what a difference 39 years makes
by request: the parallax view (alan j. pakula, 1974)

what i watched last week

I’m a day late with this, because we were away on our anniversary weekend, and I don’t have much to talk about, anyway, because I was grading papers. But here goes …

The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012). There are bigger Joss fans in the world than me. But the only reason I wanted to see The Avengers was because of Whedon’s involvement. Of the many films that led up to The Avengers, I saw only one (the first Iron Man), and comic-book adaptations are not my favorite kind of movie. I like the occasional Batman (Batman Returns, The Dark Knight) and … well, I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but I tend to avoid them, and when I see them, I’m not exactly overwhelmed (I saw all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies only because of his involvement, and didn’t think any of them came close to being as good as Drag Me to Hell, much less Evil Dead II).

So, Joss Whedon. I loved Buffy. But his subsequent TV series strike me as a mixed bag. I never did watch Angel. I caught up with Firefly after the fact. And while I thought Dollhouse was the best of the post-Buffy shows, it took almost an entire season of its short two-season run before it got any good. Like I say, there are bigger Joss fans than me. Having said that, I thought Serenity was very good, as was the recent Cabin in the Woods.

The Avengers? It’s better than those Spider-Man movies, but I don’t think it’s better than Serenity. It has its Joss touches … for one thing, while in most mammoth CGI extravaganzas, you sit in boredom through the character “development” and lame dialogue so you can get back to the good stuff, in The Avengers, while the action was good, I found myself wanting to get back to the scenes with dialogue. It was in the quieter scenes with the various superheroes interacting that I got my Joss fix. But there weren’t nearly enough of them, because there was always another big action scene on the horizon. For this, I join those who wonder if big-budget movies are the right venue for Whedon’s gifts. (The enormous box office performance suggests he’s doing just fine, of course.) I say this, even though I think he did well with the action: I always knew what was going on (sadly, this isn’t always the case in today’s action movies), and I especially liked the way the long final battle for New York linked the various characters in their various melees, rather like the way Richard Linklater connected characters in Slacker.

As for the acting, Mark Ruffalo had some nice scenes as Bruce Banner, but his character was pretty much the only one allowed to be recognizably human. Scarlett Johansson remains a remarkable piece of eye candy, and when properly cast as she is here, her deadpan style works well. Robert Downey, Jr. steals every scene he’s in, because that’s what Robert Downey, Jr. does. And it was nice to see Jenny Agutter, who I pined for back when she (and I) were younger than Scarlett is now. (Plus a welcome nod to Dollhouse with the cameo by Enver Gjokaj.)

Conclusion? The Avengers is good enough. It doesn’t insult its audience, it’s coherent (if also unbelievable, but this is a fantasy world we’re talking about), and it has moments of actual, honest-to-goodness humanity. Compared to a standard Michael Bay movie, The Avengers gets an 11 out of 10 (make that 12 … no, 13). In the real world, 7/10.

Semi-Pro (Kent Alterman, 2008). 6/10.

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