Friday, May 11, 2012

The Avengers, Part Two

Wednesday, I put up the first part of my response to the thoroughly enjoyable and quite popular The Avengers film. It was too big to finish in one post (a good argument could have been made for three), so today's the conclusion.

Blah, blah, spoilers after the cut.

Of course, all the mains get some versatile acting mileage. Everybody has some mix of heroism, humor, and emotional connection. Black Widow doesn't get a lot of yuks, but she gets her own range of feminine fake-outs, impassive lethality, and downright human perspective. I don't think I'd be wrong to say that if you had to cut this thing down to 90 minutes, making it into "Black Widow & the Wise-Cracking Dudes with Stupid Clothes" would be the way to go. She's the character who is carries a weight and comes to terms with the scope of the story in ways that most of us could care about in addition to getting a very understated but highly effective (not necessarily romantic) relationship with another character (Coulson debatably makes a better POV character as a white male fanboy, but he makes a much better meta-aware sacrificial lamb).

Speaking of ways to cut the movie up, how about Thor's intro? That's a shiny steaming wreck that had to have been kept only because of the scarce story elements it provided and the cost that went into shooting it. Don't get me wrong; Thor and Loki are brothers and Thor's unflagging love of Loki in spite of Loki's venomous hate is one of the things about Thor I always want to see. It makes Thor better than some muddled lesson about humility and vaginas. I even appreciate the nod to historic "fight and then team-up" crossover comics, setting the foundations for Captain America's leadership role, and the never-fired Chekhov's Gun of Thor being able to supercharge Iron Man. It doesn't work though. It's a pointless scrap that gives Thor an introduction that's less fanfic-ish than "Thunder booms, and Thor appears," but far, far too early to break up the oft-derided Helicarrier dialog downtime. It's messy, unnecessary, and filled with testosterone poisoned heroes killing time and acting the fools, but since I can't think of a better scene to introduce Thor, maybe I can't complain.

Bildgestaks ? Oh...Baloths. We call those Baloths, Thor.

Then again, I'm not the bellwether. Most people complained that the Helicarrier scenes were too long and talky, but that's the heart of a crossover. Anyone can plan a fight to feature cool moves and tell a story (well, maybe not both at once, Michael "Monochromatic Wrestlin' Robots Reduce Grey Urban Area to Grey Rubble" Bay), and according to the evidence at hand, Whedon does a fantastic job of that (hello, single shot coasting over war-torn New York featuring everyone being awesome). The important part is letting the personalities interact, which is what the Helicarrier part of the movie does. There are also people who knock Loki for not being a diabolical mastermind, the God of Trickery that he literally is in the comics. I get that. I love Loki from the comics, mostly for the Loki one-shot that came out just prior to Seige. He's fantastic and badass and makes deals with Marvel's Satan Mephisto and you don't know what he's doing until it's done. However, I recognize that the movies aren't the same as the comics. Loki in the movies is an insecure, unhappy, jealous, petty bag of cats. He hurts and feels persecuted, and the revelation that he's not Odin's biological son serves as justification for all of the paranoid exclusion he's always felt because he's the sort of person who can't be loved enough. It's a very human interpretation of Loki and one that makes him very fallible.

Like this, but with the comforting knowledge he can punch through tanks.

My only two legit complaints with an otherwise amazing, fun movie are thematic. When the old guy stands up to Loki in Germany, it's an awesome scene showing that the people The Avengers are defending are worth fighting for. In fact, with half the team being humans (albeit one human enhanced to the peak of human blah blah blah), the worth of ordinary humans, with all of our flaws, is a major element running through the film. Iron Man is immune to Loki's control because his stupid, frail body would fail without the reactor in it. Coulson takes on Loki solo with an unknown weapon. He's scared as hell, but he does it because it's the right thing. As the movie proceeds, the humans we see standing out are "fires the nuke at New York" guy and "too stupid to get off the f*ing bus" people.  Captain America's inspirational role is played well, but I still think that having Hawkeye and Black Widow spend most of the final fight killing Chitauri makes the Chitauri look like shit and passes on an opportunity for the powerful characters to smash things while the skilled "baseline" characters could be solving things. Seriously, aliens are invading New York and Black Widow and Hawkeye evacuate a bus. 

