I called my friends to make plans. I picked the theatre with the good screen. I ordered my tickets on-line. I showed up early. I waited in line. I found a half dozen seats. I put on my 3-D glasses, and I settled in for the movie event of the summer. I sat through two hours and 22 minutes of The Avengers.

And when it was over, I wanted my $15 back.

As promised, the movie was star-studded, with a complex plot, intense action scenes, and a helping of trademark Joss Whedon snark.

What it wasn’t: good.

No, I’m not a cinesnob, or I wasn’t last night. I’m not comparing The Avengers to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly or even No Country for Old Men. I’m comparing it to my favourite summer popcorn movies: Iron Man. The Dark Knight. X-Men. Star Trek.

And even by those modest watch/laugh/cheer/forget standards, The Avengers was a major disappointment. I was expecting it to be better than this commercial. I was wrong. (NOTE: This review is largely spoiler free except for very broad references to major story arcs and a few minor vignettes.)

Sure, there were a few bright spots. Mark Ruffalo was far less annoying than Edward Norton as the Hulk’s alter ego Bruce Banner. Robert Downey Jr. got off a few good one liners and Samuel L. Jackson was, well, Samuel L. Jackson. (Although I kept waiting for him to whip out his iPhone and order a few more organic ingredients for his date night risotto.) And there were inside baseball cameos from the likes of Powers Boothe of Deadwood fame, and the always awesome Harry Dean Stanton.

So why, on earth did Whedon the Director make all of these characters fight the same? The coolest thing about The Avengers premise is that these are characters with wildly different backgrounds and thus wildly different strengths and weaknesses.

The Hulk is an unstoppable, id-powered force of nature.

Iron Man is a fighter jet, in size 42 long.

Thor is a god, kinda.

Captain America is walking, talking argument in favor of performance-enhancing drugs.

Black Widow is all about the fine art of persuasion.

And that other guy shoots arrows.

But in The Avengers, they all fight the same way. They hurl themselves generically around midtown Manhattan, killing an army of generic bad guys who look like they were chromed at Orange County Choppers. Watch the trailer below and you’ll see them all defying gravity in the same generic Spiderman-meets-the-Ewoks kind of way.  In the movie it’s longer and louder.

But a movie like this needs to be two things: Fun. And exciting. The Avengers was neither.

And it was pretty much doomed from the start. By cramming this many stars into the movie–the whole point, I know–the movie lost its chance to develop characters along with the story line. At the very beginning, there’s a promising scene between Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, but that’s pretty much it.

As for Loki, the movie’s super villain, he reminded me of nothing so much as Mitt Romney. He’s an entitled dullard with exotic hair, bent not so much on world domination, as returning things to a 19th century status quo where the downtrodden know and accept their places. His main skill? Getting natural allies to bicker and fight amongst themselves. I kept waiting for Karl Rove to make an appearance for a strategic tete a tete.

Which leaves the action. Quentin Tarantino is right. Directing action is a vastly underrated skill. When Martin Scorsese plots out a long dolly shot, following characters as they walk and talk, the critics oohh and aahh and call him a genius. But once those characters start throwing punches, it’s not art anymore, it’s reduced to mere craft. The Avengers shows just how hard it is to direct action, by showing the very smart and capable Joss Whedon fail at it.

Even in a movie this jam-packed, Whedon the writer was able to assign each character certain verbal quirks. Black Widow had an entirely different vernacular than Captain America or Bruce Banner.

Even a B-list superhero film like The Fantastic Four got this right. But Whedon blew it.

And I lay it off on Whedon’s lack of directorial chops, rather than a failure of vision. Whedon, as you remember, is the auteur behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The appeal of that character lives in the contrast between Buffy’s very real and specific strength and her equally real vulnerabilities. That’s what we loved about Buffy, and that’s why we were afraid for her whenever she’d approach the Hell Mouth.

With The Avengers, Whedon was too busy figuring out the special effects to remind us what these super heroes could and couldn’t do. And by extension why we should be afraid for them. Or, in the spirit of any good caper flick, root for one of our heroes to swoop in and rescue another. By the end, the only thing I was rooting for was for the battle to move downtown so The Hulk could hurl himself off the Forbes building in all his green glory.

Of course, none of this matters. You’ll go see The Avengers for the same reasons I saw it. Which is that everyone is seeing it. (My Facebook friend Matt Zoller Seitz of New York Magazine likened the hype to a cross between a winning lottery ticket and the Second Coming.) The Avengers will make roughly $147 zillion dollars in its opening weekend, rake in a few hundred zillion more overseas, and three summers from now we’ll get the gang together again for The Avengers II: The Return of the Big Green Pile of Money.

And we’ll all fork over $17 to see it and again leave the theatre vaguely disappointed.

© Forbes

The Avengers made a premiere in the US on May 4, 2012 and has so far grossed over $400m.

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