The idea was simple. For twenty American dollars plus tax apiece, Mr. So and I would partake of fifteen hours of comic book movies. The offer stood as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, and finally, at midnight, the long-anticipated Avengers (in 3D), written and directed by this summer's cinema success story, Joss Whedon.
I got this swag.
When the first film (Iron Man) ends, a sweaty female attendant with a broken voice informs the theater that parking will only be validated for four hours. A mild panic rises in the crowd when a rumor passes around that the show is going to exclude The Avengers itself. A quick check on the cell phone confirms the film is indeed playing. Calm returns.
The crowd consists of much as you might expect: largely male population, with standard skinny bespectacled nerds, geeks that choose to wear their Captain America hoodies or thrift-store condition Avengers t-shirts (thus being the guy at the concert that's wearing the t-shirt of the band that's playing at the concert), a handful of stoner stereotypes, dorks that bred and brought their precocious children, and of course, samples of America's grossly obese, providing the sour milk fat flesh fold smell that over the course of the day sinks into the theater like scared-skunk stink. Swag in the form of buttons and posters are passed out.
We're all sold on it.
What's not to like?
Most of all what I never enjoyed was the preening sense of inevitability concerning militarism that the Marvel franchise seems to endorse in each film it makes, while simultaneously (and only sometimes) pretending it does the opposite.
The Edward Norton version of Hulk doubles down on the concept of military run amok to the point of absurdity, blowing up a college campus with no accountability, while the Thor movie mythologizes it with a sanitized and shiny Asgard run by Anthony Hopkin's master Kenneth Branaugh (and in this you could extrapolate Thor being the brutish America proxy, Loki being the snotty British Gog, and the entire Middle East as a frosted mirror-glass land of the Frost Giants).
This uneasy feeling of being sold a toy of the military industrial complex is reinforced as we are treated to the same opening sequence of commercials six times at the event. An ad for the Navy, an ad for the Navy-sponsored boardgame-turned-film Battleship, an ad for the same film, this time sponsored by Coke Zero, an ad for the Marines, an ad for the Hatfields vs. the McCoys on TNT (Kevin Costner in a bloodfeud), an ad for the new remake of Dallas (the words BLOOD and FEUD and BATTLEGROUND flash on the screen, almost subliminal), then a review of each preview, plus an oddly racist Ultrabook ad. All of that, six times over.
Imagine an army of Purple Hulks.
So the twelve hours and five movies pass, with twenty minute breaks between films, and we devour the food we snuck in, sip on caffeinated beverages loaded with vitamin B and Guarna and Taurine, and I can feel myself becoming accustomed to the changing eye-patches of Nick Fury in each post-credits teaser, and I can see that the people involved are attempting to make something more than a two hour long advertisement for the military industrial complex, but at the end of the day, they're stuck in a system they never named, but were made by, much as in the Captain America movie, where after being dosed as a super-soldier, he spends the first stretch of his career spinning propaganda on the newsies.
When a true subliminal flashes after the word "compassion" at a certain point (Thor, I believe), I recall the recent Star Trek remake, where James T. Kirk's older father-proxy tries to convince him to join Star Fleet after a bar fight. I flash across the crass, commercialized, and crypto-fascist overtones of 300 and the Transformers franchise. Michael Bay conditioning pods. Though certain elements of Captain America call to mind the best elements of Star Wars as well as the quality of film making from the era it depicts. Captain America is the best, most refined of the Marvel movies leading into The Avengers.
About midway through The Avengers, when the S.H.I.E.L.D Hellicarrier raises out of the ocean, I find myself compelled to join the Navy, for some reason.
I also find myself cheering with the crowd around me.
The Avengers gets it right, in a big way.
[Perhaps that lengthy an exposure to such materials was never intended for public consumption. Perhaps I have overdosed. I need to start a blood feud, right after I join the Navy.]
I'll admit, all of my resistances were worn down to some degree in the twelve hours leading up to The Avengers, but this is a first rate A+ film for being a comedy, an action movie, and a superhero movie that puts all others to shame.
The Tesseract (which sounds better than Cosmic Cube, perhaps) is our movie's objective correlative, first introduced in Captain America, a limitless power source, and a source of interest for the villain Loki and his unnamed benefactor Thanos (who we only see in the first of two post-credits scenes).
The entire film, I wanted Samuel L. Jackson, playing Nick Fury, to start screaming a litany of curse words, out of nowhere. SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson (calling to mind Charles Colson) played by Clark Gregg, is the thread running from Iron Man through the rest of the films and on up into The Avengers, where he plays the part of Captain America's biggest fan and, later on, "the avenged". Scarlett Johansson manages to explain why Black Widow is essential to the team dynamic by being the world's best interrogator. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye gets only a few spots to shine in the film, but he uses them effectively. Bruce Banner is played for the first time by Mark Ruffalo, who does a bang-up job playing the eccentric gamma-irradiated scientist. Better by far than any previous actor that filled the role, if you want to come down to it. Tom Hiddleston is the core of the movie as Loki, and in the final analysis is one of the best actors in the film. Something about Chris Hemsworth as Thor strikes me as a little too simple. Maybe that's the point. He has a good laugh for Thor, it's just that he walks with just the wrong degree of swagger to pull off "god of thunder", in my humble opinion. Chris Evans, on the other hand, manages to sell Captain America's soldier boy appeal effortlessly, and of course, Robert Downey Jr. embodies Tony Stark to the extent that at certain points it doesn't feel like he's bothered to read the script, he's just channeling a genius billionaire philanthropist from a parallel reality.
Part of what can tell you how good a band is is how well the audience responds to their performance. By that measure, and given that the entire theater withstood fifteen hours of cinema for The Avengers, the movie is a rousing success. Big laughs from the audience. Spontaneous applause. Bigger action.
Joss Whedon has proven something great about himself this summer. He's the current nerd king of Hollywood, and we shall all bask in his light until the cycle of cinema degenerates again, in a new flashier more gimmicky Tour de France.
I want to give him a firm handshake for a job well done, right after I sign up for basic training.