The Avengers
Walt Disney Studios Photo

Samuel L. Jackson, star of so many movies he's borderline ubiquitous in American cinema, had a little incident last week. Nothing terribly serious, mind you, but he was so aggravated by New York Times critic A.O. Scott's review of "The Avengers" that he took to Twitter to blast the critic. One Tweeter advised Jackson that just because a movie makes a lot of money doesn't mean that it's good. "Actually, sometimes IT DOES!" Jackson Tweeted back.

Jackson has a point, though it doesn't apply to "The Avengers." It's hard to deny that, marketing aside, some films ascend box office charts with quality. Think "Napoleon Dynamite" or "Paranormal Activity," small films that blew up by great word of mouth.

"The Avengers," which now has the highest-grossing opening weekend ever, would have grossed half a billion dollars even if it were the worst film ever made. The characters are plastered across millions of magazines, toys, posters, soft drinks, women's health products and any other conceivable item. The combined might of Disney, Paramount, Marvel and other corporations have primed "The Avengers" to make a thousand fortunes.

And so it has, but that's part of the problem. "The Avengers" is perfectly fine, to the point of eeriness. It's an amusing summer blockbuster, but there's something missing --- soul.

The film features an impressive cast portraying heroes who must save the fleet from an evil god and a fleet of alien warships. The world's coming to an end unless they can stop it, and rest assured they do, but somehow the stakes seem low. The actors look concerned, discuss ways to defeat evil (smash it or shoot it) and perform heroically. But they lack urgency. They're saving the Earth, but with the exception of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), none of them have much to lose. This is a miserly bunch of supermen if I ever saw one.

I fear this film justifies doomsayers who claim that special effects have trumped storytelling in cinema. In most ways, "The Avengers" seems machine-made to appease every taste.

And it's here that Jackson misses the point. "The Avengers" is impervious to critics and, unfortunately, is resistant to analysis as art.


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