Average Joe is yet another movie about superheroes. While some are quick to call superhero fiction as capeshit, I find pleasures hidden in the muck. What Average Joe does isn’t reinventing the wheel, so much as takes another stab at that which we’ve seen before. While I didn’t love what I saw, I’m not here to bemoan the effort. It’s so hard to get a movie made that no one should attack cinema for the sake of attacking it.
Writer/director Mark Cantu supposedly started work on Average Joe back in 2013. Given the nature of the superheroics I buy that claim. Everything about the film feels like it’s landing almost a decade late. There is some fun to be had with an unemployed loser lying his way into a superhero team. But, what in the Wonderful World of Disney is to be done when Joe becomes a superhero?
Faster than you can say Bob Crane’s home movies, Joe gains some electromagnetic powers and starts doing some damage. Lord Menace attacks our heroes, while sporting an accent that feels like an audition to be an Imperial officer. It’s kitschy and I dig that, but it’s one more layer of content laid into a film that doesn’t seem to be thinking out a lot of what it wants to do.
While watching Average Joe, I think to something like The Specials that arrived in 1999/2000. It tackled superheroes, made jokes and showed how the average person would respond to this world. But, it did it at a time when Blade was still relevant and internet movie nerds weren’t skeeved out by Bryan Singer. Does that mean Average Joe’s only fault is coming to the party late?
Kinda. The good graces shown to superhero cinema even now doesn’t get extended to other popular fictions. While any action, horror or comedy can be picked apart to the finest notes, nothing is said of men in tights doing daring feats. So if so much good grace is given to superhero films, then why can I not make myself say that Average Joe was good?
Superheroes are mythic figures that require a fine line walked between silly, pedestrian and perfect. Many adults will still find themselves too far removed to even care about this stuff. But, that’s on those that wish to wear the unearned badge of maturity. What hurts Average Joe is that its ambitions don’t match its output.
The setup is overdone, the lead isn’t that interesting and the budget appropriate effects don’t really inspire. If you can’t win on spectacle, then you had better have dialogue to back it up. Days later, I can’t tell you one memorable line from the film. I tried and took notes. Nothing stuck.
The special effects in Average Joe are pretty rough. But, that’s what happens when you shoot above your film grade. While directors such as Raimi, Gunn and others have made big spectacle on the cheap, they knew what to cut. So much of Average Joe feels like a demo reel to show what could be done by this crew and it didn’t need a direct release.
Why make something that tries desperately to look and feel like everything else out there? If you don’t have the budget to compete, find ways around. I don’t care if it’s a sock with googly eyes on it. Peter Jackson made a still funny murder mystery movie about puppets. Anything is possible if you try hard not to be what everyone else is doing.
What hurts Average Joe for me is that I can tell it wanted to be funny. Either I had my funny bone surgically removed or the jokes landed like an airliner into the Indian Ocean. That might be a personal problem, but I feel a rant coming on.
Average Joe or Why No One Outside of Bob Iger should give a damn about the MCU
I love comic books. Everything about their history and their influence on American entertainment. But, I don’t think I’m going to make the film that redefines how you experience them. It’s just that if I was going to make one, I’d shoot it as low to the floor and close to budget as possible. Why’s that? Well, because you control the world that you create.
Average Joe is a noble effort at telling a big, familiar story. That’s not a crime. However, it’s a wasted opportunity. You don’t get the audience’s attention by force-feeding them their 100th serving of the same thing. However, you also don’t win over the average person by forcing them on a new take of an old familiar.
How do you win? Well, you pull off the impossible by not the playing the game. Just because you have superheroes, that doesn’t mean you have to do the basic Postmodern Joseph Campbell horseshit. Even George Lucas has moved past that stuff. The world of heroes offers up so many story ideas that you can take any approach.
What about a super hero serial killer? What about a legal drama about a small town lawyer holding heroes accountable for damaging their community? There is even more than that. You could do a superhero fertility drama about making a robot and an alien try to conceive. There’s even my favorite idea.
Someone should make a movie about a Superman figure that has a religious awakening. If an actual super powered person thinks their existence is an affront to their chosen God, then what happens when they try to purge the world of idolizing him/her?
All of that offers up more than what I got to see in Average Joe. That’s not a fault of the filmmakers, but it’s indicative of the traps that we get caught in when trying to keep up with the Joneses. Hopefully, the creative team gets a second chance to bite that apple.