I’m currently glowing with the aftermath of my fourth viewing of Marvel’s The Avengers. Until about two months ago, the movie was on the periphery of my radar. Now I have gone to see it in theaters every weekend this May, from the cool, buzzing anticipation of opening night to the heat-soaked afternoon of my Memorial Day weekend. And I have enjoyed every second of it!
Before I continue, I must post a disclaimer: I know nothing about American comics. Everything I am aware of has come from the recent slew of Marvel movies. Those are the only versions I know. I’m sure that some comic book fans out there are just waiting to pounce on my ignorance as I bubble over with fangirl enthusiasm, so I’m gonna take a leaf out of Captain America’s book and say: “Son, just don’t.” If you enjoyed the movie as much as I did, great! High five! Keep reading and know you are not alone! If you just want to point out all the discrepancies or ways that it failed as a comic book adaptation, as a film, or both, please don’t. You can keep reading if you want, but please froth at the mouth quietly.
THIS ENTRY MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
So, now that that’s been taken care of, on to the question that I’m sure some of the people I know in real life have been asking:
“Why do you love The Avengers so much?”
That’s a question I don’t know how to easily answer. I know I’ve been going on and on about this movie ever since it came out, despite my lack of knowledge of the Marvel universe. I did see all of the Avengers “prequel” or “set-up” movies, though out of order, but I was never very psyched about its upcoming release. In fact, the only reason I went to see Avengers in the first place was because all of my friends were going. Fullmetal was leaving for the navy soon, so this was the last big Exile Movie Night that we’d get in a while. I knew my male friends were openly excited about it, but I didn’t really care much. But after seeing the midnight showing opening night, I’ve been hooked.
Here are the reasons why:
A huge part of this attachment is because of Loki, I’ll grant you that. I’ve been interested in Loki since Thor came out. In fact, I found Loki to be a much more interesting and complex character than Thor (although the comics suggest that Thor’s time on Earth is much longer and more complicated than what was presented). In the movie, Thor really isn’t that hard to read. He’s a warrior, plain and simple, who loves a good brawl. He’s loyal and honest, but not really that bright. Plus, his story is fairly simple. Thor is a traditional coming-of-age story where the boy thinks he’s ready to be a man but makes a really big mistake that proves his immaturity and must pay for it. He is punished, stripped of his power and exiled where he has to learn how to live as a regular person and come to terms with his own immaturity. He becomes a man by realizing the importance of protecting others and returns home a little more somber and wiser.
Loki, in contrast, is far more complex. His true loyalties are ambiguous throughout the entire film. He shows what appears to be genuine affection for Thor in some scenes, but in others he’s a conspirator with the Frost Giants, his people’s enemy and tries to kill Thor. He’s constantly changing, or appearing to change. He keeps you off balance the entire time. He also has a more complex evolution. Thor is a standard “immature youth” to “mature man.” Loki has his entire world turned upside down by the revelation that he isn’t who he thinks he is. His true form, his true species is Frost Giant. He is the son of his adoptive father’s greatest enemy, and he feels betrayed. He questions his father’s love for him, his motives in adopting him, and yet, at the same time, Loki tries desperately to make Odin proud of him. Once his parentage is in doubt, he struggles to win (or keep) Odin’s love and respect . . . even though he was never in danger of losing it. That conflict and Loki’s descent into darkness in Thor (which only continues and intensifies in The Avengers) is what draws me to Loki and to The Avengers. Loki is far less ambiguous in The Avengers, but knowing his history and watching him pull further away from Thor, closing off his own avenues to redemption . . . I am drawn to characters like that. It makes me want to stop them, to help them come home, to become more and more emotionally invested in them. Loki does some terrible, frightening, sadistic things. But I haven’t given up hope on him yet.
2. THE CHARACTERS ARE AWESOME
As much as I love watching Loki, he isn’t the only reason I love The Avengers. After all, Thor featured Loki in more scenes, and yet it was only an okay film. Decent, but not spectacular. Avengerscould have easily turned out the same way: decent, watched mostly for Loki, but nothing special. But Avengers IS special, in a way I can’t quite define. Loki may be my favorite, but I loved all of the other characters as well.
I’ve liked Iron Man since I saw the first movie, which was excellent. I enjoy Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal and smart-alack manner for Tony Stark. He may be an egotist with more money than good sense, but underneath the posing and flippant manner is a very serious and driven man. Plus, he has the best lines of all the Avengers. Iron Man 2 was a decent film, but, like Thor, it was not the most spectacular movie; more special effects and explosions than solid story-telling. I had no real interest in seeing The Incredible Hulk after seeing some of the 2003 version. (Hulk dogs? Really?) However, my onii-san David said that before seeing The Avengers, I really should watch all of the prequel movies, so I commandeered his couch and watched The Incredible Hulk. I was pleasantly surprised. I hadn’t been very interested in the Hulk because I thought it was a really cheesy rip off of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…only massive and green. I thought, “Really, they couldn’t do better than this?” But after watching The Incredible Hulk (2008), I had to revise my opinion. Here was the tortured result of an experiment trying so hard not to hurt anyone, but who is a victim of his own emotions. And the people who claim they want to help only make his life harder and his condition worse. It is a very powerful and moving story that I want to revisit in greater depth. Captain America was another hero I didn’t have much interest in, again, based mostly on the cheesy outfit. I watched it on a lark and was again pleasantly surprised. Chris Evens plays a wonderful Captain America and seeing this very quiet, decent human being placed in these unusual circumstances and prevailing through sacrifice despite the odds was very powerful. I loved the message that the scientist sends when he tells the would-be Captain America, “A weak man knows the value of strength” and thus is less likely to abuse it. I hadn’t expected much from Captain America, but I ended up seeing a really beautiful film.
