Are Action Movies Dazzling Us Stupid?

AvengersJust like everyone else, when I first watched The Avengers, I was awed. As I digested the experience, however, I realized how appallingly flawed the story was. Can a film that is visually impressive enough dance over the hard parts of story?

Alright, it’s not just being visually impressive. If it were, then the Transformers movies (I’m thinking particularly of the second one) wouldn’t be so sucktacular. No. Filmmakers also need clever quips. This feeds an inexplicable urge of young people to repeat the witty remarks of movie characters ad infinitum. (Confession: I’ve always longed for an excuse to say, “I’m your Huckleberry,” as per Doc Holliday’s words to Johnny Ringo in Tombstone.) It’s not just that the Hulk bashes a marble floor to dust using Loki’s lanky frame, but that he delivers that witty, two-word rejoinder. Together the CGI and the quip seal the scene in one’s mind.

[Spoilers ahead] If one looks up deus ex machina in the dictionary, one learns that it means: “someone or something that solves a situation that seemed impossible to solve in a sudden and unlikely way, especially in a book, play, movie, etc.” If one’s dictionary is online, one would then probably be treated to a video clip of the scene in which Professor Selvig is knocked on the head, becomes unenslaved, and consciously realizes that his subconscious built a backdoor that will allow him to shut down the portal that were previously told can’t be shut. The clip could then continue through the end of the movie (minus the post-credit shawarma scene.)  The following are key incidents of deus ex machina in this film:

-a bump on the noggin releases one from the mind-control of a god (A “puny god,” indeed.)
-a conscious mind (in a waking and non-meditative state) knows in great detail what happened in the subconscious
-an attack on the mothership disables all troops on the ground, Independence Day style (worst command and control ever.)

One may be thinking that I’m just one of those douches who picks nits, but I’m really not. These flaws are fundamental to how the story is resolved. They are cheats that make everything that happened leading up to the climax irrelevant. Think about it; if the Professor had gotten knocked on the head 20 minutes earlier, the massive Avengers battle through Manhattan would never have been necessary. They could have called the movie “Professor Selvig’s Magical Mind” and left the Avengers out of it all together.

I’m willing to sustain disbelief about the small things. There are plenty of critics who get into the minutiae of continuity gaffes and the like. A couple of my favorites are below.

Lest one think that I’m picking on The Avengers, that’s only because it’s the third highest grossing film ever and first in the superhero genre. If you’re spending hundreds of millions on a film, you’d think you could throw some chump change into good story-building.  I realize that filmmakers have a jaded audience to contend with, and that they have to ramp up the peril to impossible heights to impress. Maybe they are forced to then throw away the resolution of story. Those who read my recent review of The Wolverine, will know that my criticism isn’t restricted to The Avengers.

Well, I’ve got nits to pick.