A review of the Avengers in three parts. I tried to be factual, but I made no effort to be objective.
If you will excuse the digression, I'd like to talk about Narnia by way of introduction.
There was a time when I thought "Hey, neat fantasy books," then "Wait, Aslan is Jesus?" and then "How could I possibly have missed that Aslan is Jesus?!" but even now that I'm a firm atheist, I enjoy the movies and books. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe remains solid, and I think The Magician's Nephew is one of the all time great fantasy stories.
However, some of the books are problematic.
Susan gets shabby treatment. I'll just crib from Wikipedia here.
In The Last Battle, Susan is conspicuous by her absence. Peter says that she is "no longer a friend of Narnia", and (in Jill Pole's words) "she's interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations." Similarly, Eustace Scrubb quotes her as saying, "What wonderful memories you have! Fancy you still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children," and Polly Plummer adds, "She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can." Thus, Susan does not enter the real Narnia with the others at the end of the series.
Also, in The Horse and His Boy contains a nonstop parade of offensive stereotypes about Islam and Arab culture, but I'm not willing to dismiss that one out of hand, because it contains what's probably my favorite line from the Narnia books. The enemy Prince Rabadash has just been humiliated and captured, and now that the heroes have him at their mercy, the prince starts mocking him, and the king puts a stop to it.
"Shame, Corin," said the King. "Never taunt a man save when he is stronger than you: then, as you please."
That's the mature response. Every decent person hates a bully. It offends our sense of justice. We hate seeing people pick on those much weaker than themselves.
And that brings us back to Joss Whedon.
"When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite."
Whedon's specialty is crafting a scenario where we can cheer for people who pick on those much weaker than themselves.
More precisely, he sets up a situation where the best, and only reasonable course of action is for the protagonists to defeat someone who has been opposing them, which is such a naked wish fulfillment to certain aspects of geek culture. They didn't want to do it, but they were forced into it by circumstances, and if they should gloat a little, who is to blame them?
But, you say, hypothetical Joss Whedon fan, his
Buffy is the Slayer. The series ran for 145 episodes and let's figure Buffy dusts four or five vampires every episode. A normal person has basically no chance of defending himself against a vampire, but Buffy is to vampires as vampires are to people. They have no chance against her. And she kills them, and that's fine. I dare say it's better than fine, because they would have gone on to kill innocent people if not killed first.
Worthwhile? Absolutely. Good. Unquestionably. But I'll stop short of calling it heroic. In the end, we're cheering for someone very powerful beating up someone much weaker. Whedon has framed the narrative that we can cheer for the bully without feeling bad about it. (And don't feel compelled to give me counterexamples. It's not present in every one of the hundreds of stories he's written over two decades, but it's pervasive enough a theme that it's the exception when it's not there.)
Angel is pretty much the same. Ditto Firefly. On the Serenity commentary track, Whedon giggles as he keeps a running tally of the unarmed men Reynolds executes. The most thuggish criminal, if he's funny, nice to his friends, and allowed to present events from his point of view, will be seen as a hero. Reynolds lives by a code of honor, that, much like Doctor Doom's almost always dovetails neatly with what he was going to do anyway.
Buffy is an action/horror/comedy ensemble show, so we extend considerably more leeway than we would elsewhere. And it's not about dusting the vamps; they're just a device to illustrate Buffy's personal journey. But none of that changes the facts. Buffy is a bully. She's a bully for all the right reasons, but a bully nonetheless. Whedon wants us to accept his characters as heroes.
|"Buffy, what is best?" "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."|
And it's fine that they're not heroes. There are plenty of properties where the main characters aren't heroes. This is a blog that began so I could review the works of Roger Zelazny, who wrote his thesis on the Revenger's Tragedy, and who made a career out of writing vengeance-seeking superman, many of whom would not be out of place as villains in other works. What's the difference between the two?
For me it's that Zelazny's characters oppose villains of their own caliber, and face legitimate challenges. When Corwin manages to cut down a couple mooks in pursuit of his goal, he doesn't spike the football, he doesn't pretend it was a challenge and he doesn't pretend he did it for any reason other than to get what he wanted.
"In the mirrors of the many judgments, my hands are the color of blood. I am a part of the evil that exists in the world and in Shadow. I sometime fancy myself an evil which exists to oppose other evils...and on that Great Day of which prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe, on that day when the world is completely cleansed of evil, then I, too, will go down into darkness, swallowing curses. Perhaps even sooner than that, I now judge. But whatever.... Until that time, I shall not wash my hands nor let them hang useless."
Crowing about your victory over a legendary hero who arrived half-dead to your fight because he took a nuke to the face saving twenty million people doesn't make you a hero. It just makes you the strongest guy in the room.
|But if it makes you forget about all your dead Robins and your performance problems with Selina, I guess it's worth it, eh, Bruce?|
And the actual Avengers review:
(This part has some SPOILERS)
(This part has some SPOILERS)
First, stuff I liked. Thor twirled his hammer before he flew. That was awesome. Mark Ruffalo's performance was great. (“I got low. I didn't see a way out. So I put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spit it out.") I'd like to see him return for another Hulk movie, but my friend Eric made the quip that actors playing Banner are like Defense against the Dark Arts teachers, which was quite a bit funnier than anything in the movie. And Harry Dean Stanton was great. Agent Coulson was pretty awesome, as always.
It was, much like most of Whedon's work, competently crafted from a technical standpoint, though with a budget of a quarter billion dollars, I would hope it would be. I chuckled once or twice during the movie, (I liked the "Shakespeare in the Park" line), but I chuckle once or twice during just about any movie.
Stuff I didn't like. The characters often missed their beats when delivering a stinger, the writing was mostly flat. "As of now, we are at war." Is this what they mean by Joss Whedon's good writing? Or is it when they call the heroes "freaks"? Because that's not tired at all. Samuel L. Jackson can usually be relied upon to give a solid performance, but it feels like he was just phoning it in here. Another blog quipped that he's become the black Christopher Walken.
As I mentioned above and elsewhere, it's a distillation of Whedon's personal style. The people who like it happen to be vocal about it. I happen not to like it, for the reasons I outlined above.
The casting was.....questionable. Aunt Robin did not make a great Maria Hill. Particularly egregious was, in the aftermath of an attack, she's sitting with pursed lips as a medic swabs the mild scrapes on her face, when, in other parts of the carrier, bodies are being carted off.
Scarlett Johansson was excellent back in her Ghost World days, and increasingly, she's just like a mannequin with a good agent. I've seen reviews that praised her performance, but I don't know movie they were watching.
Whedon loves his heroes and is entirely dismissive of his villains. Hawkeye can't hit a damn thing when he's evil and suddenly turns into, well, Hawkeye, when he's not.
Loki, the villain of the piece, blunders into every trap there is, from the "catch the exploding arrow" trap to "the throw Tony Stark out the window when you've given him ample time to get ready for it" one, and gets schooled by not only Thor, the Black Widow, the Hulk, Cap, and Iron Man but also an elderly man in Germany, which goes back to what I said about Whedon's characters picking fights below their weight class.
|It took you two and a half hours to beat this guy? Really?|
|I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel.|
Also, Thanos looked like a skinny purple skrull. That was terrible.
Final Grade: C, not terrible, but fantastically overrated, much like most of Whedon's work.