When I was a kid, I loved Superheroes a lot. A LOT!!! I used to desperately wish to the point of prayer that I’d get bitten by a radioactive spider so I could become Spiderman’s sidekick Cobweb Kid. My brother poked holes in that idea, pointing out that cobwebs were dusty and old and weak, but I didn’t care. I was proud of the alliterative name and rip off costumes that I drew and like many an uncoordinated, unpopular kid, I wished I had spider powers to show how awesome I truly was. In 1977 when CBS started producing Marvel-based 1 hour live action television programs of Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk and Captain America, I tuned in every time. While those shows took strange dramatic license and made them based in the real world with Hulk and Spidey facing off against very ordinary criminals, or tediously helping Mariette Hartley fight a rare disease (and worse yet, kissing and marrying her!) in the case of the Hulk, I still declared them the best shows ever. However, something always nagged at me while watching them, “Why were there such huge differences?” “Why didn’t the Hulk talk or ever fight The Abomination?” “Why Did Spiderman’s web look like either rope or party spray?” Of course I didn’t understand budget limitations and such real world problems and while I was happy that my favorite superheroes were on TV, I kept wishing for more and better. “Someday, I hope they make a movie where all the Marvel Heroes are fighting each other and destroying a city.”
Well, that day is here. It’s kind of too bad for me that it took so long because here I am, married with children and I’m still blogging about superhereos, but you know, it’s my blog and I don’t feel like starting fights discussing politics and religion.
At any rate, since the dawn of the 21st Century and all the ensuing technological advances in the world of visual effects, superhero lovers like me seem to have not only our greatest wishes granted by Hollywood but even our minor and I guess their subconscious ones as well. For example: a Jonah Hex movie?
In most cases, from X-Men to Spiderman to Dark Knight the films attempted to ground the heroes in some sort of reality, sort of like their 1970’s TV cousins except now with bigger effects. The best and most creatively successful film of the Marvel Superhero genre, I think, was Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. In that film, Favreau managed to explain away a very silly origin, engage the viewer with a charming, funny lead character who was interesting both in and out of costume, and most importantly he made it all somewhat plausible while maintaining a buoyant sense of fun. I think Marvel has Favreau to thank for turning Iron Man into one of their more interesting and popular heroes.
Now since Iron Man, everyone knows that Marvel was building up to The Avengers, the big sprawling Super Team of the Marvel Universe. I was never in favor of that idea. I once subscribed to The Avengers Comic because I was a fan of the artist John Buscema. As luck would have it, as soon as I started getting the comic on a monthly basis, Buscema left the series and what came in the mail was usually a unremarkable, paint by numbers collection of our heroes against. Brain Leeches and Giant goobers from space. Plus, I never got into the heroes when they were on the team. It was all too busy. And that’s what I figured a film would be.
After a lackluster series of films from The Incredible Hulk through Thor to Captain America, everyone one of them awkwardly shoe-horning what basically amounted to a commercial for The Avengers into the plot, I was expecting a big disappointment.
Then the film came out and got rave reviews and made a billion dollars in two weeks and I thought, “Hey, maybe it’s great!” If it’s at least as good as the first Iron Man then I’d be happy.”
Well, here it is: It’s NOT as good as the first Iron Man. But I’m still happy. Iron Man the film still holds the crown as the perfect balance of all the elements needed to make a great super hero movie. But what Avengers manages to accomplish more than any of its predecessors in the comic book-to- film format and is better for it, is that’s it’s a big long 2.5 hour Marvel Comic. It’s not grounded in reality at all but it isn’t sheer nonsense like Transformers or GI Joe or any of those loud and soulless movies that my generation has thrust upon human-kind.
Avengers really is the equivalent of reading an entertaining comic run from start to finish. I think my problem with it was Thor and Loki, the element I always feared would be a problem, especially after the solo Thor film, which was really an underachiever. Thor, if you’re going to bring in a God of Thunder into the fairly realistic and pseudo-scientific world of the movies, really has to be a GOD. As in he shimmers and glows and his armor is shiny at all times, beautiful to behold and all that. But in the Thor movie and in the Avengers, he hangs out with everyone and just seems like a dork from a Shakespeare Festival, as Tony Stark points out. No one seems to be batting an eyelash over the fact that a NORSE GOD is in their presence. And if the Hulk can beat him, well, that makes Hulks transformation into one of the greatest things a scientific nightmare has ever produced. I had a Thor Comic where people are worshiping Thor and he’s embarrassed about it, and lo’ and behold a Christian religious nut gets powers from whomever and becomes The Crusader. And they fight it out in front of the worshipers A good comic, really. It brought in fairly real human issues about gods and religion. And while sure, the Avengers has too much on its plate to delve into what people think of Thor, Joss Whedon’s (and Kenneth Branagh’s) failure with the character is to make him so ordinary that he just seems silly. His hammer looks like a big hollow plastic prop.
Other than that, I thought the film was a good way to pass a couple of hours. Mark Ruffalo has been getting well-deserved praise for his performance as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. And I agree. For the first time in the modern age of superhero films, Banner is as, if not more, interesting than Hulk. Robert Downey is cool as ever as Tony Stark and Iron Man and Chris Evans raised my estimation of him as an actor as Captain America. He actually had the most to prove actually. I thought he did a credible job in the completely tedious Captain America film but I wondered how he’d evolve into the Avengers Leader, commanding Robert Downey and The Hulk et al. And he did it effortlessly. If you compare Chris Evans to say, oh, Casper Van Dien from Starship Troopers, who seemed like a suburban kid trying to wear big boots, then what Evans accomplished is an amazing feat in this era of men-children.
The effects were very good if not awe-inspiring and the film does have a somewhat sprawling and epic quality to it. After Serenity which I thought was television on the big screen, I’m impressed that Joss Whedon made such a watchable film.
UPDATE: After purchasing the DVD, I’ve sort of changed my mind about the film. It’s totally average, maybe elevated somewhat by Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Evans, but it looks cheap. TV cheap. And it’s yet another in a long line of “CLOSE THE PORTAL!” movies. And on a second pass, I was thinking, “Hey, how come Thor can’t just kill all the aliens with his lightning like he started to?” But in no way can it compare to the 1st Iron Man or even Superman or Batman. I admit it, I got caught up in the hype the first time I saw it. It’s definitely not going to stand the test of time as a great movie and will be the equivalent to Superman and The Mole Men, a dated post script to better versions, much like the 70’s Hulk and Spiderman shows.