“The Avengers” should please just about everyone looking to see a group of Marvel characters battling it out with aliens and each other. As for everyone else, it should at least amuse them, too. And it’s the film’s accessibility that becomes a hindrance, as pleasing just about everyone inevitably means thrilling no one. The characters that audiences care about are all here, and they take turns performing in greatest hits fashion, though rarely are we supplied with a reminder of why we liked them in the first place.
Of course, some will consider this a rousing creative success as long as it’s well lit and the characters names are pronounced correctly. Director Joss Whedon, geek darling and actual comic book writer, handles the material with predictable respect. Perhaps too much respect, so much that none of the characters pop as they should. Their fates are never in question, their dilemmas never rise above a muted sense of general danger. The bad guys must be stopped, yes, but is there anything else to it? Even Thor (Chris Hemsworth), whose brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is the primary villain, seems a bit nonchalant about the whole thing.
The Avengers assemble to battle Loki as he plots his conquest of earth, similar to how the film’s components themselves feel snapped together like machined parts. The film rolls the team members out one at a time, lingering a bit more on those without their own franchises, for a slow but functional first act. Once everyone’s together, the plot mercifully ratchets up, with the action scenes coming both lengthily and plentifully.
Whedon handles the louder moments with workmanlike competency, though they suffer from an uncharacteristic lack of imagination. The stronger team members hit one another with lightning, lasers, or their fists, causing them to fly backwards into trees, buildings, and other hard surfaces. Despite this, no one ever appears too hurt by the effort, or even in danger of suffering a serious injury. The weaker team members (i.e. regular humans) trade martial arts strikes and generally avoid the aforementioned more powerful beings, leading me to wonder how long even a talented soldier or spy could battle with the gods and expect to survive unscathed. But regular humans get off easy here, as an alien assault on Manhattan with dozens of warships seems to produce no human casualties whatsoever.
This film’s status as the “Nashville” of major superhero films results in a packed 143-minute runtime, with a roughly even amount of attention afforded to each hero. Nice in theory, though this might have been a mistake. Putting the viewer in the mind of single hero, such as a leader like Captain America (Chris Evans) or a mere mortal like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), could have lent this story the urgency and vulnerability it lacks.
“The Avengers” is cinematic art in the same way that fast food is cooking; even a great example of such a thing is put together with stock ingredients, prepared with skill but not passion, designed to be satiating but forgettable. It’s almost hard to complain about something that does succeed at delivering the goods, but after five years and five films worth of anticipation and development, shouldn’t this be at least as exciting as the trailer for “The Dark Knight Rises”?