May 15, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’ve come out from under that rock I’ve apparently been living under just in time to see The Avengers before it leaves cinemas or something like that.
I’ve decided it’s time to codify how my ratings actually work. I don’t believe in number systems because, on the whole, I think they leave a lot to be desired. What’s the meaningful difference between a 7 and an 8 (about two beers. Cha-ching!)? There isn’t much play there, and if I pump up the granularity to a scale of a hundred, what’s the meaningful difference between a 78 and a 79? Or, for that matter, between a 32 and a 45, if they both count as “failures”?
With that said, I’ll first try using letter grades. For those of you who aren’t from Canada (or Ontario), here’s how the system breaks down for me:
- F, which is a failure. Unmitigated crap with no redeeming features. Do not watch/play/read. It’s not worth it.
- D, which is worth a watch/play/read if you’ve got nothing better to do (and if you have dishes or laundry to do, then you definitely have something better to do than this).
- C, the very definition of meh. Not good, not bad: pablum. It will sustain you for now, but you’ll be hungry a few hours later. This is a Transformers level movie.
- B, which is the acceptable standard. Everything, if it’s done competently, should be at this level. To get a B you’re fulfilling one of two conditions: 1) you did everything right but nothing particularly spectacularly, or 2) you did some things very badly but compensated by doing some things very well.
- A, which is the best score I can give something. To get this, the thing has to be cash, swag, exceptional, or the bomb. Any one of those is acceptable but swag, however, is preferred.
With that said, what did I give The Avengers? You’ll have to wait until the end to find out. I will say that there’s going to be a few spoilers. While they’re mostly just minor jokes that get discussed, and I’ll avoid any plot details, I’ll still make sure you’ve been warned. Spoilers ahead!
First and foremost, although I’m going to consider the movie as a whole, this is mostly going to be a post about Joss Whedon, a man with whom I have a love-hate relationship of epic proportions.
The Avengers franchise has been built and invested in for so long that it almost doesn’t matter who would have been picked to helm the final movie. Note the emphasis on “almost”. The movies that preceded Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man(s), Thor, and The Hulk) were good enough in equal measure. They were pretty much all solid B’s that were fun enough, well made enough, and linked enough, that whoever was in charge of Avengers could have just copied the formula (introduce the heroes, they solve some problem, run into a problem, hit a low point and realize what they have to be/do/smash, and then become that person/do that thing/HULK SMASH) and it would have been good enough for most. The franchise seemed to big that it had a momentum of its own, and probably would have puttered to success no matter what happened.
And on a general note, you know exactly what you’re getting into here. The action pieces are good, the acting is good, the costumes are good, the dialogue is good, and they did an excellent job of portraying the Hulk (one of the more difficult characters to portray). Like I said, if you liked any of the movies that preceded the Avengers, then you’ll like it without reservations. That’s how I approached the film at first.
But then they put Joss in charge.
Now, let it be said that I’m mostly a fan of his. I adored Firefly and Serenity, I loved Buffy, and find his TV work, as a whole, wonderful. I’ve seen some of the movies that he’s written/directed, and for the most part he can make me laugh and get the job done. He, however, has a very different style from me and we don’t always see eye-to-eye over things that other people love. The good news (for me) about the Avengers, though, is that I now understand why that’s so.
Joss Whedon loves self-referential humour (in case you’d never seen anything of his before) and it works best when it’s subtle. There’s a joke with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, by the way, makes a wonderful Bruce Banner) where he is knocked out after a several-thousand foot fall and a janitor wakes him up. Knowing that it’s a running joke how the Hulk’s pants always seem to stay on when he transforms (and somehow always become purple), the janitor makes sure to point out that Banner was naked, is now naked, and gives him some spare clothes. Haha, Hulk’s pants ripped, everyone laughs, and we go back to watching the movie. It works.
Sometimes, though, Joss is a little too clever and a little too self-referential for me. This always reveals itself because he’s inordinately fond of pushing his jokes, in my opinion, too far. Time to spoil a different movie for you!
In Cabin in the Woods, there’s a point where a scary sounding redneck is talking on the phone to some people in an office building. He’s going off in a gravelly voice about “lambs being led to the slaughter” and “the foul shall be cleansed” while the office workers, who have put him on speaker phone, are laughing at him behind his back. Much like the Hulk pants joke, it works because we see what he’s doing, we chuckle, and then we expect him to get back to the movie. After all, it’s a movie. It should take itself fairly seriously, but here’s where Joss and I disagree.
I think you can make wonderful, silly, and funny things. I really do, but the thing itself must consider itself absolutely serious. That’s what makes Airplane! work. It is ridiculously silly, and above all completely aware of itself, but it is always completely serious about that silliness. Because there’s no “straight man”, everyone can be so happily ridiculous and no-one (but the audience) is the wiser. Joss would disagree, I think.
Cut back to Cabin in the Woods and the conference call. The redneck has been portrayed as this menacing, frightening killer of a man and that’s why the joke works so far. But all of a sudden he pauses and asks, in a completely different and whiny voice, whether he’s on speaker phone again, before going “Aww geez guys!” and hanging up in a huff.
That moment (although it got plenty of laughs out of the audience), is precisely where I disagree with Whedon. The character has changed, the emotional moment, the emotion we feel at that particular scene, is stretched to bursting, and, most importantly, we’re taken out of the movie, and all for a laugh. That moment is when the film was so busy making fun of itself that it tripped, fell, spilled its drink on itself, and we saw the film’s dirty underwear. We saw too much, and even though it got the impact it wanted to get, we forgot that we were inside a movie. In fairness, it’s better to be doing this because of a planned joke and not because the movie just sucked, but we were still laughing at the movie’s expense. Where we truly disagree is that I maintain that the movie/book/picture/joke should be sacrosanct.
I say that we should laugh at things in the movie, not at the movie. Joss disagrees, and that’s why I’ll prefer his TV to his movies. Movies have less leeway because of their length, and any slip-up is made a thousand times worse because we can’t watch another episode next week. TV can always repair itself because we’ll forget the details of individual episodes, or we can write off an episode without unduly hurting our opinion of the series. I have gleefully ignored plenty ofBSG season 4, and thus can maintain that the series itself is amazing.
I can’t do that with movies. I can’t write off a scene or two and say the rest, as a whole, does not suffer for it.
So here’s my verdict: This movie gets a solid B. It does a great job of being itself, and although it’s pretty standard comic-book movie fare, anything it does do “wrong” is strictly based on my opinion of “wrong”. Joss’ choices aren’t bad, but they certainly aren’t the ones that I would have made.
See, I would have had the janitor give Banner a pair of purple pants. Banner would then hold them up and say, “These the only ones you have?”, and then the janitor (who is either super-fat or super-short compared to Ruffalo) nods sagely and says “The only ones that would fit you.”
Now they should ask me to direct the next Batman movie. I’ve clearly proven myself to be just as good as Joss Whedon.
– John implores all audiences to stay until the very end of the credits when they watch this movie. Also, to eat as much shawarma as possible.