Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers


I loved Saturday morning cartoons. I remember waking up early as a kid, enjoying a bowl of cereal and a steady stream of animated heroes and hilarity, perforated with commercials for the plastic-toy versions of the particular show. (My personal favorite was the X-Men animated series of the early '90s, with the Animaniacs at a close second.) Looking back, there was something so puerile about the entire experience of beginning my weekends staring blankly into a TV screen while consuming sugary milk. It was all so silly, but those memories are still fond.

The Avengers made me feel like a kid again. It's one big Saturday morning cartoon of a film, and the most fun superhero movie to date. Director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Firefly and Dollhouse series, and the writer of The Cabin in The Woods) has his own cult following who adore his every ironic/creative endeavor. The Marvel film series has had five blockbusters leading up this epic superhero conglomeration between Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Hulk. The movie was even released on Star Wars day.

Conclusion: The Avengers is fanboy nerd heaven.

Plot holes? There are plenty. Macguffins? There's a glowing cosmic cube that promises infinite energy while also opening a portal to another world. Scores of faceless and fearless villains? They're called the Chitauri, but that's not important for you to remember. What is important: the action. And boy, is there action! Easily over 50% of the film could be considered a fight sequence of some sort, with the climactic battle over Manhattan spanning the final third of the film. While other films have sought to create sequences this epic (the Transformers films come to mind) none have ever been quite this effective at creating visually expansive-yet-coherent sequences that neither bore nor overwhelm the audience.

Here's the thing--this is a fun movie. My theater was packed, and the audience was thrilled. I laughed more than I have all year at a movie, thanks to Whedon's snappy dialogue and impeccable comedic timing (two words: Hulk smash). So while I'm inclined to write articles about how slow and boring films are better, The Avengers is a film that defies those parameters. There isn't much spiritual depth or moral lessons to draw from this film, apart from the overly simplistic theme of Teamwork Is Good. The story arc plays out like one big setup for the finale, with very little in the way of surprises or originality. While each character each gets their own moment in the spotlight, there isn't much in the way of actual character development. (With one exception: Black Widow is given a much larger role than I anticipated, and Scarlett Johansson gives her a flair and intelligent depth that allows her to hold her own among a cadre of larger-than-life characters). And is God in The Avengers?  Only in a brief-yet-brilliant quip from Captain America about the one true God's choice of attire.

While normally I would be annoyed by all this, I wasn't. Why? Because for one moment, for a few brief hours hunkered in a crowded and darkened theater during one of the busiest seasons of my adult life, I was a kid again. I was in my pajamas, eating the bowl of cereal and staring at the screen with wide-eyed wonder. It was (ironically) a brief respite from all the weightiness in the world. The superheroes didn't only save the destruction of Manhattan--which, by the way, appeared to experience a whole lot of cosmetic damage with very little in the way of actual loss of life--they gave me a commercial break from my responsibility-laden life. Maybe that isn't so bad. Maybe a bowl of filmic sugary cereal is just what I need every so often, to remind me of the sweeter things in life.

I still like cereal. Pour us a bowl, and let's have share a second Avengers viewing.

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