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The gang’s all here
When Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” became a runaway hit, a few things happened: Robert Downey Jr. became America’s sweetheart; Marvel Studios pocketed millions dollars; and the possibility of an “Avengers” film was teased, sending the Internet into an outright tizzy. From there, Marvel was bought out by The Walt Disney Company, who proceeded to map out a series of films featuring numerous characters from the Marvel universe.
Their efforts have culminated in “The Avengers,” the much anticipated action epic that brings together Iron Man (Downey) the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and array of others to defend the planet from Loki, an extraterrestrial super villain who declares war on earth.
At the helm is Joss Whedon, nerd culture superstar and the purveyor of such fine pop art as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly” and “Dollhouse.” “The Avengers,” however, fails to reach his usual standards of cultural analysis. In fact, despite it’s undeniable sleekness and remarkable special effects, the film is imbued with a right wing, militaristic worldview wholly at odds with Whedon’s usually progressive-minded thematic concerns.
This is a guy who’s spoken out against the marginalized role of females in popular entertainment and criticized the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in projects as recent as “The Cabin in the Woods.” “The Avengers,” however, is a Bechdel test-failing dude movie with a pro-combat outlook: Not only is a weapon of mass destruction depicted as a force for good, but S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) proclaims on more than one occasion that the only way for the Avengers to realize their full potential as heroes is to come together as a unit and defend the world from evildoers.
Was this not the same rhetoric that was force fed to 18 to 24-year-olds for the eight-year Bush presidency? These superheroes may be defending “the world” from evildoers, but as a product of American consumerism, “The Avengers” isn’t operating on a global scale. There’s a unique correlation between the war in the film and the war in real life: They’re both illusory. The former is a work of pure fiction, the latter a grand ploy of ulterior motives.
The only difference between the make believe war in the movie and the make believe war in reality is that in reality, actual people lose their lives. On actual battlefields, there are no covertly placed ads for State Farm Insurance and Southwest Airlines—there’s only death, usually without dignity.
Justifiably, Whedon was likely titillated by the prospect of directing an adaptation of “The Avengers.” The superb cast, the astronomic budget and the no doubt decent paycheck were surely impossible to refuse. But at that cost, he relinquished any and all authorial intent to the powers that be. Only on rare occasions does the film seem to benefit from his trademark sense of humor and keen sense of characterization, usually in pure dialogue scenes where the characters, if only briefly, resemble something lifelike.
The result is a film that’s merely a shell of what it could have been. In this age of creative sampling, to have strands from five different movies find their way into a single effort could have made for a unique exercise in new media and pop art. Instead, the film is a flurry of activity and noise, representing escapism in its most boorish form.
The popular counterpart to this argument is a predictable one: “This is just entertainment, man. You’re just supposed to turn your mind off and enjoy it.”
Yeah, man. Exactly.