by Andrew Mooney
The Avengers (2012) – Joss Whedon (Dir.), Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jeremy Renner, oh my god so many people…
Alright, let’s get this out of the way now. There shall be no posse. I know. I’m disappointed too. I wish I could have seen the words, “Thanks for wasting my time, jerk” spelled out in raised flesh on Joss Whedon’s scarred and charred rump as he cried for his mother. But, alas, it shall not be. In fact, replace that brand for my lips and you might have a more accurate understanding of my emotional and carnal response to this mass of charming celluloid splayed out before the human population this summer. The Avengers is good. Really good. Like, melt-your-face-off-with-fanboy-glee-and-bake-into-a-tasteful-acne-ridden-face-pie good. I haven’t had this much fun watching a movie since…well…Cabin in the Woods. Not a good temporal marker, I know. But I’m about to say something (read: write something) that will make me want to slap myself. Move over, Independence Day, I have discovered the perfect blockbuster. Will Smith shall weep. Bill Pullman will sob. Jeff Goldblum would…do his closest approximation to normal human sadness, thereby continuing to convince the world that he is not some kind of robot designed to confuse people learning the English language.
Is the movie good? Hell no. Melancholia is ‘good’. Mississippi Burning is ‘good’. This movie is a Blockbuster with a capital ‘B’, thus the metrics are entirely warped. Acting is not measured in nuance and subtlety but in wisecracks and the ability to deliver one-liners without you wanting to punch yourself in the private parts. The cinematography isn’t judged based on its mis en scene and other French words that make American scrotums quiver with fear, but on ‘CAN I SEE WHAT IS GOING ON? YES! CARRY ON!” Even the script cannot be measured with ‘big questions’ asked, rather with ‘Does Hulk smashing his face into a wall make sense? Yes? Then, HULK FUCKING SMASH!” And so, based on a Blockbuster scale, this movie is the next coming of Jesus Christ…but instead of footprints in the sand it’s Iron Man shooting you with miniature rockets. (I don’t care who you are or which religion suits your fancy, if one could worship Iron Man, one would. Immediately. And without question.) And this film, this Joss “Nerd Samosa” Whedon epic, blows every category out of the water. Does it have people saying funny things? Yes. Is it visually coherent? Yes. Is the plot not just a giant pot of octopus piss poured across a typewriter accompanied by a nonchalant shrug, a swill of bourbon and a, “Eh. Fuck it.”? Double yes. This movie, wait for it, actually makes sense.
Let that settle in. Wait…really wallow in it. Do you know what this means? Think back on every major summer blockbuster you have ever seen. Does it make sense? No, of course it fucking doesn’t. Why would a giant robot spider exist in the old West? How would you use a giant robot spider to take over America? Why did the evil Transformers attack Chicago, out of all the cities in America? Why did Katherine “Queen of Breasts” Heigl decide to have a relationship with Seth “Really?” Rogen? It doesn’t make sense. You know what does? Thor beating the shit out of Tony fucking Stark in a penis-measuring contest. Captain America and Iron Man pissing each other off. Black Widow wearing skin tight clothing…all the time…and the camera dipping so you can see her waistline…
Erhem. Enough of that. I’m not going to give spoilers and plot summaries and all of that obligatory nonsense. You have wikipedia? Use it. I want to ask other questions. Firstly, why is this good? What nerve did Whedon tickle bringing the collective fan consciousness to simultaneous orgasm in just 140 minutes? Well, let’s juxtapose this bad boy with the previous holder of fanboy sexual phantasmagoria “The Dark Knight”. These are different movies in every way possible. While Nolan was taking tired, tried material and exploring the new thematic avenues contained within, Whedon was just making this mess palatable. It was also blatantly apparent that Whedon was aware that Marvel’s strength lies almost solely in its heroes. DC boasts the likes of Scarecrow, the Joker, Harley Quinn, Two Face and Lex Luther. Complex villains, tied inexorably to the hero’s past and/or greatest weaknesses, emotional rather than physical. What does Marvel have, other than Venom? The Lizard? The Vulture? The Shocker? Seriously? Did Stan Lee just begin listing sexual positions and apply them to nefarious entities? Nuance is not his strength.
I suffered through Thor. And Hulk. Two entirely boring pieces of blandness, both about enjoyable as repeatedly licking stamps for a cumulative three hours. I even had to deal with Captain America: The First Avenger: Worst Colon Ever’s inability to conjure a second and third act. Instead of story arc, we had an extended montage of bullshittery ending with Tommy Lee Jones yelling something and driving a car and…wow…I think I just blacked out for a second. It was that pointless. Iron Man was great. Iron Man 2 was a mess of such trannie proportions that it can only be found in Boystown at 5am on Pride weekend. Somehow, Whedon managed to weave all of these mediocre, admittedly charismatic, threads into a quilt of such unprecedented awesomeness, that snugging in it would be preferable to sex with Eva Green. Again…I want to slap myself. Nothing is better than that. (Marry me, Eva. Please. I don’t like to beg…but I will. All you have to do is return one of my annotated fake travelogues of our imaginary trips to Cairo. Just one.)