I'm in full nitpick mode at this point, so you can go ahead and tune out. I mean, I could laugh about how funny that one thing Hulk did was (as if there were just one), or how sad it was when that guy died, or how Tony's arc was complete when, or how likeably Steve's confident Christianity is exhibited, or how talking about cultural references served to further characterize everyone while reinforcing their very different backgrounds, reminding us that they ultimately don't have a much in common but their fundamental goodness. That stuff seems self-evident; everyone got chills when Thanos was revealed in the mid-credits easter egg and everyone laughed at the schwarma in the after-credits easter egg. So for the record, yes I felt that way about those things.

Back to bitching: They kill the bad guys with a nuke?! It's a big, dumb solution to a big dumb enemy, so it's in keeping with the conflict presented, but seriously, if that's the direction they were going, every scene after they discovered Loki was building a portal could've been split between three types of scenes: Loki's minions building the portal, Tony Stark upgrading the guidance system of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s  tactical nuclear weapons, and everyone else watching The Wizard of Fucking Oz.

I mean, if The Avengers are Earth's best defense against things like Loki and the Chitauri, then can I assume that nukes come standard with The Heroes Deluxe Package? That it's somehow a quality unique to The Avengers that no other force on Earth could offer? Are they in Black Widow's little wrist thingies? Again, it works--even if it's dripping in tropes--and it sets up conflict with Thanos. It's consistent, even if I don't particularly like it.

Oh, and one last thing:

Isn't she dead? From a grenade to the face? There's "suspension of disbelief," and there's "The Canadian from How I Met Your Mother is immune to explosively-delivered shrapnel at point blank range."


SkilTao said...

More random thoughts:

So happy that they picked Black Widow's first scene for that one teaser trailer - it's fun, but it's importantly also spoiler-free fun.

Surprised to find that Black Widow's interrogation of Loki was foreshadowed by her introductory scene, and that Clint's role in the climactic battle was foreshadowed in his watchful perch during *his* introductory scene.

You're probaby right about "Black Widow & the Wise-Cracking Dudes with Stupid Clothes." (I especially like Clint's "You and I remember Budapest very differently" line, because it accomplishes a lot in just seven words.)

I can't shake the feeling that Thor is the weak point in this movie, and that most of Loki's plot could have been foiled if The Not-Yet-Avengers had just let Thor take Loki back to Asgard.

Yeah, how much people enjoyed the helicarrier scenes seems to correspond to how willing people are to look for depth; given that the movie's audience includes people old enough to have watched this as kids, I don't think the talky scenes were a bad choice.

Very happy that the "checkov's gun" of showing off the helicarrier paid off with it getting attacked and damaged in fairly short order.

That Germany scene bothers me in pretty much the exact same way those little wings on Cap's helmet bother you.

*Tink, tink* "Huh, that usually works" was an undeniably fun moment, but I gotta wonder, does Loki *have to* poke the exact center of your chest, or could he have just tried five inches to the side?

I love how the movie acknowledges all the ridiculous gadgets Iron Man has in his cartoon and comics ("Hello, you have reached Tony Stark's life model decoy") without actually making that technology available to movie-Stark.

Agree, annoying that the skilled baseline characters "hold the enemy's attention on the ground" rather than trying to solve things. Also annoying that Black Widow's arms don't snap off when she grabs a hover-chariot wizzing by at 50 miles an hour.

Didn't know who Thanos was at the time.

Okay, yeah, the nuke is a weaker plot point than Thor. ...maybe it was a supercharged "anti-god" nuke of the same manufacture as Coulson's weapon?

Totally don't remember that "breaching SHIELD's bridge" firefight scene very well, will have to keep an eye out for that grenade if/when I see the movie again.

And, y'know, the fact that Maria Hill's role in this movie basically amounts to "Shield Agent who isn't Phil Coulson" really, really should have tipped me off that Phil was going to die.

VanVelding said...

When you're talking about your reaction to the scene in Germany, I assume you mean "Oh, it just so happens to take place in the country where Cap used to beat people up. [Massive Sarcasm]What a coincidence. And isn't it nice there's an American there to show all the Germans how to stand up to dictators?[/Massive Sarcasm]"

I feel the same way, but it saves us a scene in Captain America 2 where he reconciles some of that, so I can deal with it. Just.

I was incredibly happy when I saw this thing was happening on the helicarrier. I haven't seen it explored much as a location in the comics and it has the potential to be a set piece on par with The Portmeirion, Enterprise-D, or the cabin from Evil Dead.

As for Loki's mind-control staff, I'm chalking it up to space magic.

SkilTao said...

To be fair, a German dude did stand up before Cap did, but yeah, basically massively that [sarcasm][/sarcasm].

And with regard to helicarrier and space magic: agreed.