The big movie story of last week, as fans of The Avengers (apparently every person on the planet, based on how hard it was to get a ticket for 11am on a Sunday) will already know, was Samuel L Jackson’s vitriolic response to AO Scott’s ambivalent review of the movie. It’s not surprising that Scott’s review wasn’t glowing – he’s as good as openly admitted to having little tolerance for Supers – but Jackson’s response seemed out of proportion, and, perhaps, in its mild air of entitlement, a depressing exclamation point on the seeming irrelevance with these movies, not of critics and criticism, exactly, so much as the very idea of ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Is The Avengers a ‘good’ movie? Is it even a ‘movie’ in the traditional sense at all? It is certainly a supreme summer blockbuster treat, bigger and louder and explodier, filled with more superheroes and alien invaders, than any of its constituent franchises, and for the throngs that have been going to see it record-breaking numbers, that is, it seems, exactly what’s looked for. It’s silly and easy on the eyes, with moments of genuine levity and a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards its material that enlivens and subverts its formula even as it hews strictly to it, right down to the capital-O Ominous post-credits sequence. By the end, against all odds, there’s even a genuine sense that our heroes have overcome something and grown as individuals, despite the fact that when their failings were put on display in the first place they seemed suspiciously manufactured.
The fact is, though, that The Avengers, even more so than most movies of this genre, is not made for people who love movies, or even for people who love stories. Its realm is not that of art so much as that of pageant, a parade of glossy, brightly-colored costumed heroes whose purpose is more to share the screen together than it is to thwart its pallid villain’s plans for world domination. Comprehending the film requires having plowed through all, or least most of, the attendant lead-ins, and to have carried over your sympathy for the characters from those as well, since the narrative mumbo-jumbo (Loki, from Thor, is trying to take over the world by finding the energy cube that figured in Captain America and somehow opening up a magical portal, I think?) begins in the first thirty seconds of the movie and only takes breaks for things like flying aircraft carriers and the destruction of midtown Manhattan.
All of may be a bit more harshly-worded than Avengers deserves; it’s an unrivaled spectacle, and, hell, I enjoyed it some by the end. But let’s call a spade a spade: pop culture phenomenon it may be, but you can’t call this a movie so much as ‘filmed entertainment.’ And, with the way it’s raking in the cash, it’s a guarantee that that’s what we’re going to keep getting for the next decade.