Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Avengers - Gods and Monsters

Joss Whedon is a very smart man. You can tell he is smart, because firstly he doesn’t make you feel dumb. This film is unashamedly entertaining, taking obvious pleasure in its sense of spectacle and slapstick. For the fans there are in-jokes aplenty and little nods to continuity. For newcomers – Robert Downey Jnr quipping like nobody’s business.

A smart man recognizes what he enjoys and is able to communicate that joy to others. Joss Whedon is a very smart man. 

What also makes Whedon smart is how he recognizes what doesn’t work and thinks of solutions. The Avengers does not work. 

Which is to say it should not. Tonight I had the pleasure of catching a midnight screening of The Avengers, with thanks to Kings Comics – and if ever you’re in Sydney, pop along to their Pitt Street store, it’s marvelous. I was accompanied by the lovely Dee from GirlsRead Comics Too. It is 3am and I am a wee bit tired. I have no interest in spoiling the movie for any of you who have not yet seen it. 

However, I must confess I did not come to the cinema tonight to see Marvel’s The Avengers. I came to see a Joss Whedon film, an action/adventure fantasy with a strong ensemble cast. It delivers on all counts. As I watched I found myself recognizing that all the elements in the film I enjoyed were oddly foreign to The Avengers the comic book series. The performers brought these characters to life in ways that many comic creators have oddly failed to. 

Finally we have a movie with the Hulk that knows just how to use the big green lug – and does a fine job of portraying Bruce Banner too. Also, once again no spoilers, but you will leave the cinema convinced that Hawkeye is the coolest character of the bunch. Of everyone Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson are given a surprisingly large amount to work with and the latter acquits herself quite well, given her disappointing turn in Iron Man 2. The last time I enjoyed the antics of Black Widow, Johansson’s ‘Russian’ spy, so much Warren Ellis was writing her in Secret Avengers. Here she is deceitful, resourceful, quick-witted and deadly – everything the Widow should be. Renner’s Hawkeye is compelling, his arc in this story going to dark places but without drowning in despair, unlike Millar’s spin on the character in The Ultimates (which this film admittedly owes a lot to – while at the same time avoiding the gabby Scotsman’s frustrating cynicism). 

In short – Whedon recognized that the man who shoots arrows and the ‘spy’ with a handgun needed to be worked with in order to convince audiences they belong among ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’. He pulls this challenge off with aplomb. 

This story should not work because the source material forces these incongruous elements together. Avengers is a book with pagan mysticism, super-science, black ops and conspiracy fiction. There is too much bubbling away in the pot, a comic book gumbo that threatened to be so much mush if handled improperly on the screen. Whedon’s solution is to introduce hefty doses of much needed humour, a degree of self-awareness and to bring the inter-personal conflicts of these characters to the fore. There is also another recurring aspect of the director's work, one familiar to fans of Buffy, Firefly and Dollhouse (shut up, some of us like it). Which is the importance of the group as a unit - whether it be friends or family - instead of the insistence on individualism. Only together can these men, gods and monsters become heroes. Whereas the antagonist Loki is always alone, isolated, consumed with vengeance and hatred. It's a far cry from most action films, with their Bonds, Bournes and McClanes.

Yes the typical Avengers tropes are touched on. Cosmic threats, possession, betrayal – all recurring plot factors in the comic. However, by bringing the relationships of these misfits, monsters and murderers (albeit penitent ones) to the fore, the film succeeds in making this unwieldy concept hang together. The ever-present theme of the film – how can these heroes fight the threat facing the Earth if they cannot even work together as a team – is a clever play on the incongruity of the Avengers as a concept itself. A book with little purpose other than to showcase various Marvel properties in rotation. Whose characters stay together out of an increasingly forced sense of loyalty to an idea that makes little sense. In Whedon’s film it becomes clear that rather than being a team, they exist only as the very last resort. 

See, he’s  a very smart fellow and this is a very fun flick. Go see it and compare what the film does well to where the comic often comes up short.


  1. I was impressed by how Joss used character moments to keep my attention during the action scenes (Oh Hulk... heh). I tend to get bored during the Final Epic Battle - I even popped out to the bathroom during the Chase Through The Nazi Base bit in Captain America. But the Avengers managed to keep my attention throughout (also, I had only ordered a small cola...)

  2. Because he had built up the characters - expressly focused on that as opposed to the usual cookie-cutter plot - I feel we as audience members had a far greater investments in the climactic fisticuffs.

    I have seen complaints that the threat posed by the aliens was non-existent because they are faceless, but I that misses the point.

    Ultimately the film was about these damaged folks getting their act together and working as a team, Loki's machinations notwithstanding. It was a good call on Whedon's part to focus on character-building as a result.

    Cheers Carol!

  3. Bruce the Goose8 May 2012 16:31

    Best Hulk film so far I think!

  4. Definitely. Whedon used Hulk very well and it proved he belongs in an ensemble piece.

    Also - funny Hulk a lot better than mopey Hulk.

    Thanks for stopping by Bruce!


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