Coherence keeps me happy. Coherence stops me from screaming like a bag lady at a passing subway train. Beyond that, what keeps me in the theater is having a single, unbroken shot skipping from Black Widow fucking up some dudes, to Captain America fucking up some dudes, to Hawkeye impaling some dudes (thereby fucking them up), to Iron Man flying around and fucking up some flying dudes, to Thor using electricity to fuck up some electrified dudes, to the Hulk fucking up everybody. I was leaping about in my seat like a two year old that had just spotted that last Tickle-Me Elmo and I was going to HAVE IT, no matter who I had to kill. This is synergy of such epic proportions that even God must have crossed his legs once or twice. And that dude is old. He has to use some kind of deity-strength Viagra these days. Why do you think we haven’t had any divinely impregnated virgins recently? Performance issues.
Why did this work so well? Firstly, this is the only instance of a film that combines so many major actors, all of them leading men, into a single narrative. While each of these characters’ respective origin tales required them as the centerpiece and everyone else to fit into the cookie-cutter archetypes required for narrative momentum, this movie didn’t have to. They had their backstories. They had their personalities. And we’ve all seen them. Repeatedly. Thus, all they had to do was combine and let them have at it. The result is copulatory. Seeing Robert Downey Jr. leap delightfully into a tete a tete with Chris Evans is something you will never see again…until the inevitable The Avengers 2: Electric Boogaloo. Thus, we are left with a Blockbuster that does not leave us bored to tears the second the action stops. In fact, we’re all wishing the aliens could fuck off for another ten minutes while Downey Jr. delivers another few zingers. Seriously. That’s just rude.
Are there any gripes? Sort of. Whedon, for a dude, does extremely well at making his female characters not only competent, but also human. In anyone else’s hands (read: Jon Favreau in Iron Man 2) Black Widow would have been a deadly sexpot with nothing to say other than “I’m flexible”. Instead, she is offered pathos, wit, intelligence, conniving strategy…as well as an incredible body. Goddamn. Even Maria Hill, played bootily by Robin Sherbotsky, I mean, Cobie Smulders, classically the Shrew of Marvel’s ‘Taming of the’ saga, is actually capable of doing things. Even so, this movie woefully fails the Bechdel Test. To those of you not in the know, you sexist pigs, the Bechdel Test is a metric to measure female presence within film plot lines. For a movie to pass the test they must achieve a very simple task: have a scene, however long, between two named female characters that does not pertain to male characters. Think about that. Unless it’s a Chick Flick, try to figure out the last time you watched a movie that passed the test. It doesn’t mean the movie is bad, per se, you just can’t exactly tout it as the bastion of gender relations.
Also, the costumes are degrading. Why is it, in every damn action movie, they all have to be in such skin-tight, non-movable, un-breathable outfits, each of them completely unsuited to the situations at hand. I mean, come on, we know Chris Evans is ripped. We don’t need his skimpy Captain America outfit to reinforce that. You’re ruining it for all of us, Chris. You too Hemsworth. Eat a bloody sandwich. And by ‘sandwich’, I mean ‘keep eating until you are nothing but a blob of flesh, suitable only for ridicule. That teaches you for being famous, you fatass.’ Honestly, anyone of any gender profile will being popping boners/wetting theater seats for the entirety of the film’s running time. Dem some pretty peeps.
Casting-wise this thing is a filmic wet-dream. It also opens up for a few fascinating possibilities… Such as, what if Nick Fury is just Jackson’s character from Snakes on a Plane having found a new purpose in life? (Explains the eye patch, right?) What if all Mark Ruffalo’s romantic comedies from now on are required to have him turn green and grab the female protagonist and fling her about her bedroom like a rag doll? What if Stellan Skarsgard learned a real accent and not that nether-region of a mangled mess of phonemes he currently uses? A better universe for everyone, I feel.
All kidding and strained analogies aside, what The Avengers was able to achieve was something near-impossible for me. I lost myself. I forgot I was watching Scarlett Johansson. I forgot that was Mark Ruffalo. I forgot it was Chris Evans and his insanely toned arms and abs and…FUCK YOU CHRIS EVANS AND YOUR PERFECTION. Each of these actors seemed to lose themselves within their characters, each working towards a benevolent whole. Whedon created a cohesive universe and allowed his audience to take a peek. No one was fighting for the limelight. There was no Steve McQueen hanging out in the background fixing his hat. This is a team. A team of ultimate badasses playing ultimate badasses. It was like witnessing a television special with a $200 million budget. Never before has anything like these even been attempted…unless it has, but I can’t remember it so it doesn’t count. Sorry imaginary film franchise. Whedon beat you. Take it like a man…or concept. Either one.
The Avengers may not have made me question existence. Nor did it make me question really anything at all. I didn’t think. I didn’t analyze. I didn’t do shit. I ate my Swedish Fish, I sat back and I had the most fun I’ve had in a long time. There’s something to be said for that. We have brains that take a lot to switch off. Like Eminem’s Oscar-winning hit says, ‘lose yourself’. Have a blast. Never think about it again. There’s nothing wrong with that. At all.