REVIEW: The Avengers
If I can keep one person on this planet from seeing Disney presents a Paramount Picture’s production: Marvel’s the Avengers, I will consider my life not wasted. If you’re looking for a fair, balanced review from the point of view of someone who will end up telling you it’s a light, fun, humourous outing into the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, look elsewhere. And if you think I’m here to bait for fanboy reactions to my review, I’m not. I’m here to tell you what I saw, who made it and my best guess as to why the people who made what I saw made the things that I saw the way they did. That’s what a review is. But the experiences I’ve had coming into this movie likely make me more than the worst person to go to for an “unbiased”, “neutral” opinion. Cos I goddamn hated this movie. Picture start to shawarma out, I hated it. And I’m going to spoil the everloving crap out of this movie to tell you exactly why.
I started being a fan of Joss Whedon around fifteen years ago. In truth, it was probably closer to ten years ago, but it was fifteen years ago that Joss Whedon first charmed his way into our television sets with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an entire series based on the simple subversion of the helpless blonde girl not actually being helpless at all, and actually instead being the conqueror of all things that go bump in the night. It was around ten years ago that I can first say I was watching Buffy on basic cable, loving every moment of it. It was a show with genuine heart, that took risks with its storytelling and did a ton of stuff I have never seen before. He continued doing that on Buffy-spinoff Angel, which was darker and more mature. Then he took his gig to space with Firefly and Serenity, then took it to the internet with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. And you know what? I watched it all. I watched every single project he put out. And along the way, I learned a few things about Joss Whedon that I wish I could forget.
First: all of his works operate on subversion. Subversion is a narrative technique whereby the audience suspects one thing and you do the other. For instance, you bill someone in the opening credits, you expect them to stick around, right? Not with Joss Whedon. In the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss wanted to bill one character in the opening credits just to kill him off in the second episode. The network didn’t want to spend the money on two sets of opening credits just for a simple gag like that, so he waited until season five to do it to Tara–who’d been around for a year and a half by that point. And you want to make sure it’s the character who’s a supporting character whose function can be easily replaced by another supporting character in later seasons.
As long as their death causes drama in the show and on the show’s forums, then hey–it’s totally justified! In Angel, Doyle was killed nine episodes in. I can only assume the death of Fred in one of the later seasons was the same thing. In Firefly, the deaths of Wash and Book had to wait until the movie, where he killed off the comic relief and the oly person whose plotlines hadn’t been tied up. And people were upset about the death of Penny in Dr. Horrible, but at least that one was justified by the tragic storyline. She has to die for Billy to become a supervillain, and it’s honestly a pretty cool twist.
Second: all of his dialogue sounds exactly the same. Whether written in a forced Shakespearian dialect, whether put into the mouth of a man who’s lost in time from the 1940’s, it all sounds the same. It’s honestly a big problem, especially when you’re supposed to be combining the narrative threads and characters from four–to this point–disparate narratives, all written by different people. People will make pop culture references that were last relevant in the year 1997, people will brag about having understood these, people will speak out of character in extremely tense moments and most importantly, people will talk. Every single character will have a line in every single situation and all of them will have “witty” one-liners that they spout to people they have recently killed or taken orders from, no matter how tense or urgent the situation.
And so, The Avengers. I used to count myself as a Joss Whedon fan and as a fan or superheroes. But after I sat up and realized that despite all of his girl-power talk and despite all of his swagger (even comparing himself to William Shakespeare when asked to defend his penchant for killing easily replaceable audience favourite characters), he hasn’t grown an inch since Buffy premiered. When an artist has spent this many years doing things that are, on occasion, absolutely brilliant–when an artist has spent this many years in the game period, you can really expect them to stop using the same tricks they used in the first episode of their TV series from fifteen years ago.
Quentin Tarantino’s first feature film came out in 1992, that was Reservoir Dogs, an LA crime Greek tragedy. Fifteen years later, he was making Death Proof, a half-slasher, half-car-chase movie whose second half was filmed as if it were the sequel to the first. Hell, Matthew Vaughn has been in the game a total of four movies since 2004. In order: London crime movie, modern high fantasy, deconstructive superhero, 1960s spy period piece with superhuman powers.
By contrast, The Avengers is a culmination of every Joss Whedon trick and Joss Whedon staple I have seen in fifteen years of watching things made by Joss Whedon. It has subversions, subversions of subversions and single word pop culture references being thrown around by a man who should be too busy designing nuclear warheads and clean power to know the difference between Lord of the Rings and whatever the hell else Tony Stark was saying in that overlong, noisy and altogether unpleasant battle in Manhattan. As the opening credits rolled, I said aloud to no one in particular, “Agent Coulson dies at the end of act two.”
Professionalism tells me I can’t tell you whether or not I was right. Tara. Doyle. Fred. Wash. Book. Penny. Need I say more? GOLF WANG