mischief in his eye is less of a superhero and more of an interesting villain.
Or let us put it this way – let us just have some smashing fun. I mean, that is what it was all about in the end, wasn’t it. All the Avengers were doing is smashing items one-by-one, individual by individual, arrow by arrow, bullet by bullet, and having an absolute ball at that. I mean, they weren’t closing it anytime soon, and it actually took only a single pilot with a nuke to wrap the nonsensical carnage. So yeah, it’s fun. And when it’s not philosophizing, The Avengers seems to be operating in Wile E. Coyote’s world. Thor unleashes the power from his hammer upon Iron-Man, who instead of falling a thousand feet back has the power in his suit charged to 400%. Big centipede beasts run through Manhattan and Iron Man destroys one of them by flying right into it and blasting out. And the big one, where a nuke is sent to destroy all the invaders and Iron-Man resourcefully escorts it to the source in another universe. It would have been outright hilarious too, were it not for the film’s abrupt shift to melodramatic tones. Still, amidst the abundance of meaningless footage (ultra close-up barely legible shots where seconds pass by before we realize what we are looking at), and the philosophizing, there’re some moments of genuine wit. Not Aaron Sorkin staircase-wit, but reverse engineered stuff, wherein you write the punchline first and then come up with a suitable trigger. Hulk pushes Thor out of the frame to have the glory all to himself, and we smile. These are kids, you know, not superheroes exactly. Or maybe they are. I mean, when the Helicarrier is falling and the lives of all aboard is on one man, Iron-man gets to use his genius and literally push the wheel. It is the film’s one true moment of transcendence, where both Iron-man and Captain America, past and present, push the wheel and let it soar. That is, I guess, the stuff superheroes are made of, no?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Neo and Mr. Anderson were the same person.

Satish Naidu said...

Thanks Anonymous,
Corrected the same...

Anonymous said...

Not upto the mark... the review.

Amar said...

I think the person who stands before Loki in Germany is one of those who experienced Ghetto-trauma in WW II. For him, the demi-gods like Loki are no greater than Hitler at his peak.

As far as the invisibility of tele-carrier is considered, I think it's not meant to stop general public from admiring and going berserk about superheroes but it's more about ceasing baddies to plot anything as per its geographical positioning.

Thor can not have a word with Loki in the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D members in a sophisticated fashion 'cause come on. Nobody wants to discuss family matters before anyone, whether the third person is acquainted with them or not. And hey, we are not sure about Thor's knowledge of superheroes S.H.I.E.L.D are having, are we?

I did not get which part you disliked about Hulk. I won't stand and try to think what would I do with the plane and its pilot who is continuously shooting at me. Remember, he is Hulk.

Satish Naidu said...

Thanks Amar,
I suppose, the old guy didn't mention anything about Ghetto-trauma right? Or even about Germany. I guess it was the Captain that mentioned the country? I think the old man is speaking in general terms. Please correct me if I am wrong.

On the invisibility part, I was actually wondering about its "Big-brotherly" symbolic value, but yeah now that you say it, being invisible makes it more potent, almost raising it to "god" levels.

But with Thor, I am not talking about his knowledge of S.H.I.E.L.D, or even The Avengers. What I am concerned about is the resident hypocrisy. If he is critical of his brother's condescending view of mankind, I suppose he is doing the same by absolutely disregarding what they are doing and barging in straight and taking him out with any sort of conversation. He is BEING A GOD, too.

***SPOILER ALERT******************

I remember he is Hulk. And he is "always". Remember his last moment in the Edward Norton- starrer? So if he always knows, then he better direct his anger in a non-malevolent way, right? Does he truly believe that Ms. Romanov and the pilot deserve to be smashed out of existence? And if he isn't aware of his anger, then what is all that about his transformation at will? That is why I say he is more of a villain, than a superhero.

Anonymous said...

You know I've always admired the way you bring out the psychological, moral and philosophical underpinnings in your reviews. But I don't think "The Avengers" is the movie which calls for a heavy duty analysis. True, it would have been apt if Thor let out a quick apology , for his intrusion, before taking out Loki. But do we really care? Would it really spoil the fun for you if in the heat of emotions a character is acting against what he profess? May be in some other movie. This one is dished out as a summer blockbuster. We can cut it some slack, can't we?

- Amit

Satish Naidu said...

Hey Amit, let me put it this way. Had Hulk killed Ms. Romanov and smashed the pilot, and maybe even killed a couple of people when he crashed to the ground, would it have bothered you? I mean, the filmmakers kept the construction site devoid of any inhabitants (collateral damage) because it makes it awkward, right? I mean, every action invariably has an ethical dimension we respond to, don't we?
Even then, Amit, I ask you this - why should we patronize a superhero movie? I mean, a summer action blockbuster can be a masterpiece, right? The Dark Knight had ethics written all over it. If we take that angle away, we're already admitting that the typical blockbuster is an inferior product designed to be disposed. I am merely asking it to be more. And I guess we can be entertained only when something doesn't offend our ethical framework, no?

P.S.- Amit, I suppose I know you, in fact I'm pretty sure I do, yet I can't place you. I'm really sorry here. But can you help me, please?

