Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Avengers: Review

Opening night at the movies is always an adventure. I love movies! I think it is a ton of fun to go, relax, and be entertained. And superhero action movies do just that. One thing that you don't expect or even look for in these movies, though, is a deep message. Mostly you expect a ton of action and a villain getting his just desserts. Although you get your fair share of action The Avengers is not a shallow movie.

The question that The Avengers asks is "Can we even have heroes anymore?" That is a valid question on many counts. First, it is fair to ask if our culture rejected the idea of heroism and tried to move past it. Second, when we do try to show heroism in the movies, often it is a conflicted hero who has his own share of problems and doesn't seem very heroic. Can we even have heroes anymore?

In The Avengers, the world is teetering on an edge and needs heroes, but the team of "heroes" is anything but a team. One is flipped and fights for evil, one is a ticking time bomb, one has family issues to work out, one is conflicted by guilt, one is a leader without followers, and one is well... Tony Stark. Further, they are brought together by someone with possible ulterior motives of his own. This is not the makings of a team that can save the world.
They are all super, but are they heroes? And what is heroism? The fact is that everyone who has ever lived has faced the fact that life is hard. We all do things we regret. We are wrapped up in ourselves. We have problems. It is part of being a person.

Loki, the enemy of humanity, knows this. He, like the real Enemy, knows that one of the best ways to conquer us is by turning each of us on ourselves and on each other. Loki preys on Stark's pride in the same way the Devil needles my pride. Loki provokes anger because he knows it is difficult to control. Loki turns friends against each other because he knows a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Loki, like the troubles of our own lives, drives us to embrace the worst in ourselves and drive away those who love us. Why? Because he knows that is how he can win. As Bruce Banner aptly puts it "We're not a team. We're a time bomb." We need to bring that time bomb under control.

The Avengers deals with the themes of what it takes to rise above our own weaknesses and become heroes. Continuing the story arcs of prior films, though, it avoids the common sequel trap of merely repeating the same character developments. Instead, it shows what the various heroes can teach each other. Hulk learns about purpose from Iron Man, Iron Man learns that leadership means self-sacrifice from Captain America. Thor learns he’s not always the biggest and strongest from Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk (at various times), and tries to pass his lessons of kingship on to Loki. Captain America learns that although cultures change, heroism and patriotism are still needed. Hawkeye and Black Widow learn about forgiveness. And they all learn courage and conviction from someone who isn’t even a superhero. 

The audience is shown that it is only when we rise above our own shortcomings and put others before ourselves that any of us can be heroes.

The movie has the best dialogue I have heard in a movie in a very long time. I knew it was brilliant when Captain America pulled $10 out of his wallet and handed it to someone without saying a word. An important thing about dialogue is not only what you say, it is what you don't. 
The Avengers mastered both. It also mastered the balancing of many lead characters without single one stealing the show or being neglected.

An example of how Joss Whedon out did himself is his poignant yet hilariousness banter:

Romanov: "I wouldn't do that if I were you, they (Loki and Thor) are not from this world, they're basically gods." Capt America: "There's only one God and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that."
The movie, however, isn’t all fun and games, it is rated PG-13 and earns it with intense action and some sobering deaths. I cannot help but be impressed with a true hero who is willing to die because he knows that his death will make greater things possible.

You don’t need superpowers to be a hero. The bravest action in the whole movie is an old man who alone stands to his feet while Loki is asserting his power over the crowd.

Loki: [to crowd] Kneel before me. I said... KNEEL! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It's the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.  
German Old Man: [Standing alone] Not to men like you.
Can there be heroes anymore? The Avengers answers, "yes!" But it doesn't take super powers or special abilities. Anyone who is willing to stand alone is a hero. And when multiple people "stand alone," they can make an incredible team.

Written by Jeremiah Lorrig with Nicholas Bolzman.

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