The first few minutes had it all--pulsing superhero action, depth of character and layers of mystery. Moviegoers all around me whispered to their companions: "Wow." Unfortunately, what we were watching was the newest trailer for the Dark Knight Rises. What followed for the next two hours, The Avengers, was an OK superhero movie--better than most, which isn't saying much. But with the compelling images of Batman flapping his wings in my subconscious, it was hard to get excited over the newest Marvel mash-up.
The Avengers is to superhero films what Home Depot is to a house. There's some neat stuff inside but some assembly is required and, unfortunately, The Avengers, which offers a handful of compelling characters and hardware aplenty, isn't much more than some extended fight scenes strung together by a dysfunctional script. The characters are more intent on making speeches or cracking an occasional joke instead of talking to or (heaven forbid) listening to one another.
With so much high-caliber talent connected to The Avengers--beginning with writer-director Joss Whedon and five Oscar-nominated actors on screen--it's not unreasonable to expect a higher-caliber film.
Granted, there are some select scenes, in particular those featuring Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, that border on superb. But they are too rare to account for any greatness, let alone any comparison to the Dark Knight franchise.
There is nothing wrong with a fun--or even funny--superhero film to accompany a bucket of popcorn, but The Avengers takes itself too seriously. It simply isn't worth the price of admission ($13.50 for an adult ticket for the 3D version). By the way, if you're intent on seeing the film, by all means avoid 3D--there is little-to-no dazzle to warrant wearing the silly glasses.
The story is familiar: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) continues his family feud with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who is great in three other recent films: Midnight in Paris, Warhorse and the recently released The Deep Blue Sea).
If anything, The Avengers feels like a Thor sequel with some high-priced guest stars. Too bad. Thor and Loki are simply two snarling, wavy-haired Vikings who aren't compelling. It's only when Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) or The Hulk (Ruffalo) crash the party that The Avengers comes anywhere near interesting.
And then there's Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, chewing every bit of high-priced scenery imaginable. Mr. Jackson, you clearly could have used some snakes on your plane. In fact, the only mystery worth solving in The Avengers is how Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow fit into her costume.
Fans of the genre have high praise for Whedon and with good reason. Time Magazine recently bowed to the creator of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, Firefly and Dollhouse.
"More than anybody else--more than J.J. Abrams, more than Steven Spielberg, more than Peter Jackson--Whedon is the voice of the fan in Hollywood." High praise indeed. That's why I can't recommend Whedon's film. It simply isn't worth the box office admission. And I'll be damned if I'm going to pay that much when the best part of the movie is the trailer for another film.