Jeff Meyers: So, at the risk of sounding like a joyless film critic, I have to say that as entertaining as The Avengers is — and it is a damn good time — it's not a particularly good film. As spectacle it's big, stupid fun. Visually it's impressive. For comic geeks it's a wet dream come true. But dramatically it's inert. No one ever seems at any real risk, the plot is complicated but forgettable, the conflicts are highly formulaic, and the ending is a foregone conclusion. Whedon tries to bring in some tragedy with the death of a minor supporting character, but it's not really enough to compensate for what is, essentially, a cinematic rollercoaster ride. Of course, it'll make a bazillion dollars.
Corey Hall: You are a party pooper, Mr. Meyers. Getting mad at a movie like this for being fun is like being shocked at the calorie count of a Doritos Taco Supreme. It is big and silly, and soap operatic, but then they've been essentially rehashing the same plot beats for decades, or centuries, in the comics. Good battles evil, and in the merry Marvel manner, the good fight one another first, until everything blows up real good in the grand finale.
Meyers: What is this? Fox News? I'm not mad. But I am a critic first and a fanboy ... well, I'm not a fanboy. There's no doubt it's a fun movie, but from a storytelling perspective I'd place it somewhere below Iron Man but above Iron Man 2. I also don't think it's the best use of Joss Whedon's talents. He does a great job of roping in the sprawling, ridiculous narrative, and there's plenty of his jokey trademark flourishes (The Hulk's response to Loki was brilliant) but I would hate to see him become just another summer blockbuster director. I think his work is far more interesting when he subverts genre conventions and focuses on human relationships. His snarky one-liners are always welcome, but it's his ability to inject unexpected humanity into a story that sets him apart from other quipsters. Projects like The Avengers are too claustrophobic for the kind of storytelling and character development he excels at.
Hall: I think Whedon was just the right man for the job. As a geek, he was pre-sold on the character's origins and motivations, and didn't feel the need to reinvent formulas that have worked forever. He does have the wit and the dexterity to keep all the parts in motion, and the script has all the genuine laughs and Spielbergian jump-out-of-your-seat action moments missing from so many blockbusters.
Meyers: I might set the bar too high, my friend. But I think you set the bar too low. Do we really need to see literal film adaptations of comic books? Are we that unimaginative? I think there's more than enough room to play with the formula and evolve the genre. Actually, given the avalanche of superhero flicks being made, I'd say it's imperative to push the boundaries and try something different. It's why I am eager to see The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan has reinvented the genre into something that's both exciting and artistically relevant. He is a filmmaker first, feeling little need to adhere to the biblical teachings of the comic book universe.
Hall: I'm not as devout as I used to be, but I think that this film and the solo flicks that fed directly into it, were all the better for their devotion to the spirit of source material. Too often in the past, comic book movies have been ruined by numbskull studio heads and directors who wanted to put their own stamp on the characters, or thought superheroes were too stupid to work on screen. For every Nolan or Donner you've got five Joel Schumachers, which led to nipples on the bat suit and other camp horrors. These characters have endured and supported corporate empires for decades, so there must be something to them, and seeing them done right is the first step to improving a genre that isn't going away anytime soon. That said, I'd have rather seen established alien baddies like the Kree, rather than the cookie-cutter ghouls that we got, but damn that stinger after the credits is going to blow some minds! At least for the faithful, which there should be a more of if we keep getting superhero movies as satisfying as this.
Jeff Meyers and Corey Hall write about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.