The Avengers: Lessons to be Learned

Despite my best efforts

I know I’m a few weeks behind everyone else, but I finally got to see The Avengers.  Now, if you’ve read any of my other posts you may know that I constantly struggle with my dark, hipster side; I like discovering things before they’re cool, and if large amounts of people go on about how so-and-so is fabulous, I tend to be skeptical.  Yes, I know this is a flaw.  Yes, I know that’s kind of incongruous from a self-proclaimed geek – but maybe it won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve had trouble claiming that term in the past, as it’s become more popular.  Don’t worry, I’ve got all the passion required – but to paraphrase The Birdcage, when I love something I do an eclectic celebration of the dance! Fosse, Twyla, Michael Kidd, Madonna… but I keep it all inside. 

All this to say: even though I’ve considered myself a fan of the majority of his work, well, I’ve been known to roll my eyes at excessive displays of idolatry for Joss Whedon.  When people said The Avengers would absolutely be good because Whedon was at the helm, I thought of the plot holes in Serenity, or that one episode of Glee, and smirked.  Yes, the snark is strong with this one, and as I entered the theater I was prepared to come across something I disliked.

I was so, so wrong.  Damn it, Whedon’s writing was top-notch.  Was it the best writing in the world, ever?  Okay, probably not, especially when it comes to a few niggling plot points. Still, when it comes to writing dialogue that sounds natural and genuine – the one thing that really stands out to me when it’s wrong –  few do it better.  And he’s writing in several voices – each of which are very distinct, each of which have their own brand of humor, almost none of which sound “Whedonesque.”  In fact, I can only think of one line in the entire movie that pulled me out of the story enough to say “Whedon,” but it still fit the character.  Most who are even familiar with Whedon’s other work probably wouldn’t notice.

So, am I a reborn Whedon fangirl?  Well… maybe.  You probably won’t see me shouting it from the rooftops – I keep it all inside, after all – but let’s just say I’m now fantasizing about an anniversary-quality Doctor Who collaboration between Russell T Davies, Moffat and Whedon, incorporating the best aspects of all three.  A girl can dream.

Ray of light

The last ten years have seen quite a few comic adaptations, but The Avengers stands out to me, and here’s why: Think back to that first X-Men movie.  A well-loved property, to be sure, but it was felt that it needed to match the aesthetic of today.  Gone were the yellow and blue uniforms, and in was a lot of spandex and latex and rubber, all in black matte.  The look of the film attempted to match the somewhat darker themes that have always been present in the comic.

Then came the rebirth of the Batman franchise.  Again, campier elements were ditched and for the first time we really had a Batman for adults.  Instead of glossing over or implying darker subject matter, the Batman films really sunk their teeth into discussions of morality and fear and vengeance.  The result was that the movies were hugely popular and critically acclaimed.

Following suit, X-Men: First Class is a more adult take on the film franchise.  Now, other movies that tried to take a darker turn didn’t handle it as well; the third installments of both the X-Men and Spiderman franchises failed to live up to expectations.  The difference with First Class is that the writing isn’t just more adult, it’s better.  Funny how quality writing tends to reinvigorate the enthusiasm of fans, thus leading to better box office results.

Now, The Avengers: it’s quality writing, no doubt about that.  It’s mature writing.  But is it intended solely for an adult audience?  No, I’d say not.  This film is about as family-friendly as a superhero movie can get, I’d think.  And it has all the hallmarks of a big blockbuster: giant monsters, funny one-liners, crazy action scenes, big names.  It’s like Transformers, only, you know… good.  And the box office receipts reflect the difference quality makes when combined with all the usual blockbuster suspects.

Sending a message

So as I’m getting inundated with ads for Battleship – a movie that might well be good, but right now seems like just another summer offering churned out to oversaturate and then be forgotten – I’m hoping that this summer’s box office numbers will send a message.  That it’s more worth the while of movie-makers to spend time on something quality.   That “family-friendly” doesn’t have to mean “pandering,” and, indeed, doesn’t even have to be made with children in mind.  That we will pay, gladly, to see something of quality.  And then we’ll tell our friends.

Old lessons, yes, but apparently ones that need to be retaught every few years.  But I suppose I’m not one to talk – after all, I keep battling that dark hipster inside me every few months.

What about you?  How did you like The Avengers?  Are you on pins and needles for The Dark Knight Rises?  What are you most looking forward to seeing? 



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