And once again, I’m glad I live in New Mexico, because we have a complete dearth of crap worth blowing up. Granted, there was the minor dust up in a too-Anglo-to-be-New Mexico town in the movie Thor, but that was just a few buildings. Hell, that alien robot didn’t even bother to mutilate the local livestock. (Even the aliens in Cowboys & Aliens knew that the genre requires the immolation of a few hapless bovines.)
Mostly, though, aliens land in New Mexico, but faced with the absence of tall crash-y buildings, quickly move on, probably afraid we’ll set up another cheesy alien museum, a la Roswell. Because that’s just embarrassing.
If the alien version of urban renewal is too violent for you, then New York city should be low on your list of places to settle. As exemplified by The Avengers, where yet another group of folks who aren’t from around these parts, revel in taking the city apart, one steel I-beam at a time, with loads of tinkling, smashed glass in between.
The villain du jour is Thor’s Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who having fallen off the Bifrost and into the nastiest corners of the universe, returns with his brother/father issues magnified tenfold. And a great new set of armour. And that smile. Yeah, I don’t know why he bothered with the expense of importing extraterrestrials. For a few empty promises, he could have amassed a huge, slavish army of fan girls.
Naturally, there’s a McGuffin, the Tesseract, an ice-blue, glowy box that functions as the One Ring, thing of ultimate power, etc. SHIELD, the super secret military lawn-enforcement agency, has been researching the Tesseract, thinking it represents a solution to the energy crises. (Good luck with that one boys. Big Oil will never let that happen.) First things first, Loki has to steal the Tesseract from SHIELD’s not-that-secure facility, fleeing in a pickup truck. Okay, so Loki riding in the back of a truck was one of the more unintentionally funny moments in the film. Mostly because the position of weapon-wielding loony in the back of a truck is most often filled by terrorists or rednecks, not Norse gods. I half expected him to use his glow stick of destiny to pop a few deer as they grazed by the side of the road, adding poaching to his list of crimes. With a little “Yee-haw” whoop after Bambi fell dead.
Loki then uses the Tesseract to craft a device that will rip open the firmaments and let an invasive alien species (and that species’s pets, huge, flying dragon whales) into New York’s ecosystem. Infrastructure will break–noisily.
To counter the invading horde, SHIELD Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has to corral the egos of several superheroes, a task on par with herding cats, but in the end, with the liberal application of a little guilt, The Avengers come through, days and nights are saved, hope is restored. No spoiler there; this isn’t a tragedy. (Unless you’re one of the untold innocent bystanders, killed by the rain of debris, but nobody cares about you. Superhero movies are for the beautiful people; your job is to be the screaming rabble.) Anyone expecting complicated plots or great revelations will be disappointed. From a writerly standpoint, I can see why the film does this: when you’ve got a shitload of superheroes, and limited cinematic time, if the plot gets too twisty, it’s likely to tie itself in incomprehensible knots.
With director/writer Joss Whedon at the helm, it’s no surprise that the dialogue is heavy with clever one liners. Not surprisingly, the majority given to The Avenger’s master of snark, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).
My personal fave happens during Stark and Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) clash in the verdant woods where Stark’s “Shakespeare in the park” comment is followed by a snide observation on Thor’s wardrobe, “Dost thou mother know you weareth her drapes?” which I take as Whedon’s personal shout-out to me. Yeah. What-ever. I can have my fantasies.
This time around I even liked Captain America (Chris Evans) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Coulson’s fan boy crush on Cap being particularly adorable, providing the movie’s only poignancy.
The only notable weak spot comes courtesy of the Hulk/David Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who, coincidentally, provides a lot of memorable moments as well. Ruffalo’s understated performance goes far in conveying a man who struggles with inner demon that would much rather be outer. But it’s “the other guy” who steals the show.
For example, right after teaming up to kick some alien ass, the Hulk and a fellow Avenger pause to smirk at the defeated enemy. And then, without hesitation, the Hulk sucker punches the other Avenger. Kapow! It’s a beautiful thing.
The problem is that the Hulk, when he first appears in all his wrathful, green glory, is an out-of-control rage monster who attacks a fellow Avenger with no provocation and goes on to throw a destructive temper tantrum at the most inconvenient time. Several scenes later, however, when he next appears, he’s a relatively cogent ally, easily distinguishing friend from foe. Even when delivering the previously mentioned punch, he seems well aware of what he’s doing.
The transition is, jarring, to say the least. One might think there are cut scenes where Banner retreats to his cabin in the woods–The Incredible Hulk (2008) — and does some serious meditation and anger management. Either that or a truckload of Xanax. Or a forest of pot.
It’s hardly a deal breaker in an otherwise entertaining movie. Instead, the kind of thing that’ll make my eye twitch every time I watch The Avengers on DVD. Over and over again.