As The Avengers sequel prepares to shoot, a fan wonders if Joss Whedon’s brand of comedy wasn’t detrimental to the original.
I loved The Avengers. That Joss Whedon flick is a karate chop of geek right to the neck of pop culture. Dressed in nothing more than fancy spandex (and the occasional mech suit), this cheesy assembly of heroes had absolutely no right to succeed at the box office, but it not only smashed financial records, it earned a firm 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critical renown for the cheesiest Marvel Studios action flick? Pretty impressive, if you ask me.
Whedon, our very own fanboy saviour, dumbed down The Avengers with too many quips, too few true moments of gravitas
But even though The Avengers is awesome (for oh so many reasons), my petty fanboy mind is addled by a single complaint. Humor. Whedon’s Humor. Our very own fanboy saviour is guilty of over-indulging in his comedy schtick. Whedon dumbed down The Avengers with too many quips, too few true moments of gravitas. Every moment of near-sincerity was undermined by a cheesy joke that either compromised the intelligence of the characters or compromised the potency of the plot. For every grand moment, like Captain America’s near defeat at the hands of Loki in the film’s first act, a shamelessly goofy scene like Thor’s, “Put the hammer down?!?!?!” was thrown in.
I know. I know. The Avengers is a goofy idea. Four superheroes with far-fetched powers rescuing Earth from an otherworldly threat? Why can’t the US military stop the baddies? Why couldn’t SHIELD? I appreciate Whedon for everything he’s done – I’ll happily sacrifice my bourbon horde and my Silver Surfer #1 (fair condition) at the Altar of Our Grand Ginger Overlord as a sign of my adoration, but my complaints stick.
Marvel Studios established its universe with a unique recipe: one scoop of realism; one scoop of drama; and a heaping handful of comedy. Not a terrible list of ingredients, but certainly not ideal for my tastes. Without over-praising Christopher Nolan, I prefer his take on the superhero genre, which favoured sincerity and pathos. The Dark Knight Trilogy had a few brief moments of humour, especially between Bruce Wayne and his doting father figure Alfred, but nothing destroyed my suspension of disbelief. The Avengers did. I fall for superhero movies hook, line and sinker, but The Avengers’ sense of humour took me right out of the moment.
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I can forgive Tony Stark for his childish one liners, as that’s the very nature of the character both Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau established in the very first Iron Man movie. But must every vigilante sling quips throughout the flick? When Black Widow reveals Loki’s kill count, Thor mitigates his relationship with his half brother by humorously stating, “He’s adopted”. When Captain America, who Whedon drives as the most relatable character in The Avengers, receives a mission updated from Director Fury he childishly claims, “I understood that reference!”
The comedy’s an apology for the subject matter, and that’s a cop out – The Avengers had every right to attempt a grave story
I love humour in action films as much as the next guy – that’s what makes Lethal Weapon and Die Hard such endearing 80s fare, but even those flicks don’t shovel laughs into the scripts with the same fervour as a Whedon spectacle. It’s as if Whedon said: “I know this movie is weird. Superheroes. Weird, colourful suits. But take a spoonful of comedy to make it all go down better.” The comedy’s an apology for the subject matter, and that’s a cop out – The Avengers had every right to attempt a grave story.
Even though the assembly of such disperate heroes is goofy on paper, it’s no more outlandish than a bat-garbed ninja roaming the back alleys of Gotham, or a teenager swinging through downtown New York in a red and blue onesie. Hell, the X-Men are a far sillier concept than any Avengers arc, and yet those films are far more sincere than anything Marvel Studios has produced in their line. Let’s not forget, all of these films relish in their brief moments of humour. Like the decades of action films preceding them, comedy is neither foreign or undesirable. But it should never undermine the integrity of the characters and it should certainly never be injected as a tactic to mitigate the “goofiness” of the subject material.
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