Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers (2012)
seen @ UA Kaufman Studios Cinema 14, Long Island City, Queens, NY

The truth is, I don't ever recall being ostracized for reading comic books as a kid. I remember certain friends I shared them with, though those weren't many. My parents were never opposed to them; in fact, my father used to drive me to the comic shop on Saturdays at one point. I never felt protective of my level of fandom as a child. I never had to justify it in any way, and I suppose in that I was lucky.

At some point along the way, when I got older, I picked up the notion that comics fandom was a kind of secret society, and while I didn't necessarily think reading comics was nerdy, I did kinda like thinking that knowing the minutia of comics in general and superhero comics in particular was specialized, arcane knowledge. When I started reading non-superhero comics, that lore became even more specialized - they're not as big sellers as superheroes, which is insane, but that's for another post - making me, in a way, a deeper level of geek. It's the difference between knowing all the different colors of Kryptonite and what they do, and knowing some obscure mini-comic made on a shoestring budget out of some guy's bedroom.

And then one day the nerds won. Geek culture is everywhere now, including comics, and I'm still not used to it. To see and hear references to comics characters you thought only you and your friends know about, on TV and in film, is both exciting and shocking, because it means the secret society has been breached. For generations, in North America at least, comic books have struggled to achieve legitimacy on a par with movies and TV, and now that they've come closer to that goal than they have in a long time, it doesn't seem... right, somehow. Odd, no?

Of course, the current renaissance in comic book movies has had a great deal to do with that - and let's be clear: this includes non-superhero comic book movies like American Splendor or Road to Perdition as well as the men in tights. I've been out of the comics game for awhile, so I don't know how all these movies have translated into sales of actual comics, but I figure if nothing else, awareness has been raised and knowledge has increased. It's been a fanboy fantasy for many years that movie adaptations of popular comics would mean more people would buy comics, but of course, it's not as simple as that. I won't go into the reasons why, though; perhaps another time.

And so we come to the movie adaptation of The Avengers, the pinnacle of a path of progression that arguably began in 1998 with the surprise hit Blade and continued with X-Men and Spider-Man back to back. (Actually, partial credit should also be given to The Matrix. Though not based on a superhero comic, it has the look and feel of one, and it was probably the reason why the X-Men wore black leather in their movie debut.) I knew that all I had to do was to pick a multiplex, any multiplex, and Avengers would probably be playing there. So I picked the Kaufman.

It was a late afternoon on opening day. I knew I had to see it opening day because I needed to see it with a big crowd, even if it meant paying the full thirteen bucks, even if it meant seeing it with unruly audience members, even if it meant waiting on ridiculously-long lines just to get in, because this picture meant something. (As it turned out, my audience was a relatively well-behaved one. There was one guy with a bright cellphone light in the beginning and a mother with a crying baby, who left about a third of the way in, but other than that it was alright. I lucked out.)

And indeed, there was something in the air that day, something that made you wanna linger long after the movie ended. The area outside the Kaufman and the immediate intersection of streets felt alive with activity, lots of people coming and going. The Applebee's across the street had a sign announcing a contest in which you could come dressed as your favorite hero or villain, and apparently the staff would be in costume too. (I did not see anyone on the streets in costume.) 

Outside the theater's entrance was a dude with a table selling comics. He had several boxes full of old and recent comics, with an emphasis on Avengers, of course, plus Avengers posters and pin-ups and related paraphernalia. A few people lingered idly around the table as I entered the theater.

It was about a half-hour before showtime and the line to enter the auditorium was longer than I expected. The concession stand was packed with people buying popcorn and soda. The video game section was a cacophony of electronic sound. Life-sized displays for Avengers and other movies adorned the lobby.

People were everywhere, young and old, especially young. There were plenty of little kids running around. I saw one little kid talking to an usher wearing Hulk Hands. Several other kids floated around the Amazing Spider-Man display as if before a shrine. One of them took its picture. Behind me, on line, a Latino father slumped down against the wall while engaging his son in conversation.

The auditorium's house lights were out, and while it wasn't as dark as it was at the Jackson when I saw Think Like a Man, it was almost as difficult to find a good seat. I had to move up to the rear. I settled on one seat, then changed my mind and picked a different one, off to the left side. The top of the railing to the stairway bulged slightly into my field of vision, but only slightly. All I had to do was lean forward a little and I wouldn't see it. Eventually the house lights came on (to scattered applause) and I stood up, hoping to find a better seat down towards the front, but it would mean sitting amidst a bunch of bratty kids, so I opted to stay where I was.

There were no trailers; the movie started right away.

It was good. There are things I could criticize, of course, both as a movie fan (how convenient it was that aliens invade Manhattan and they confine themselves to Park Avenue South) and as a comics fan (why was Loki not a magic-user?), but it was fun and funny as well.

One big criticism I have is with Thor. I see now why I passed on seeing his movie; making a character like him work in this context, with 21st-century people in a modern sci-fi setting, felt weird. It's not all Chris Hemsworth's fault, either. He seemed like he was making a genuine effort with an unusual role. The problem, I believe, is similar to that which I had with Sin City: you can get away with certain unusual speech patterns in a comic, but when you have to say them out loud, it's different. Still, it didn't bug me that much.

A word or two about Joss Whedon. I never bowed down at his feet like many fanboys. I saw the first couple of seasons of Buffy (hell, I saw the original Buffy movie!), but it never really stuck for whatever reason, and as a result, I never saw any of the spin-offs, or Firefly, or anything else of his. I did read some of his X-Men comics. They weren't bad, but with a comic like that, after awhile you feel like you've seen everything that can be done with it a dozen times at least. I wouldn't have gone quite so far as to say he was overrated, but I definitely did not think he was the man for the job of writing and directing an Avengers movie.

I stand corrected. Credit where credit's due: Whedon understood that it would be difficult to bring together a group of such disparate, alpha-male personalities, and having them bicker as much as they did was smart. As a comics fan, I'm used to seeing Captain America and Thor and Iron Man work together for so long, that it's odd to see them bickering, and I suppose the old cliche of "they meet, they fight, they team up" was inevitable, but I think it made for a better movie.

From a different angle: Vija was writing about Avengers on Facebook this morning. Seems she saw it with her boyfriend and his young grandson. She noted how violent it was, which is true, there's no getting around that, but from an older woman who normally doesn't seek out movies like this, the connotation is different. She's not a prude; she can certainly deal with violence in films, but I think she thought this was just mindless violence and little more. Which of course, is the point of most summer action movies! I suspect, though, that she was a good sport about it all, as she always is. At least she won't have to worry about Sam Jackson coming after her on Twitter.

Five Avengers I'd like to see in future movies
'Avengers' will be a fanboy's dream come true

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