The Avengers part 14
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.