How The Avengers Succeeds
“They’re a mash-up; they’re insane,” Whedon says. “But the beauty of that is as exciting as the problem of that is daunting.”
Marvel’s The Avengers is an impressive monster. A juggernaut at the box office, Joss Whedon’s film smashed the competition in Hulk fashion garnering a cool $38 million more in its opening weekend than its nearest rival: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
However, it does seem like these records are being surpassed all the time now. Indeed, last weekend’s usurper comes out only a year after the former champion was crowned, and the Dark Knight Rises, set to release this upcoming July, could edge past both of them.
But The Avengers is more than just a 21st century
loom wheel upon which Whedon has been hard at work spinning gold. It’s also the product of a comic book culture that’s been appropriated, remade, and resold to a mainstream audience that had all but forgotten about it. There is something intoxicating about men and women in tights unleashing punishing blows and snappy one-liners with ageless energy in a post-political and prepubescent world that otherwise so closely resembles our own. At least that’s what the ticket sales tell us.
In the end it’s difficult to know why exactly The Avengers succeeds so spectacularly. And this is coming from someone who loves comics books and continues to throw away good money to read bad plots about often one dimensional characters whose ability to captivate derives almost entirely from their unique brand of violence.
Captain America was a scrawny but heroic young man given the power to be the change he wanted to see. The only reason there are hundreds of issues of Captain America though is because his shield is super strong and he can throw it like a boomerang to beat bad guys up. Iron Man has shrapnel in his chest and an ego that he can barely contain, but he also has a flying metal suit that shoots lasers and missiles. Thor is a god with a wicked heavy hammer, the resounding thud of which is more entertaining than anything he might ever say. And Bruce Banner has to contain the monster within. Not very original, but who cares because, well, Hulk SMASH!
Iron Man’s promise to Loki is thus prescient, “cause if we can’t protect the Earth you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.” Though of course (Spoilers!) in good Hollywood fashion the Avengers must end up saving the Earth, they aren’t on the whole as preoccupied with protecting as they are with killing. Despite a few rushed “good Samaritan” moments like when Captain America help’s civilians out of a crushed bus, it’s safe to assume that many more people died than could possibly have been saved.
Instead, the ending action sequence has the Avengers focus on “crowd control” which is a nice way of saying: kill as many of the alien invaders as they can, really fast. It’s not Superman rescuing babies from burning rooftops, or Batman immobilizing evil and taking it prisoner. It’s eagerly destructive, dishing out epic pain and relishing the results. And Joss Whedon’s comical script and exquisitely timed gags only help to accentuate the orgy of carnage these superheroes seem all too comfortable wallowing in.
All of which is to say that what sells The Avengers is how well it distills brutality from the synergistic coalition of franchises that form its hazy core. The film is a phenomenon born of nearly a billion dollars in production and marketing costs. An event more decadent and ridiculous than Nick Fury’s floating dual-aircraft carrier. When confronting the almost biblical absurdity of it all, what’s most striking is how close Whedon comes to actually taming it and making the movie his own. Of course, just as the Avengers are sure to win, Whedon was sure to be outdone by the very spectacle he was tasked with delivering.
Marvel’s The Avengers is the best comic book movie yet. The story is useless but the narrative barrels forward over plots holes and motivational voids with reassuring gusto. Instead, it’s the unlikely charisma of the superhero ensemble that forces the project to succeed despite itself. Like the self-perpetuating, unlimited energy source at the story’s Swiss cheese center, the Avengers propel themselves forward on an attractive primal blend of superpower, comic genius, and force of will.
Having already been diligently assembled, all Whedon needed to do was give Marvel’s The Avengers his best one-eyed directorly nudge. Once pushed, the comic book blockbuster does what comic books do best, but with all of the star-powered personality and consummate polish that money can buy.