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The Avengers (2012)
Some assembly required.
Filmmaker(s): Joss Whedon

When an unexpected enemy emerges and threatens global safety and security, Nick Fury, director of the international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., finds himself in need of a team to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. Spanning the globe, a daring recruitment effort begins!

The Avengers (2012)

Other Worlds

From time to time, I have the gift of unique movie audiences. I’ve watched ‘The Brady Bunch’in an after school audience of teen and preteen LA girls. Down the road from where I live is the Pat Robertson school of film where most students believe they are in a fight with the devil and film is a most powerful tool for Jesus, and I can feel that in the response to certain films. My home theatre is in the midst of a significant military area, so I sit next to warriors and their families when wondering about the war movies I see. This includes the so-called seal team six, and all the navy pilots in the Mideast.

But the most precious of shared dark space is when I am in Shanghai. I saw this film there, the only nonasian in the crowd — other than the 7 year old I was with. Then after a period of reflection, rewatched ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’

So I saw this film about the clash and merger of different worlds and dimensions while in full swim with that dynamic myself. (Chinese officials block access to IMDb, so this comment will be posted on my leaving.)

The Star Wars films, the first of them anyway, demand only two extensions of the universe beyond a projection into the future. We assume that the future (or we did then) would include large machines, space travel and expanded notions of universal governance. There is no particular need to modify what we accept as the world we live in on that account. The notion of the force, and how it is woven into Jungian family dynamics was the big leap, the thing that forces us to stretch our universe. I think I understand the appeal of this across ages and cultures.

The Marvel universe requires a different set of expansions. The time is now, yet we have world government and massive military machines and the same anachronistic limit on weapons. (There has been no advance in weapon technology: guns and swords.) We no longer need monsters to be designed to that actors can suit up, but even the CGI characters inherit this limit. But because they have to engage in hand-to-hand combat, we’ll be asked only to assume beings more or less like us (but ugly) and big machines. They have the same notions of weapons (swords, guns, blasters) we have in both the real world and the cinematic sci-fi world.

These limits ask little of us, but they limit the battles to be that same old crap we have seen hundreds of times before. The only thing Marvel could have brought was competence. Whelon does that.

Where Marvel asks us to extend our universe is in the acceptance of complete, independent other worlds. These are not just different planets with the same physics, but different dimensions with (as much as the comic artists can imagine) different physics. This is a big assumption, and I suppose only a few enterprises (religious ones) can pull it off, because you have to take the space to define the different laws of the other dimensions.

Marvel had a crew of different artists and writers, and they did not start out with a combined universe in mind, until a few managers until they combined several weak characters to sell more comics. (Stan Lee takes the credit for this, and I do not know the history well enough to dispute it.)

So we have Tony Stark who really asks that we believe that the reach of technology will expand. We have several Marvel characters that also require only that we accept normal scientific accidents: radiation-based usually. The main disruptive device here is a crystal that asks only that we believe it emits some unknown radiation. This is only a cousin to the mysteries of the LHC. That takes care of Fury, Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America. Hawk and Widow are just spies with extraordinary training (along the lines of Batman).

Thor, Loki, Asgard and the creatures from yet a third dimension are what expands this. We are asked to believe in an open, manyworld universe. Not other planets (as with Superman). Not humanmastered magic (Harry Potter, the Jedi, Dr Strange), but other worlds. I credit Lewis Carroll with making this possible.

Having said that, what Whelon does is allow the character interplay to be a reflection (that is, folded) commentary on these assumptions. Everyone among the 8 or so members of the team looks at and questions the worlds of the other. This is where the Chinese context comes in. I suppose in the US, Captain America is seen as partly a joke, what we shorthand as only a ‘cartoon’ but here that distinction is lost — especially as the actor is encouraged to take his role seriously. Here, what we have is Team America taken seriously.

What is seen here — and the China market for Hollywood blockbusters is as large as the US market — is a dull-witted, good-hearted American soldier taking command. He is manipulated by the government and military leaders, and supplied with the most extraordinary technology. He even — and no one should be surprised by this — has access to the powers of the other worlds. The blond hair and Germanic manner really stand out here.

Oh and the redheaded girl, with the spotty past, guile and commitment to do good.

I have no idea what effect this will have on global audiences. The Marvel franchise is now as powerful as that of Star Wars and Potter, and much more able to be mapped to current events. Fury even references them. But I can tell you that this was a thrilling experience, to see this with the additional fold of the audience, some of whom looked away from me when leaving the theatre.

Posted in 2012

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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