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What The Avengers Did Right (part 2)

Where was I? Oh yes.

So, this one time, I was trying to write this entry on my netbook (remember those?) while in bed. It was so funny.

I'm back on the mega 19-inch laptop, and driving in comfort. This is the greatest not-really-for-a-lap-laptop ever. It's great for everything but portability, even if I do lug it up to my in-laws every time we visit (portable SWTOR, yo.)

But I digress ...

So, previously on Self-Indulgence Manifested, I rapped a bit about the films that led up to The Avengers, except for Thor, which was so middle-of-the-road that it somehow escaped my acerbic droppings. Now, since I'm a full week late, let's talk about the actual film.

First, let me start by explaining something about the writer and director (yes, Zak Penn also somehow got his name attached to the screenplay, but there is no way that the dumbfuck who excreted the script for X-Men: The Last Stand and the equally stanky 2008 The Incredible Hulk had more than a passing involvement here. Well, I guess he has a lot to do with the excellent show, Alphas, so maybe he suddenly learned that characters and story is integral to a decent script. Whatever.) Joss Whedon is the greatest creative mind of the last 20 years. No shit. I can prove it, too.

Take a moment and go watch the TV series, Firefly, and then the film conclusion, Serenity.

See? I told you!

Joss Whedon has mastered several key things over the years: playing characters off each other, showing not telling, and timing. He was already pretty good at this when he started the Buffy series years ago, he got really good in the later Buffy/Angel years, perfected it on Firefly, backslid somewhat on Dollhouse, and then made the greatest superhero film I've ever seen with 'The Avengers.'

Yes, yes, Batman fans, I know your boy, Nolan, made the best superhero film ever when he made Dark Knight, and yes, there's gonna be a better one this summer when Darker Knight: Knight Harder comes out, but let's be real here for a moment. The Dark Knight is a great film, no doubt, but I really can't watch it all that often. For one, Christian Bale, when he's doing 'the Batman voice,' sounds like he's having an orgasm while a kidney stone is stuck in his urethra, and really, I don't think the film is all that enjoyable. It's a great film, but I just don't love watching it. It's dark as hell, and I need relaxation now more than ever. The Dark Knight isn't relaxing, but I'm so glad that I've seen it, and that I own it on Blu-Ray. So I can watch it about once a year or two.

The Avengers, on the other hand, is fun without being idiotic. That's a rarity these days, in an age in which every 'summer film' has to cater to the lowest possible denominator (thanks for that, Michael Bay), and the closest we ever get to edgy anymore is yet another fucking Tim fucking Burton film (series of dark, silly image sans narrative coherence) that's all black and goofy and dark and whatever and ... zzz ...

The Avengers is the Kobe Bryant of summer action films. It doesn't give a fuck. It's going to take this whole goddam mess of Marvel characters, and whatever else Disney wants to dump on it, and it's going to win the fucking championship. This film, in 2+ hours, held a clinic for all the preceding films on how to do it right.

Even Captain America was interesting, and he's the most boring comic book hero ever.

While yes, I still mourn the disregarding of the excellent portrayal of the Hulk from Ang Lee's film, the Hulk here is as great as established cannon will let him be. Tony Stark is even better than in his own film. Thor was fun. I was actually startled by how compelling Black Widow and Hawkeye were.

However, the strength of these characters and their arcs was how well Joss played them off each other. Yes, the action was amazing, but the best scenes were when these characters were just interacting (except for one god-awful massive argument scene that is mercifully brief). It takes guts and mad skillz to make dialogue interesting in a film like this, and Joss makes it look perfectly natural.

A lot of credit goes to the actors, too. They play these scenes with grace, and look like they're really having fun.

I thought Mark Ruffalo was perfectly cast, by the way.

The best things about this film, though, was the pacing and the timing. The pacing of the film was spot-on. Lately, I've come away from one film after another feeling like I just got a clip show of the highlights of the beginning of an interesting story. When I finished this film, I felt satisfied. I felt like I'd seen a full story, and none of it felt rushed or abbreviated.

The timing within each scene itself aided that tremendously. Many people give Joss a lot of credit for being great with dialogue, and while that's true, I think his ability to time not only lines, but actions and moments, is his best in-scene ability. Think back to the most enjoyable Hulk moments in this film, and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Joss Whedon handles structure better than anyone, which is what ties all this together. He's able to see the, literally, the 'big picture,' but he's also able to zoom way in, break a scene down, beat for beat, and have every moment count for something. I think the audience picks up on that, and is then more than willing to buy in for the whole ride.

I railed about 'character arcs' a lot in the previous entry, and as I alluded to before with my Kobe Bryant analogy, there is more done in this film with six character arcs than in any one previous 'Avengers character' filn, except for, maybe, the first Hulk and the first Iron Man.

OH! BY THE WAY! NO STUPID-ASS SHAKY CAM WITH EXTREME CLOSEUPS! NOT EVEN DURING ACTION SCENES! I COULD ACTUALLY TELL WHAT WAS HAPPENING ONSCREEN! I imagine this aided in my enjoyment of this film, as opposed to, I dunno, The Hunger Games, which was ruined by the camera work.

In closing, this is purely great storytelling, and I can't think of higher praise for a film.

If you haven't seen it, do so, and let me know what you think. AND STAY THROUGH THE CREDITS!

If you have, what'd you think? On top of that, what'd you think of it relative to the preceding character films? How has your favorite Avenger fared so far? What do you want to see in the future from this franchise?

This has made me all the more excited for Shane Black writing and directing the next Iron Man film.

I have no idea what I'm writing about next here. Any ideas? Whatever it is will be here next Wednesday (but check out my other blogs on the other weekdays!)

Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment!

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