THE AVENGERS


The Avengers is a very entertaining movie and gets the adrenaline going, which isn’t quite the same thing as saying it’s totally successful or rises that far above what it is.  Written by Joss Whedon and Zak Penn and directed by Whedon, it’s an oddly schizoid movie.  On one side are wonderfully witty lines with often hysterically snarky dialog while on the other side are serious, earnest and highly dramatic tete a tetes that fall flat on their face.  On one side are the vibrant actors and Oscar nominees (Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Renner) and on the other are film personalities with pretty faces (Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Chris Evans)–and no matter how equal the writers may try to make the various superheroes when it comes to their powers, Evans will never be able to Eve Harrington Downey when it comes to Stanislavksy.  (For those keeping score, Scarlett Johansson falls somewhere in the middle, which in many ways reflects her role in the movie, a character trying to bridge the gap between all the antagonistic good guys.)  And finally on one side you have large scale action sequences filled with massive set pieces of uninhibited, glorious destruction (Manhattan now seems to be the new Tokyo, destined to be destroyed on a regular basis due to the specter of 9/11 in the way Japan is haunted by the atomic bomb) and on the other side is very little death (see Battle for LA in contrast—for The Avengers the studio apparently wanted to challenge the audience, but in a very non-challenging way).  As was noted, Whedon and Penn have a way with a snarky line (the best written scene is when all the heroes are in one room and due to the influence of Loki, get under each other’s skins saying all the mean things everyone in the audience is thinking).  But when it comes to heavy scenes, the authors can do little but immediately make fun of them once they’re over (Whedon had the same issue in Cabin in the Woods—the unbearable scenes of overage teenagers in distress were only made palatable, if that, by the more comic scenes of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford).  These more serious sequences might have had a better chance if all the actors were of equal caliber (there’s actually a very nice one between Ruffalo and Downey that suggests this); but this was ultimately a battle, unlike the one against Loki, the superheroes simply could not win (for an example, take the scene between Thor and Loki that Iron Man aptly described as Shakespeare in the Park).  The whole thing culminates with a knock down, drag out for the Big Apple when some aliens resembling the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz make their way through some sort of space time continuum and unleash their blitzkrieg upon an unsuspecting metropolis.  The battle itself is not exactly boring, but it also isn’t that imaginative and all in all, pretty derivative (again, it’s the snarky wit and two hysterically funny bits by the Hulk that really made this work as well as it does).  The special effects are, of course, first rate, though none may quite equal the SFX of Gwyneth Paltrow in Daisy Dukes (though one does shudder at the idea of this fashion style making a comeback since very few people can get away with short shorts—I know, I’ve tried).  The ending is resolved through a deux ex machina provided by Stellan Skarsgard (let’s face it, the plot is a bit clunky—c’mon, be honest with yourselves and give the devil his due) as well as an inconsistency with how much control Bruce Banner has over his green (ho, ho, ho) alter ego (apparently, it corresponds to the needs of the script at any given time).  But in the end, The Avengers is a perfectly fine time waster.  It’s no Iron Man or The Dark Knight, but, hey, it could have been worse.  It’s also no Spiderman III, Superman or Fantastic Four.
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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS


The Cabin in the Woods is director/writer (along with co-writer Drew Goddard) Josh Whedon’s attempt at making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and he succeeds two thirds of the time.  It was like Whedon was saying, “you want another ridiculous movie about some boring kids portrayed by actors way too old to play them who get stranded in the woods and preyed upon by some evil force, I’ll give you another ridiculous movie about some boring kids portrayed by actors way too old to play them who get stranded in the woods and preyed upon by some evil force, and make you sorry you asked for it, too”.  And this section of the movie is, indeed, its least successful part, almost excruciatingly so; it is at times mind-numbingly painful to watch the stereotypes portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connelly, Anna Hutchinson, Jesse Williams and Fran Kranz (especially Mssr. Kranz) go through their clichéd ridden acrobatics (where is a brain tumor when you need one).  However, below this cabin in the, well, you know where, sit Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, two mid-level bureaucrats (and stand ins for Whedon and Goddard), who are doing something nefarious.   These parts are filled with darkly comic repartee and clever satiric plot turns, all spoken or acted out with tongue planted firmly in cheek   And whenever the film digs below the surface (both literally and metaphorically), then the movie is highly (highly) entertaining, especially in the preposterously over the top second half where ALL is revealed (along with the appearance of an extra special guest star—those who’ve seen the movie know exactly who I’m talking about).  The authors also do something clever here; in spite of how horrible the bureaucrats are, how soulless they act, how much they resemble DMV workers, I did slowly realize that they were right and I had to cheer for the over the hill teenagers to fail and die, even I didn’t quite understand why, yet.   Does it work?  Not quite.  It doesn’t fully rise above its genre (and its attempts to explore the idea of myth may seem to get pretentious—though how could it not).  And I was hoping for a different ending that riffs off the aspect of virginity.  But, as I said, it was highly (highly) entertaining.