Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Love: The Avengers

I have not been sleeping well lately.  While this has nothing to do with the subject at hand, it should, at least, explain why it is the post time on this entry will probably clock in at about 2:30 in the AM.  Sometimes these bouts of insomnia come back.  Right now this means that I am wired.  I have played by turns on Words with Friends, I have Scrambled, Drawn Something, Tweeted, looked at Lookbook, read the introduction of A Common Pornography and somehow wound up taking a quiz to figure out which Avenger I would be even though I was pretty sure I already knew what it would tell me.  And then, you know, I got to thinking very exhausted, very trite, really quite insipid half-baked thoughts about how The Avengers is just that kind of movie.  It's a fan-maker, an allegiance-builder, a choose-your-favorite-character-and-revert-back-to-your-8-year-old-self-in-a -cape type of experience.  It has been custom built over the last five years; assembled (ha ha) with the full knowledge that eventually the pieces would need to come together in a way that didn't destroy a super-sized franchise.  It's the sequel to a sequel, a prequel to a new saga, a partial closure, and introduction, a dream team of egos and legends.  
By my every calculation up until just a couple weeks ago: The Avengers shouldn't have worked.  It was a product made of hype and so overloaded with intersecting stories and stars that I'd braced myself for a clusterfuck of catastrophic proportions. The problem with dream teams on film is almost always the same: too many characters = not enough screen time, a plot you couldn't follow with a flowchart, and a reduction of characterization to floppy, flaccid one-note quips.  We couldn't overlook the fact that The Avengers already had a couple of these relative clunkers under its utility belt already.  Exhibit A: Thor. Exhibit B: Iron Man 2.  Entertaining? Sure. Empty? Absolutely. In some ways, both of these films are necessary for a full appreciation of the main event, but their pratfalls could have easily been carried on if the studios behind the franchise had succumbed to the greedy, lazy knowledge that the movie was already a sure thing.  The Avengers made quick work out of the international box office, and if you're reading this it's likely only because you're as interested in comparing your opinion with my own.  You know that it succeeded. You know that it's likely one of the most entertaining films you'll see this summer.  And no, let's be real, Joss Whedon isn't the only one to thank for that.  Get over it.
The story picks up shortly after the conclusions of its primary sources to begin anew with a focus directed on the characters who have existed at the periphery of the previous films.  This is our chance to see inside S.H.I.E.L.D. before the entrance of our bickering titans, a moment spent with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the sulky, fairly useless Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).  In this issue, smirky, smarmy, greasy Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on Earth hellbent on taking over and enslaving society into revering him as the demi-god he is.  Though his appearance is laughable (and luckily: this is addressed), Loki possesses an understanding of the innerworkings of the mysterious Tesseract, an energy source capable of mass destruction (among other things).  Cut to: AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, heroes interact for the first time, power struggles, exposition, exposition, exposition, and battle sequence after battle sequence.

 Genetically, The Avengers is just like every other brightly colored comic book film.  The plot requires that these exceptional specimens save the rest of mankind, and we expect that they will succeed in their quest and send us on our merry way.  The Avengers is not Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight saga.  It has no real interest in true crime, gritty noir, or seeking out existential baggage in its wreckage.  It is merely here for your entertainment, and it is a vivid, shiny chrome piece of pop art.  What the film primarily succeeds in is an act of gratification: it gives us what we want as an audience and it gives it in the right doses.  Somewhere in Disney/Marvel headquarters there must be a secret algorithm determining exactly how much we want to see of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) vs. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) vs. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) vs. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), because the math is pretty dead-on.  Each of the characters gets their moment to shine, no one is useless, and the successful, really quite funny, quips have been dispersed fairly between the smart-mouthed titans. [Quick sidenote: Nick Fury's dialogue is totally the worst, guys. I'm convinced that next time Tarantino should be brought in to rewrite Sam Jackson's lines]
While the film certainly isn't perfect, and Whedon's much-praised pop-snark dialogue only really hits its mark 50% of the time, it is a massively entertaining nerdgasm that can be appreciated by superfans and casual observers alike.  The Avengers is a pure popcorn movie to be cherished for its absolute irreverence.  There's real humor to be found here, real action, and -at long last- a version of the Hulk I think everyone should be able to agree steals every scene he's in.  Ruffalo's take on the character finally gives him heart without shirking the undeniable entertainment value that comes  with super-smash powers.  Oh, and as for that quiz?  Why yes, apparently I am Iron Man.     


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  2. By my every calculation up until just a couple weeks ago: The Avengers shouldn't have worked.

    I'm with you here. In fact, I've only been actively looking forward to seeing this movie for the last few weeks and change because I just wanted to get it over with. Maybe I wouldn't characterize my anticipation as "dread", but I certainly wasn't looking forward to this until positive word of mouth started spreading and giving me hope that The Avengers had some juice.

    Boy does it ever. This film works like gangbusters. I can't put all of the credit on Whedon's lap-- until this year I have never worshiped at his altar-- but a lot of it should be accorded to him. Much of what works in the film has his fingerprints all over it; the group dynamics, for one, definitely benefit from his touch, because nobody gets group dynamics quite like he does (I say this, again, as someone who only really likes Firefly). The strong female characters and witty banter also bear his signature. Bringing Whedon on board might have been the single best choice Marvel made regarding this film.

    But a lot of credit should given to the studio for sticking the landing on this. Nobody's done something like The Avengers on film before, and now, everybody is going to try and copy the formula now that the movie has made a bajillion dollars in its first week. (Hell, I doubt it's a coincidence that Universal decided to green-light Kick-Ass 2 at the same time The Avengers blew up the box office.) This is a big deal for blockbusters and superhero films.

    And credit has to go to the cast, particularly Ruffalo's banner/Hulk (since Hulk was mo-capped off of Ruffalo's performance), who has the best incarnation of the character under his belt outside of Bixby. Everyone here plays really well off of one another, and I think the reason nobody ends up dominating has as much to do with Whedon's direction as it does with the cast just clicking.

    I could write about this movie all damn day; I loved it. It's been a tonic for my superhero burnout.

    1. I'm with you, though for some reason I have a tough time really getting on the Whedon bandwagon. It'll be interesting to see how much success other studios have with the ensemble comic film. Think we'll actually see a Justice League imitation coming up?


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