The Avengers part 14

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The gloves are off, the war is on.  Stark Tower is ground zero.  For the first time in The Avengers’s narrative, there are civilians involved.  Civilians had to pay attention in Stuttgart, but now they are collateral damage.

Why New York, again?  Hasn’t New York suffered enough cinematic attacks since 9/11?  From the Green Goblin’s assault on the Roosevelt Island tram to Cloverfield‘s giant angry whatsit, to Bane’s perversion of the Occupy movement, why must New York keep suffering?  Part of the answer, of course, is that New York must suffer fantastic re-creations of 9/11 in order for us to understand and heal from that event as a culture.  Another part of the answer is that New York is simply Marvel’s home and always has been — there are fewer cinematic real-estate shifts more jarring than the one that removed The Punisher from the gritty streets of New York and moved him to — what the ever-loving fuck – Tampa?  But finally, the answer to the question “Why New York?” is that it is America’s City, the melting pot, the place where America, like it or not, was born, and is continually born, the place where all the world comes to be American.  Millions of people, all from somewhere else, all living atop one another, all clashing against each other, all chasing the dream, all hating one another, all knowing that that very clashing makes the city stronger.  Just like, you know, not to put too fine a point on it, The Avengers.


And you know, if Hollywood wishes to serve up 9/11 movies, perhaps we are better served, culturally, by having light spectacle like The Avengers or silly horror like Cloverfield than on-the-nose, hand-wringing, metaphor-free dramas like Green Zone or Rendition.  Messages are always better wrapped in shiny paper.  Audiences avoid movies that are “good for them,” they go to the darkened theater to dream, not to be instructed.  Which is, after all, what makes a movie a movie and not a novel or a lecture or a TV show: a movie is constructed like a dream, disparate images butted up against one another, the sense made by the viewer.  It’s all imaginary, and we know that it’s all imaginary, which is how we let it in.

Which makes this as good a place as any for me to tip my hat to Mr. Joss Whedon, who, lest the reader forget, has never really directed a movie before this.  Plenty of television, yea verily, but television is not the movies, and his accomplishment here is astounding.  Having written a handful of comics/superheroes/fantasy screenplays of my own, I can attest: it is impossible.  It is impossible to serve all the needs of the comics-based superhero narrative, while fitting the needs of budget, the demands of “the fans” and the demands of cinematic narrative.  That is why so many superhero movies fail.  And yet, Whedon here succeeds – spectacularly — with a cinematic narrative that presents seven – seven! — superhero arcs and lands them all with grace, panache and great good humor.  The Dark Knight is the only other screenplay to successfully pull off a cogent, coherent superhero narrative before this — now imagine if that movie was also funny, nimble and had a sense of its own silliness?  Imagine if, at some point in The Dark Knight Rises, Selina Kyle turned to Batman and said “Really?  Growly voice?”  Or, imagine The Dark Knight Rises with Tony Stark in Bruce Wayne’s place.  And why not?  They’re both genius billionaire industrialists with an eye for gadgets.

In any case, there is a big fight going on in The Avengers.  Next, we’ll look at how it’s structured.


Comments

17 Responses to “The Avengers part 14”
  1. Blaise Pascal says:

    During the battle with the Chitari everywhere and The Avengers fighting most of them, I couldn’t help thinking that, by all rights in a Marvel movie, the background should have been crawling with DareDevil(tm), Spider-Man(tm), the Fantastic Four(tm), the X-Men(tm), etc rescuing non-combatants and otherwise saving people. The main reasons it wasn’t were that (a) amazingly enough, Marvel doesn’t have movie rights to many of the Marvel characters, and (b) it may have simply added too many extra supers to the mix.

    The movie did show a lot of the NYPD and FDNY doing the same sort of “protect the civilian” heroism that 9/11 made them famous for.

    • Todd says:

      If you’re wondering why there was a new Spider-Man reboot so soon after the last one, the reason is, “We had to make another Spider-Man movie or else lose the rights.”

      • Blaise Pascal says:

        I am aware of that, and I think it was a bad deal on Marvel’s part. I think that Disney/Marvel have proven that they can write and produce good movies based on their properties; it’s just a shame they control so few of them.

  2. Philip says:

    Whedon did previously direct “Serenity”, which I thought was a full-scale movie and not a beefed-up TV episode.

    • Todd says:

      I haven’t seen it, largely because I assume it’s an extension of a TV show I’ve never seen.