Rishi Sambora said...

How else can one consider the Hulk’s second coming, where he reveals his big secret, and then explain what he does on the Helicarrier, where his intentions seem to be to not merely replicate Harlem but to kill Ms. Romanov. He almost kills a pilot alright.

Um no its a pretty well known fact about Hulk that he can transform at will --> he kinda knows whats he doing. and when its against his will -> he smashes everything he sees around him

anyway its used as a plot device where-in Loki comes to the mothership .. i guess his intent was to unleash banner against the avengers.. i mean for a superhero movie you dont really should think beyond this to dig loopholes.. of course nolans batman would seem in a different league anyway.. i guess different rules for different movies/kinds of movies ??

anyway this is what imdb faq had to say

Why does Banner become a team player the second time he turns into Hulk?

It appears as if for Hulk's first featured transformation, Loki was in some way influencing things. Black Widow says as much when inviting Banner to remove himself from the situation. There is also a somewhat dreamlike nature to the scene, with Thor's 'petty humans' line, Stark rubbing his temples (as Banner did when he sees Loki arrive on the boat), without realising it Banner picks up Loki's staff and so on (suggesting something unnatural going on). With the second transformation, Banner was free from such interference. Arguments can also be made that (1) the first transformation was under stress after a fall during an attack whereas the second was a free choice, and (2) the conversations with Stark about letting loose and realising the Hulk absorbing the gamma radiation saved Banner, coupled with security guard's comment that the Hulk aimed for the abandoned factory, allowed Banner to realise that if he embraced the Hulk he could work with him

Rishi Sambora said...

btw interesting point you made about ethics in blockbuster movies.. i mean that it works for nolans batman is fab coz batman is such a character. also if you read the comics/ see some of the animated movies you'll find a similar gist... but for avengers.. yeah this one was a ego trip :)) and everyone loved it.. i guess it played around with the narcissism natures of the viewer and the outcome becomes favorable

Satish Naidu said...

Here's the thing Aneesh. I don't want to dig the comic book. Does the movie supply the logic that the first transformation was involuntary, and the second one was not? That doesn't even make any sense. I mean, that throws the Hulk's "big secret" for a toss, right? He is angry all the time can only mean one thing, right?

I refuse to accept that there's any threshold limit for thinking/analyzing. A movie sits there for me to dissect every bit of it, and if not why should I even waste my time? It is trash then, right? And anyway it's not a loophole, it's a definition of character/psychology. As in, I'm watching a superhero or a villain.

Rishi Sambora said...

point taken

Amit Yadav said...

I don't know about the pilot but the loss of Ms. Romanov would surely have bothered me... But Satish, how many of us are constantly aware and faithful to our morals and ethics in all our actions? We're all for equality and a classless society but often betray that condescending tone when talking to a vegetable vendor, or a manual labourer, a waiter or any person we think is inferior to us in any way. In that context I can discount the action of demi-god when he unknowingly belittles our race while trying to protect us from an evil he thinks we can't handle. It doesn't offend my ethical framework.
You say we can only be entertained within our ethical boundaries. I'm not sure if that's correct. Don't we all love our anti-heroes, the quintessential brats with no respect towards rules or ethics outside of their own. Here're some names - Ben Wade, Vito Corleone, Ironman, The Comedian, Lucky (Oye lucky, lucky oye!), William Munny, Sirius Black. Heck, a lot of us out there liked the Hit Girl (Kick-Ass) - a kid killing people in cold blood.
Now tell me this, why would a movie need to be a trash if it is not a masterpiece? It might not have overwhelmed you but I can't believe you didn't enjoy it at any level. If you did enjoy the movie but want it to be more, that's pretty acceptable.


I don't know what did it. Was it my first name or am I just too predictable in the way I write? I'm an old fan buddy. We exchanged a few mails over your reviews when I was in Infosys, Pune. I really doubt if that's sufficient to remember someone after all this while. Did I bother you too much back then?

Satish Naidu said...

Now I know you Amit. Your last name was the trigger my memory was waiting for. And what probably did it was one or more years where we haven't corresponded, I believe. I'm really sorry for that. And as soon as I saw "Yadav" after "Amit", all the million records came down in a flash.

I probably misrepresented myself. when I say ethical framework, I do not in any way mean political correctness. Who says there ought to be equality, and why should there be one?

Let me put it this way. We appreciate a few outlaws because of some age-old principles (honor, courage) - stuff we've been taught to be an acceptable criteria for "male" behavior. They're not abiding by law, but they're abiding by their own code. They aren't in any way contradicting themselves, right? As opposed to them Thor seems to be a little slow.

I suppose there are two levels to it. One is a movie conforming to our own ethical framework. I mean, I can never ever understand the humor in Dulhe Raja. I can never fathom why the hell is the dabha guy in the "right" position and the hotelier in the wrong.
The second is, I guess, is desire for a level of consistency.

P.S.: I didn't fancy Kick-Ass too much either.

Jason Nambe said...

One question: when is Mr. Fury going to use some of those limitless resources to fix that eye?