And so, in what seemed like an impossible dream to just about every comic book geek in the world, the first-ever major superhero crossover film finally opens in America today. There’s really no point in pretending that this won’t absolutely kill at the box office this weekend, it’s just a matter of how high it can soar at this point:
Were it not for a certain dark knight planning on rising in July, The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble for our UK readers) would almost indisputably be the Mainstream Movie Event of the Year. From a purely business standpoint, it’s hard not to admire the commercial willpower involved in making this happen. Remember how many times Justice League tried and failed to get off the ground? Imagine attempting that with an ensemble of second-tier superheroes without any proven success on the big screen before and, oh by the way, this project was to be the ultimate goal of a studio that had only started independently financing their films five years ago. Hell, the whole thing might have still gone kaput had Iron Man not surprised everyone with its $320 million take, which alone was enough to make The Avengers a reality, even with Thor, The Incredible Hulk and Captain America: The First Avenger not reaching that same level of success (Robert Downey, Jr. may arguably be the most important contributor to the realization of this project, actually). What made these films so fascinating – to an outsider like me, at least – was how they were so obviously conceived from the start not as stand-alone projects with the possibility of a sequel (like every other film franchise), but as mere pieces of what has now become the single most ambitious movie marketing campaign of all time. There is nothing even approaching a precedent for a movie being advertised by five feature-length studio tentpoles over four years, so it’s no surprise to see such fanboy excitement for this.*
If that isn’t enough, even casual moviegoers with no real investment in superheroes could be persuaded by the enthusiastic reviews greeting the film. Joey himself happily joined the chorus of those praising Joss Whedon’s clever dialogue, rich characterizations and spectacle. Add to that the $281 million earned in its first week in overseas markets, the feeding-frenzy on Fandango and one of the widest openings ever with over 4,300 locations, and you have a guaranteed box office smash. The real is question is: can it beat Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 to score the highest opening weekend ever? I believe it will at a little over the $170 million mark.
“But Robert, my grandparents are coming over this weekend and they’re not into big loud action films. Is there anything for them to enjoy?” Well, you’re in luck, imaginary and vaguely condescending hypothetical moviegoer! In limited release is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, featuring an all-star ensemble of talented British thesps like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson as retirees who stay at an unconventional retirement resort in India. And look, it even has that guy who gave a totally wooden performance in Slumdog Millionaire and was actually discussed as a possible Oscar nominee solely on the basis of that Best Picture juggernaut’s coattails! Reviews have been half-heartedly positive in their description of it as a charming but hardly monumental little romp at the movies, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that the team behind this film got caught in a time warp and still believe they’re in the mid-nineties when there was a sizable audience for this sort of thing.
Those looking for something more unpleasant can also finally catch the remake of Troma’s infamous Mother’s Day, about three criminal brothers and their evil mother who kidnap and torture the new owners of the house they lost in foreclosure. Finished in 2010, this film has been plagued with post-production woes and is only being released in a few select theaters before a DVD/Blu-Ray release next Tuesday. Can’t say I feel too bad for the lackluster performance of any film from that miserable hack Darren Lynn Bousman, though I must admit the idea of seeing Rebecca De Mornay give an unhinged psychotic performance in a trashy horror film is perversely enticing to me. Reviews have been predictably divided and usually boil down to, “If you’re into this sort of thing…” Actually, the single best reaction I’ve read of it so far is a tweet from one of my favorite film critics, “Extraordinary, in its [own] way: home-invasion psychothriller which empties fridge, toolbox, kitchen sink to inflict max trauma.” Make of that what you will.
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Which one of-oh, who am I kidding, let us know what you thought of The Avengers right here on The Awards Circuit!
* I suppose at this point I should address whether or not the level of zeitgeisty enthusiasm for The Avengers has convinced me to break my every-superhero-movie-except-TDKR moratorium to add this as an exception. To be honest, I haven’t really decided yet. The longer this self-imposed ban has gone on, the more I feel a bit irresponsible as a member of The Awards Circuit staff to willfully avoid the very films that have been a huge part of American pop cinema, and with such glowing reviews there’s a glimmer of hope in me that it might even match the quality of Iron Man, still the high-water mark of this whole series. On the other hand, even with all the reviews, the astonishing level of coordination, foresight and financial risk from Marvel Studios, the fact that I know everyone will be talking about it for weeks afterward…I’m still just not personally excited to see it. Does it not strike anyone else as a sign of serious oversaturation that the most ambitious superhero film of all time doesn’t at all feel like any kind of grand culmination or trend-setter but rather just another notch in Marvel’s merchandising belt on the way to Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2, Ant-Man, Deadpool and onward until the whole genre eventually flames out? Compare this to the anticipation being stoked by Warner Bros. for The Dark Knight Rises, which to me feels far more emotionally substantial as a Cinematic Event than obligatory like the vibes I get from this film’s hype-machine. Ah well, I still have time to mull it over. It’s not like it’s going away any time soon…