Latest blockbuster feels more superfluous than superheroic

By Rebecca Cusey, Special Contributor


The Avengers

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and
action throughout, and a mild drug reference


Months from now, when we’re bloated and gorged with yet another explosive summer blockbuster, we’ll look back on the late spring as a more innocent time, a time when a movie like Marvel’s The Avengers brought out the best in America, when children looked forward to the opening with anticipation, when fanboys raved on message boards, when critics lauded it to the skies.

From left, Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. reprise their roles as Captain America and Iron Man in The Avengers. WALT DISNEY PICTURES PHOTO

After enduring the oh-so-serious Oscar season and doldrums of late winter movie duds, we’re all in need of a good bump. The Avengers is a fast-paced, high-octane fun ride with plenty of special effects, wit and meaning to keep viewers glued to their seats, but not enough to earn a spot in the Superhero Movie Hall of Fame. Call it a B+ effort.

Built on the foundation of years of superhero movies telling backstories of everyone from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Captain America (Chris Evans), this movie has been hotly anticipated.

It seems unlikely that a millionaire playboy (Mr. Downey), a Norse god (Mr. Hemsworth) and a super-enhanced World War II hero (Mr. Evans) would team up with a spy named Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), and a green rage monster and/or scientist (Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk).

What do they really have in common? Besides being Marvel characters, I mean?

The first half of the movie plays quite well with this concept. The Captain doesn’t like Iron Man’s breezy, cynical witticisms. In his day, people didn’t make light of sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy. For his part, Iron Man doesn’t much care for Mr. I’m-A-God-And-Your-Puny-Being-Can’t-Even-Fathom-What-That-Means.

Plus, Thor talks funny, like Shakespeare in the Park.

It all works together for the good of the audience. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Thor and Iron Man in a knock-down, drag-out fight. It’s positively seismic.

This is something I’ve never understood about superhero teams. I mean, they’re all pretty much undefeatable, including the villain, Thor’s Norse demigod black sheep of a brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). When undefeatable people fight, you get a lot of people throwing other people through buildings, hitting each other over the head with airplanes, dropping each other from unimaginable heights. That kind of stuff. It seems like a lot of effort when the other guy just shakes it off. A game of chess would have about the same level of determining a result.

The slamming, throwing and smashing is more fun to watch than chess, though. There is that.

Anyway, when Loki threatens to open a portal to another world in order to import his nasty, skeletal army to take over Earth, the kids with special powers have to work together. Led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and joined at times by arrow-wielding Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), they zip off to save New York from the possible invasion.

Which, of course, means they must destroy large portions of it in highly entertaining ways.

The film starts strong, too, with grand themes that make superhero movies so epic. Loki wants to rule earth for the glory of it and because it is his right. Forcing the populace to kneel before him, he tells them subservience is better, easier, more right for them, than freedom. Humanity only wants, no needs, to be told what to do.

This happens in Germany and there is a sublime moment when an elderly German man stands up, refusing to kneel and risking his life to do so. There’s an even more sublime moment when Captain America comes in and breaks up Loki’s little party.

It’s the U.S. of A., friends. Freedom is what we do.

At another point, Captain America wonders if the stars and stripes aren’t a little “old-fashioned.” After all, isn’t a team of self-sacrificing heroes a little “old-fashioned” in itself, someone else wonders.

The answer comes: Maybe in hard times, people might just need a little “old-fashioned.”

As the movie progresses, however, these grand ideas are generally abandoned. The citizens of Earth neither stand nor kneel. Mostly, they run from explosions and huddle in stunned terror. As things march to their conclusion, we never quite get that beat that says freedom is the right of humanity and humans will not give it up.

That would have catapulted this very good movie into the realm of excellence.

As it stands, this is a fantastic movie to enjoy with kids, family, friends, heck, even strangers. Rated PG-13, it is squeaky clean. The most drastic language is “damn,” and that’s rare. There is one fleeting reference to marijuana from Iron Man (he’s incorrigible). The women wear tight suits, but focus on kicking, fighting and punching rather than vamping it up. There is no sexual, or even romantic, content. This movie is fine for the whole family, for any child old enough to endure fast-paced (but not gory) action.

I guess we’ll have to wait for The Dark Knight Rises for more insight into the human condition.

 

Ms. Cusey is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. This review first appeared on Patheos.com.

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