Sunday, May 6, 2012


With the May 4 release of The Avengers, the summer blockbuster season is officially underway.  Preliminary reports indicate that Avengers hasn't just broken the records for opening weekend receipts, it well-nigh shattered it.  The final Harry Potter film had held that record and early reports have Avengers topping the boy wizard by approximately $40 million.

Of course, box office receipts are no indication of quality.  Plenty of movies (Transformers, anybody?) make money by the boatload but aren't very good examples of storytelling.  Michael Bay can make things go "boom," but I've never been impressed with his stories or characters.  My second "of course" is that things that go "boom" can be a lot of fun and sometimes you just want to munch popcorn and detach.  In that case, go rent John Carter, which really wasn't that bad.

Avengers has been years in the making.  Literally.  Both Iron Man films, Hulk, and Thor all were leading up to this - a team picture.  Audiences got used to a teaser for the next film appearing in the credits and to seeing Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson pop up here and there to help tie things together.  Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Nick Fury - casting planned to the point of having the Nick Fury of the Avenger Ultimates world be drawn as Jackson.  Joss Whedon was tapped to write the screenplay* as well as direct and geekdom held its collective breath.  This was it.  Whedon was either going to rocket to glory (and sort of vicariously taking all of us who believed in him with him to the A list) or this was Not Going to Work.  It was not a sure thing.  Superhero movies can be tricky.  Large ensemble casts even more so.

It works.  It works!!  IT WORKS!!!  I felt a bit like Victor Frankenstein shouting to the heavens when the monster took its first breath.  It really IS alive!  (OK, it's not a perfect metaphor.  Work with me here.)

I don't say this purely as a fan of Whedon.  Most people know that I had my problems with Dollhouse which I found to be deeply, deeply flawed.  And Buffy has some plot holes and misfires.  Hey, you try doing seven seasons of hour-long television without the occasional misstep.  Everything that made me adore Whedon's work in the first place - it's in Avengers.  The dialogue is snappy, the visual puns are there, the characters snark and quibble and fight - and still get the job done.  Women are not weak, fragile things that must be saved (thank you for getting Black Widow right!) and the men are not surprised by women acting as equals.  Characters are drawn, not quick-sketched, and there's enough screen time to care about all of them (I, for one, was never really a Hawkeye fan.  Now I am).  Characters are fundamentally changed and yes, there's loss.  And hope.  And glory.  And at the end, not everything is okay because the world can't change that much and everything be okay.

Hollywood is notorious for copying success, so my hope is that the Suits will see beyond the explosions to the characters and decide that strong women aren't scary.  Think of that - a slew of movies with strong female characters.  There's still a ways to go - I do not think Avengers passes the Bechdel Test and Black Widow isn't on as much merchandising as Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Cap.  (Then again, neither is Fury or Hawkeye, so there's that.)

Go see The Avengers.  It's a big-screen movie, so see it there - and be sure to stay through ALL of the credits.  All of them, you hear me?

*Whedon shares the writing credit with Zak Penn, who's no slouch in his own right. (I like Alphas, for instance and am looking forward to the second season.)  Apparently, though Whedon didn't think much of Penn's original script.

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