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What the Avengers Did Right (part 1)

Real quick - I'm hoping to crank out something writing-related here every Wednesday and maybe something a little extra on Fridays.

The Avengers, leading up to the theatrical release, became a very big deal in my house among the male populace. My son and I sat down and watched every film that leads to this film, so that we could be ready for opening night.

It is odd, when looked upon from afar, that so many explicitly heterosexual men get extremely amped up about dudes in tights, especially given the bigoted & religious attitudes in the United States.

However, not all superhero films are created equal, and I seem to disagree sharply with the general populace about what makes a great superhero film.

I really enjoyed Ang Lee's 'Hulk,' but thought the second one, 'The Incredible Hulk,' was a rather generic exercise in 'going through the motions.' In Ang Lee's film, Bruce Banner has an incredibly complicated set of relationships with his father, his girlfriend, and himself. We see him work through these and confront issues, and we really take the time to let Bruce sort out what it all means. It's a thoughful and moody film that harnessed the visual medium wonderfully.

The second film was a series of tentpole action scenes with some dialogue in between. The Bruce Banner in this film has none of the complexities of the man in the first film. In this continuity, he inflicted everything on himself, which makes him a very different man. The biggest problem with the film, though, is that Bruce doesn't really have an arc. He's the same guy at the end of the film that he was at the beginning. We don't see any kind of struggle, we don't feel anything visceral about this character.

My feeling is that in a superhero film, the most interesting hero is one that needs to be heroic to overcome his circumstances. This is what separates him/her from 'us.'. They need to be able to do something that is impossible for any of us, and that ability is something that needs to be earned. They can earn it through the struggle to achieve it, or they can earn it by struggling to control it.

Look at Tony Stark in the first 'Iron Man.' His arc is fantastic. He starts out as a wealthy, entitled jerk-off that symbolizes everything that's wrong with the 1% in this country, but when faced with an extraordinary problem, finds that he feels compelled to fight for what's right. His transformation is a riveting and inspiring tale, and that carries all the way through to the completely shitty-ending final battle.

As a note, if you have your hero 'win' by accident, it just sucks. Nothing annoys me more that not having the hero earn the win. That 'right place, right time' shit is okay in real life, because it's what we're stuck with, but let us see our hero kick some ass, please.

And, Captain America sucked. Just flat-out. Yeah, there's an arc there, but it's not a compelling one. Maybe Steve Rogers isn't a sympathetic character? I don't know. I just never bought into or cared about his character, and his arc wasn't one that I found believable or compelling. His relationship with the super-hot gal from 'Pillars of the Earth' was kinda interesting, I guess.

What happens in that case is that I come away from the film feeling like not much happened in the two hours I spent watching it. Yeah, I know several plot points happened, but the character still feels flat and unrelatable, and my time and money just got wasted.

Congrats, Joe Johnston, you just made the first bad film with Hugo Weaving in it. Hugo Weaving is money, man. How do you fuck that up?

Pistol-whipping the Captain America film is a blog entry unto itself. While the film did, unequivocally, shit the bed, this is not the time or the place. That will come some other time.

Ultimately, I felt that film fell into the same trap as the second Hulk flick, in that it was a series of tentpole action scenes that were briefly interrupted by dialogue. It was boring.

At the same time, these films just make a shitload of bank, and you can't argue with return on investment.

Nothing, however, prepared me for what would happen when the studio allowed the greatest creative mind in Hollywood to write and direct 'The Avengers'.

What was your favorite of the films leading up to 'The Avengers?' How would you rank them? How'd you feel about each of them?

I'll continue this with part 2 on Friday.

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  1. What I remember disliking about Lee's Hulk was giant poodles and Electro dad. And the whole father son conflict was too FFX for my liking. The Incredible Hulk with Norton was boring. Plain and simple. Ultimately, both movies failed the character of Banner and the Hulk. The real shame is that it took an Avengers movie to finally get the Hulk right, but I'll save those thoughts for part 2.

    Captain America was also very boring. It had some good ideas and Evans was a good Captain, but that movie never created a world that NEEDED Captain America. Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull was a huge letdown. It stinks because for intents and purposes, Captain America should have been the strongest film. Hell, even Thor was more entertaining.

    Overall my favorite flick leading up to the Avengers was/is Iron Man. Just simply a great film in general. As for the final battle, Iron Man did earn the victory - he used his brain instead of his brawn. It worked for me.

  2. For me, the father-son thing in FFX was too FFX for me. I was good with it in the Hulk. The giant dogs were interesting, and I thought, fairly humorous. Bruce Banner in 'The Avengers' was great, but I'm still disappointed that Ang Lee's backstory for Bruce isn't that Bruce's backstory.

    Now, why do you feel that Captain America should've been the strongest film? I've always found CA to be an obtuse fool, borne from a need for propaganda.

    Yeah, I didn't talk much about Thor. I guess I should've. It's right in the middle for me. Better than CA & TIH, but not as good as either Iron Man film or Hulk.

    And, I remember distinctly that it wasn't even brains that led Iron Man to beat the evil Jeff Bridges. There was some planning, yes, but I remember it mostly just being luck.


  3. You're correct about the propaganda aspect of Captain America and that is one thing I thought they covered in a clever way in the film. The reason I say it should have been the strongest is because he is the easiest character of the Avengers to ground in reality. Just imagine for a moment what a Captain America film would have been like had Christopher Nolan directed. They could have really made it into a neat war film a la Saving Private Ryan. At least in the Avengers we got to see his badass fighting skills (he is the most lethal hand to hand combatant in comics, sorry Batman) and his leadership. I love how he got into Tony Stark's head. The fact is, Joss Whedon made the best Captain America film and the best Hulk film in one shot. dude is a genius.

  4. My problem with Captain America is that he doesn't have a struggle. His powers are given to him, and ... yup. That's it. The character kinda sucks, until you frame him in the context of the Avengers. Once he's forced to work with Tony Stark, we see his character conflicted, and he's finally interesting. I would've loved to see a Captain America film with a director who actually gave a shit about telling a compelling tale and had at least a clue as to what a soul is. Joss is the man.