      • Marshall Burns says:

        I saw it a year before I even knew there was a series, and I still enjoyed it. It has in common with Avengers the ensemble cast “these people don’t belong together but they’re a family” thing, although it only really arcs one of them. You might like it.

        • Jon Wood says:

          Two; Mal and River, according to the commentary.

        • Hannele says:

          Not only that, but also similar to the Avengers, Firefly has a large ensemble cast that is dearly beloved by its fans, but is also required to be introduced to potential new audiences. I’d argue that Serenity does this just as successfully as the Avengers, with just enough context to understand what’s going on, without requiring understanding of the complete series continuity (c.f. the four and a half minute long steadicam shot that introduces the crew: http://www.steadishots.org/shots_detail.cfm?shotID=194 ).

          Personally, I caught a single episode of a Firefly marathon after it was cancelled, then caught Serenity in theatres, and immediately devoured the entirety of the television show. I marveled, along with everyone I subsequently introduced it to, that it only lasted 13 episodes.

          So, consider this another vote for Serenity as still-a-good-movie-without-but-will-likely-intensify-desire-to-watch-Firefly.

          • Joe G says:

            I had the opportunity to watch Serenity again on the big screen a few months before Avengers came out. Once the film was over, any reservations I had about Whedon directing the Avengers had been completely wiped away. In Serenity, Whedon dealt with introducing a cast and setting with previous history to new viewers, big-budget action set pieces, effective storytelling, great dialogue, and balancing comedy with drama, and did it all successfully. It was vindicating seeing the skill of an obviously talented but long uncelebrated director finally pay-off stupendously.

      • I think you can enjoy Serenity without being well versed in Firefly, though I guess I wouldn’t know…I’d love to read your take on it nonetheless!

      • Fred says:

        I think that you would find study of the screenplay for Serenity rewarding, both 1) for the main villain, a brilliant character conception, and 2) for the staggering amount of plot/exposition (as here) that Whedon covers deftly and gracefully. (For what it’s worth, I saw it never having seen the show, and was never confused.)

      • aerokel says:

        I agree with the other commenters here, especially Hannele. The movie stands on its own, and it would be interesting to read your analysis, particularly given your Whedon hat-tip above. The crew of the Serenity is really an ensemble, and there’s never a moment of disbelief that all of those characters really do belong together on that ship.

        Once you’ve seen the movie, you can watch the TV show to sate your appetite for more in-depth stories about the characters. (Out of Gas, the episode about how each member of the crew came to be a member of the crew, is the highlight of the series for me.)

      • Maribeth says:

        I absolutely LOVE what you are doing here w/this in depth dissection of Avengers, but not counting Joss’ direction of the film Serenity just because you never saw it is kind of lame (something doesn’t exist because you didn’t see it? I guess that tells us that now matter how many people witness trees falling in the forest, they won’t make a sound unless you happen to be there).

        No offense meant (I’m just a crazy Whedon fan).

        • Todd says:

          I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, I’m just saying that a feature film extension of a television show isn’t really the same thing as a standalone feature. I’m sure the movie is great.

          • Brian says:

            First, I love your analysis. I don’t see eye to eye across the board, but as a whole it’s very well thought out and a refreshing perspective. Thanks for putting it out there in such detail, I look forward to reading the rest.

            Anyway, I think I get your intention regarding JW and his lack of feature experience, but I respectfully disagree.

            1) Serenity does stand alone. In fact it is sometimes so different from the show, it feels like a different universe. Yes though, it exists because of the show that came before, and continues the previous story.

            2) But then, Avengers is no more stand alone than Serenity. There were 5 movies before Avengers that take place in the same universe and help set it up. And Joss was required to remain in the same continuity.

            It seems to me that Serenity isn’t just relevant to the discussion, it’s essential. He took a previous existing canon and made a movie that never contradicted what came before nor alienated new viewers. He wrote both movies with the knowledge that some or many would not have seen what came before. In Serenity he had 10 main characters that had to live and breathe and be their own, and he only had 120 minutes that time.

            I agree that Joss had very little movie directing experience (significantly more writing, but still not tons), in that he only directed one movie prior to Avengers. But I would contend that he had more experience than anyone else in writing and directing a movie with the requirements of the Avengers.

            Serenity doesn’t just count, it’s his application for the job.

            • Thorsby says:

              Buffy and angels were shows about super heroes (though without the costumes) and about teams of heroes.

              Arguably Dollhouse was about super heroes too.