The Sub-Average Avengers

imagesI recently watched, under some level of duress, Marvel’s adaptation of the Avengers.   Well, I say duress; it was at the recommendation of a colleague, whom I respect and admire, and still do so (chaque a son gout…).

Yes, here we have yet another superhero movie, this time a whole panoply of superheroes, battling some evil entity called ‘Loki’, an adopted brother of Thor, from some otherworld or perhaps or perhaps otherdimension, one is never clear.  Loki has various powers, also not strictly defined or delineated. He seems able to change his location at will, to control people’s minds with his glowing, spear-like thing, and to command a legion of metal-clad warriors, who, for all their otherworldy appearance and origin, are remarkably easy to kill (why do you need the Hulk when Scarlett Johansson can dispatch them apparently with a glance of her sultry eyes?).

But I will not bore you with the details of the movie, for the film is boring enough.  Hollywood its producers, directors, movie actors, scriptwriters and all their own legion of metal-clad warriors, seem to have lost sight of how to make a movie, or a work of art in general.

This is not surprising, since most of them lack a grounding in the liberal arts (I always manage to slip that in there), which broadens the mind and provides a cultural framework for producing art and literature, to say nothing of living well, but I digress.  One must stick to one’s theme in blog posts, unlike wide-ranging conversation, so back to the movie.

But, wait, the liberal arts also include Aristotle, who would likely have said that what is missing in The Avengers, and most of the few movies that I watch, is a sense of drama.  Now, by drama I mean quality by which one enters into a work of art, commiserates or rejoices with the characters, becomes intellectually and emotionally involved in the story, and thinks, at some level, that this applies to me.  Drama leads to catharsis, wherein the crisis of the characters becomes, in some sense, my own crisis.  We can identify.

This is, by and large, missing in most movies and, I dare say, novels and other works of art, visual and otherwise.

Take the Hulk, who is played by a sulking Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner, a superhero not in charge of his powers, who turns into the Hulk when his anger gets out of control.  This could be developed into a sense of drama, wherein we identify with the character’s struggle, in our own attempts to master our anger and our passions.  How much of the Hulk is within each of us?

Yet, towards the end of the movie, without any sense of such struggle, Banner suddenly becomes able to control the Hulk, declaring his secret that he is ‘always angry’.  What?  If so, why is he also not ‘always the Hulk’?  There is no drama, no overcoming of an obstacle, really, no nothing but a sulking actor.

Then there is the Black Widow, played by the aforementioned attractive Scarlett Johansson, who suffers from the debilitating curse of most beautiful women, that they know they are pleasing to the eye.  I wonder what such a woman suffers at the hands, or the eyes, of men.  Perhaps that is why she plays a Russian assassin, who is able to manhandle any man, as a kind of Freudian backlash.  I suppose this could be played up a bit, but, again, no drama.  In the scene where she is being interrogated by three other eastern Europeans of no fixed nationality, we know the chair to which she is tied will end up upside the head of the Russian (Ukrainian? Latvian?) goon.  The fight is routine and boring.  Ho hum.  There is not even any attempt at a feeling that she might fail, which provides tensions in a fight scene.  I will not at this point go into the improbability of her antics, for that is also another post.

Advice to directors of superhero movies:  Although derived from comic books, they need not be comic books.

And don’t get me started on Thor, who tries to put on the air of an English prince, but, at least to my ears, his Aussie accent keeps breaking through.  He is apparently also invincible which, unlike the Black Widow, makes a bit of sense, since he is a ‘god’, but he does get thrown around a bit, especially by the Hulk (as does Loki, in a faintly humurous scene towards the end).

The only character with any degree of interest is Tony Stark as Iron Man, who provides the few memorable bits of dialogue in the movie, and that is faint praise indeed.   Stark is the sole character who exudes some degree of vincibility.  Because he is the most human of the Avengers, he is also the most interesting, because we can, to some extent, identify with him.

The key to making a watchable movie is this very principle of identification.  Do we want to emulate the characters therein, and, more so, do we think we can emulate them?  Whether the movie be a fantasy, science fiction, comedy, or straight up drama, unless we so relate to the characters, the movie is doomed to banality.

After all, the basis of what is means to be a person is this very notion relation, particularly relating to the other, but more to be said on this in future posts.

Avengers made well over a billion dollars at the box office, one of the most profitable movies in history, making its participants very rich, and providing Hollywood great impetus for producing more such substandard movies.   What this says about our culture I will speak of later.  For now, I will limit my wonder to pondering what great good could be done with the money spent on such works of ‘art’.   A much better movie could have been made with much less…

August 23, 2014

Saint Rose of Lima