6.02.2012

People Need A Little Old-Fashioned: A Review of "The Avengers"

I'm telling you, Joss Whedon makes all the difference.

I feel that one of Joss Whedon's specialties as a writer and director is balancing a large group of characters, giving each character depth, a background that motivates them, and an equal place in the friendly (or not so friendly) banter that is inevitable when you've got a wild assortment of personalities in the scene.

The Avengers team

Joss certainly did not hide this talent of his when he was creating "The Avengers." I can't praise this film enough. It was funny and exciting sans the lame dialogue that often accompanies superhero movies, and it was family-friendly so that all the young fans out there can go see their favorite icons in action.

It's not too often that I laugh out loud in a movie theatre, which I did at least three times during "The Avengers." But Joss uses humor to give balance to stories that deal with heavy and somber material. Despite the jokes and our heroes' shiny armor and all the astounding and dazzling special effects, "The Avengers" still takes the time to get right to the heart of what good versus evil is all about.

The Hulk, a.k.a. Bruce Banner

Much as the story of Watchmen did, "The Avengers" deconstructs the hero, but unlike Watchmen, when we leave the theatre after "The Avengers," we still put stock in the concept of heroism. "The Avengers," ironically, emphasizes the characters' decidedly human struggles as much as their superhuman abilities. Bruce Banner has anger issues that can turn very ugly very quickly. Tony Stark is a bit of an egomaniac who revels in his wealth, status, genius, and playboy reputation. Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton have committed dark deeds they'd rather have erased. Thor and Loki have an explosive sibling rivalry and family issues. Steve Rogers struggles to adapt to and analyze a world that has, for him, changed drastically in the blink of an eye.

Steve Rogers finds himself in a world much changed since he last fought bad guys

But "The Avengers" doesn't leave it at that. It doesn't leave us asking "But who watches the Watchmen?" - fearing to put trust in strong leadership or this ideal we hold of a "hero." It seems to me that for every character that he writes as an outcast, or an assassin with a seedy history, or a selfish billionaire, or a big green monster with serious anger issues, Joss Whedon also writes their way to redemption. He did it for Ripley the human-Xenomorph hybrid and Call the android in "Alien: Resurrection," and he will do it for the Avengers, too. He already achieved it with Tony Stark - a man with obvious character flaws (though Robert Downey, Jr. makes them endearing). Peter S. Beagle says in The Last Unicorn that "...the true secret of being a hero lies in knowing the order of things." And that is precisely the knowledge Tony Stark demonstrates. He may be a childish billionaire playboy with an ego the size of his R&D tower, but when all depends on him, he does not flinch - even for a moment - from what he knows he must do. Stark proves himself a true hero because a true hero knows when it is time to make a sacrifice, and does it without complaint.

Tony Stark - genius billionaire, playboy, egomaniac, hero.

Agent Phil Coulson, ecstatic over finally meeting his longtime hero - golden boy Steve Rogers - tells Steve he even got to have a little input on Captain America's new uniform.

Steve Rogers: "The uniform? Aren't the stars and stripes a little...old-fashioned?"
Agent Phil Coulson: "With everything that's happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned."

I couldn't agree more, Agent. We want to see the bullies put to justice, we want to see selfless teamwork between super friends, and we want to see our heroes combat the enemy - both the external and the internal - and emerge victorious. And Joss Whedon gives the people what they want.

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