There’s a moment in The Avengers where Loki (Tom Hiddlestone) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) come face to face in Stark’s extravagant penthouse in his personal New York skyscraper. As RDJ calmly pours himself a drink, he looks at Loki and utters the dreadful words “There’s no version of this where you come out on top” with his holier-than-thou, cooler-than-thou and generally just much-better-than-thou delivery. This is essentially my major problem with The Avengers and all the Marvel feature-length advertisements that came before it. There really isn’t any version where Loki can come out on top and the pre-existing awareness of that fact drains these superhero films of any excitement.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight – a film I’m not as fond of as the rest of the internet, but nevertheless acknowledge that it is the qualitative measuring stick with which one can judge the genre – went through the whole routine as well. Peace is disrupted by a villain; check; reluctant superhero comes to rescue the planet; check; endless action sequences follow; check; hero defeats villain but leaves room for sequel; check. Yet, in Joker, Nolan and Heath Ledger presented us with such unpredictable energy that we wondered at every turn whether everything would come out differently. Loki lacks that type of chutzpah.
It’s not even the villain I can blame entirely. It’s the entire genre that feels so worn out and tired, though I shouldn’t make it sound like I’m blaming the film for the sins of its predecessors, because The Avengers is definitely not without its problems either, the biggest of which is that it’s tailored to suit the attention span of a 2 year old. Anyone accustomed to recent Hollywood genre fare shouldn’t be surprised by the rapid cutting and indiscernible movement in the action sequences, but if having to wrap your head around shots that last less than two seconds on the screen wasn’t enough, here you get the added bonus of wondering what the hell the other five superheroes are up to while you’re watching one of them tangled in his own scuffle.
I’m baffled by the overwhelmingly positive critical and audience response to this film. “Pure entertainment” is the phrase I’ve heard over and over again from anyone who’s seen it, but I’m not exaggerating when I say the film felt like a two-hour bore to me. It’s not without its moments of course. Mark Ruffalo’s performance is a reminder of the versatility he can possess despite the apparent ease he shows in all his work. The Avengers’ Hulk is really as good as the superhero has ever been and then some, visually and contextually. The effects are predictably top-notch. Whedon’s screenplay is surprisingly coherent for a film with four central heroes. The pacing is solid. And no sane heterosexual man should ever complain about a film with endless shots of Scarlett Johansson in tight spandex. But alas, none of this is enough to save The Avengers from its predictability. Four years and a few films later, the franchise has definitely overstayed its welcome. Everything feels so been-there-done-that and sadly, the end product doesn’t live up to the hype and the box office tag.