Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You had me at helicarrier (The Avengers)

I knew late last week, as my wife and I were finalizing plans to drop off the kids with some friends of ours and then go see a matinee of The Avengers on Sunday, that the movie would end up being the subject of the following Wednesday’s post. And here we are, and I’m not about to pass up the opportunity to say that I have in fact seen the movie and I am in total agreement with everyone else who thinks it’s not just the awesomest superhero movie ever made, but an awesome movie without qualifier, with indisputable appeal well beyond the usual superhero-loving subset of moviegoers, as evidenced by the record-breaking box office numbers.

But beyond that? It’s hard to find a more personalized take on the flick to build up an entire post around. I described it to a buddy of mine (who had also seen it) as a total meat sandwich, by which I meant something akin to the KFC Double Down, assuming that a Double Down were capable of leveraging other times in the past when you had eaten something on a bun. All good stories need fundamental character development in order to work, just like sandwiches need bread to hold everything together. So basically the Iron Man franchise and the Thor, Captain America and Incredible Hulk movies were regular (and quite tasty) sandwiches with nice hearty rolls. The Avengers was 100% savory stuff, the deepfried chicken breasts of action sequences and the deliciously salty bacon of perfect one-liners. Plus cheese. Not terribly complicated, not thought-provoking in the way Cabin in the Woods was, but that’s fine by me. It was everything I wanted it to be with all the dials cranked.

I mean, sure, I could quibble with little things here or there, because apparently I have reached the point where no matter how rocking-my-socks-off a movie (or show or book) may be, I’m forever taking it apart and putting it back together in the moment as I’m enjoying it, because I’m compulsive about figuring out how things like that work. But I’m just so pleased with how it all turned out, and not just pleased but genuinely impressed, that I can’t quite bring myself to tear it down.

OK, well, maybe I can voice one incredibly minor disappointment, or add my voice to the small chorus of other similar-minded folks who were only 99% smitten with the movie. They could have handled Hawkeye a little differently (read: better).

The Hawkeye from the original Avengers comics is a mainstay of the team, no question, and I’m glad that they saw fit to include him in the cinematic interpretation. But he’s also a totally different character who also happens to be named Clint Barton and use trick arrows. The guy from the comics was no SHIELD black ops soldier. He was a carny, who learned to draw a bow as part of the sideshow. He wore a flamboyant costume of fuchsia and cerulean and an ornate mask. He was a wisecracking swashbuckler type, often taken to task by his fellow heroes for acting rashly and taking nothing seriously. He was pretty awesome.

Totally in the running for Best Boots EVAR.

And in the movies (Avengers and Thor) he’s just a dark, dour badass manhunting machine. Which, don’t get me wrong, I understand. There’s so many factors at play in bringing this whole crazy superteam idea to the big screen. They could have made the Avengers a team consisting solely of the larger-than-life characters interesting enough to shoulder their own franchises: Cap, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk. But they wanted the geopolitical SHIELD connection, and to underline that they introduced Black Widow and Hawkeye as non-superpowered but still highly specialized agents who could potentially stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Big Four. It takes a certain suspension of disbelief to accept Hawkeye holding his own beside the super-soldier or the demigod or whatever even on the comics page, and putting an actor in his blue-and-violet togs … it would collapse under its own ridiculousness. So Hawkeye needs to be straight as a heart attack. Not to mention the fact that the movie version of Tony Stark is the resident wisecracker of the team, and a pretty unbeatable one at that.

(Incidentally, the reason I’m focusing on Hawkeye rather than Black Widow is because she actually didn’t get changed that much from the comics version, personality-wise or in wardrobe. I’ve always liked Black Widow, and liked her a lot in the movie. If you liked Avengers in general and/or her specifically, and you’ve never checked out the Buffy the Vampire Slayer tv series, consider this your wake-up call because Black Widow provided something pretty dang close to the only Buffy/Captain America team-up we’re ever likely to see. The budget is orders of magnitude smaller for Buffy, but the ass-kicking and the witty repartee, those are basically Whedon’s bread and butter.)

So, yeah, anyway, Hawkeye was brought in as a moderately interesting supporting character and elevated for various plot-device reasons to founding Avenger, and there was a requisite attitude-transplant along the way. That really doesn’t diminish my enthusiasm at all, if only because of how improbable the whole sequence of real-world events really is. I have pretty distinct memories of being a kid of no more than 12 or 13 and discussing with my Little Bro the possibility of some of the great comic book stories being turned into movies. And in my opinion (then as now) the best stories were the ones with casts of dozens and a million moving parts, which is difficult to pull off in even a two-and-half-hour movie if you are starting from square one introducing the dramatis personae. And I swear at one point I floated the idea of building up to it, making movies introducing each of the characters and then combining them all into the cinematic crossover of my dreams. But even as a wide-eyed prepubescent lad I knew that was extremely unlikely. Yet that’s exactly what has happened here. And sometimes just the fact that something manages to exist makes it too cool to criticize. The fact that The Avengers was actually enormously entertaining is just icing on the cake.

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