Joss Whedon did an excellent job of taking the best elements from each of the characters from the prequel movies and spotlighting. Interactions and dialogue that are witty, precise, and often funny highlight the best qualities of these characters, allowing each time to shine. That’s hard to do with such an overwhelming cast.
3. I HAD NO EXPECTATIONS
Still, even though I loved Iron Man, Captain American, The Incredible Hulk, and liked Thorand Iron Man 2 well enough, I still didn’t pay much attention to The Avengersbuildup. I’ve had too many movies disappoint me recently (Eragon, Spiderman 3, The Last Airbender, John Carter) for me to get excited about the next special-effect-heavy blockbuster. I thought (and still think) too many modern films rely too much on FX to carry the show and forget that they need good characters and a script that makes sense. And I think that my disregard for Avengers helped protect me from unrealistically high expectations. I think a lot of people, myself included, end up expecting too much from a movie when they highly anticipate it, and it ends up falling short. Imagination trumps reality. I went into the midnight showing with no expectations for a good film. I figured, “Hey, it’ll be some nice eye candy at least, and Loki’s in it, so I can at least feast my eyes on the hotness that is Tom Hiddleston.” I had recently learned that Joss Whedon was directing, and that made me a little excited. At least to the point of, “It can’t completely suck. It might not be a great movie because I’m sure they’ve tied his hands creatively, but at least it won’t bomb.” (Although, since he has a habit of killing off characters, part of me groaned and thought, “Geez, I wonder what the body count will be this time. Probably pretty high. That kind of bites.”)
Then I went in and was blown away.
Yes, there are a lot of CGI effects, but they only enhance the movie rather than detract from it. The characters are at the core of the story. Joss Whedon took the basic idea of all these superheroes coming together to fight off a common threat, which is a pretty basic premise, and supercharged it with awesome-sauce. The dialogue brings everyone and everything to life. The music, the cinematography, the acting…everything is just wonderful. It makes for an awesome ride. A lot of movies these days take themselves way too seriously, (especially considering the source material) and this had great drama without losing its sense of humor. If you want to read more wonderful reasons why The Avengers is such a great movie and how Joss Whedon made it so, there are plenty of great articles. If you don’t mind the pervasive all-caps, I recommend this article “THE AVENGERS is a Joss Whedon Movie” by Film Critic Hulk Smash on BadDigest.com.
4. IT HAS OPENED UP A WHOLE NEW UNIVERSE
This movie just makes me so happy. I feel like my old, crazy obsessive self again. It’s sparking my creativity like no body’s business, and that thrills me. I feel interested in the world again. I feel awake. I want to create and gather, and collect and read and read and watch and just find out everything! A whole new universe called “American comics” has opened up before me and I can’t NOT take the plunge.
It has been quite a while since I’ve been able to let my inner fangirl roam free. It’s been a while since I’ve felt the deep-set excitement that comes from seeing a whole new realm of unfamiliar landscape, archetype, and convention open up before me. I know that a lot of what I find will be cheesy; I’ve already accepted that as inevitable in comics. I’ve seen that in manga often enough. But you can get such compelling stories and characters out from underneath all of the cheese. I’ve already explored the realms of fantasy. I still love fantasy, don’t get me wrong. But I already know what to expect. I already know the conventions. (I have to since I want to be a fantasy author.) I’ve spent the last 6 years immersed in the world of Japanese comics: manga. Manga opened my eyes to a new realm of animation and graphic story-telling. It kept me going for a while and while I don’t think I will ever fully leave the realm of manga, some of the charm has worn thin due to my own internal changes and struggles, not to mention a few negative associations that I’ve formed regarding it. And I already had some familiarity with manga through fantasy. But American comics are more akin to science fiction, speculative fiction, and pulp fiction than they are to fantasy, at least in my mind. I’m sure that assertion can be argued from now until doomsday since the two genres overlap so much, but I always think “sci-fi” when I think of American comics. With all the gadgets and gizmos and radioactive spiders, you can at least understand why I have that mental association.
I formed negative opinions about American comics being stupid and cheesy because early exposure to sub-par products. I saw the 1966 Batman the Movie, three of four of Christopher Reeves’ Superman movies (which were entertaining, but Superman never interested me much), and a few Superman and Batman cartoons with cheesy, badly crafted stories and villains that even I could see through. The few pictures I saw of other superheroes did not impress me. I mean, what kind of man wears his underwear on the outside of his pants? And how could people not see through their silly masks and pathetic disguises? Everything looked gaudy, flat, and cheesy, so I avoided it. (Yes, I was a snobby 7-year-old when it came to story material.) But now that I’m older, I think I can appreciate comics for what they are and get a great deal of enjoyment out of them. So, thanks to The Avengers, I’m starting my foray into a mass of literature that I’ve largely ignored.
I can’t wait to see what I find. ^_^