By Liam Scheff
September 26, 2012
“The Avengers” is out on video this week. Youtube is already full of clips, and you can own your very own digital disk for between twenty and forty or fifty dollars, depending on how many “branded” pieces of plastic you want to accompany your purchase.
The film is directed by Joss Whedon, the creator of successful television series like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Serenity.”
I’ve often enjoyed the fascination his work shows with ancient religion, concepts of good and evil, angels and demons, and a sense of metaphysical fluidity regarding the world we think we live in. On the other hand, I’ve often hated his dialogue – shallow, quippy, something that annoying high school kids think is very clever before they say it. And those shows were very popular with those kids – and now, that same dialogue is featured in an incredibly (monetarily) successful movie about superheroes. The problem is, this isn’t a movie.
I’m sure it’s the 20 or 30 years of increasingly spastic and anti-gravity, anti-physics, anti-human-limitation sensibility of video games on the minds of two or three generations that lets this green-screened wonder pass for a film. Oh, there are clever lines – as there are in some soap operas. Yes, the acting in the green-screened rooms is more or less okay. But, in sequence after sequence, characters, whether they be human, or superhuman, or demigod, are immune, impervious, and in all other ways neurologically non-reactive to all forms of – not just violence – but even gravity.
Characters are punched so hard that they fly 30 to 150 feet; they’re thrown out of buildings, falling 70 stories, but they don’t act as actual people would; ie, blacking out, evacuating their bowels involuntarily, or having a heart attack. The ‘heroes,’ in downtown New York City, are confronted with a 2000 foot long metal flying dragon plane beast – the noise of which would have exploded the eardrums of everyone within a half mile. But, it didn’t.
And spunky, chunky Scarlett Johansson, who plays a wee mortal in the film, is somehow also immune from even so much as a twisted ankle when being flung onto rooftops from video-game inspired manga vehicles (lucky girl, I pinch my knee and have to pause and rub it for a moment, when I work it too hard when I’m biking). But in this movie, nothing fazes anybody.
“But, so what? It’s just a movie?” goes the response. Well, nothing that corporations spend 200 million dollars on is “just” anything. It’s a major conditioning force. It impacts the imaginations and worldviews of children. That’s not a “just.” That’s practically everything.
The argument that this is a movie “for kids” also doesn’t wash well. The “Black Stallion” was a movie for kids, and it’s a gorgeous film. It’s shocking, it deals with issues of death and survival. It takes you places in your spirit – but, it’s not in 3D, and there are no lasers. “Sleeping Beauty,” too, was for kids – and it’s a beauty to watch, (despite the normal thematic problems with Disney films).
“But, it’s a sci-fi film,” I hear you say, and we’ve got to “suspend disbelief.” But, that suspension of disbelief has got to be uniform. Not everyone in the movie is a god. But they all act as though they are. No one is capable of really being hurt. Oh, plenty of faceless “humans” die, but even though four of the five Avengers are human, they are all immune to the power of a visiting god, “Loki,” who is raining down his wrath for the purposes of, well… who knows? It’s irrelevant. It’s all an excuse to put more mecha-manga-bots in the air.
Older sci-fi, by comparison, for having limited budgets to spend on special effects, is both artistically interesting and philosophically challenging – see “Logan’s Run” or “Soylent Green,” or the original “Planet of the Apes.” These movies shock the system – not with ADHD-inducing roller coaster antics, but with troubling questions of morality, sexuality and politics. Even the first “Superman” movie provided much more in the way of humanity, and loss. So, it’s not that superhero movies (which are actually places humanity goes to worship its native and inescapable polytheism) are bad; it’s that the greenscreen has destroyed cinema.
And “Star Wars,” the movie that started the modern era of big-screen, big-budget space adventure, was about a farm boy, with no political affiliation, using the spirit voices he heard in his head, and what would have been essentially out-dated tech (in his world) to destroy the evil machine planet. Now, government-sponsored, nuclear-powered super-agents are our only hope.
“The Avengers” continues the theme of the government-supersoldier-as-savior, that has been the center of the recent Batman (Dark Knight) films. We’re not supposed to think about it – but it is the corporate military, nameless, faceless, and with totalitarian authority and power – that is called to “save humanity.” But, from whom? From gleeful aliens or terrorists?
I think we have more to worry about in the form of the corporate government itself. (What if “The Avengers” was about a group of individuals fighting the corporate bank mafia, and the jackals in the clandestine services, who warp the information coming to all of us, through ‘news’ channels which they own and operate?)
If this sounds like an hysterical (or humorless) review, let me assure you that I love a good action movie. But good action movies are good, because the characters you follow are on a journey – call it “the hero’s journey,” which involves, always, loss and pain, before learning how to overcome an obstacle.
But, when no one can be hurt, and video-game green screened technology solves every problem, there is no room for the doubt and pain, and choice, that lets a character learn how to become the ‘hero,’ and then gives us a glimpse of how we find the heroic part of ourselves (because that is precisely what stories are for).
“The Avengers” isn’t a ‘movie.’ It’s not a ‘talkie.’ It is, however, a video game. A corporate-sponsored war game. A dizzying drug for the minds of fanboys worldwide. I guess it’s sort of clever for being that. Sort of. But, not really. Watch “Chinatown” for a summer blockbuster that demonstrates what happens to people when they get hurt, and pulls no punches. Or “The Godfather.” Or “The French Connection.” Or, “American Gangster.” It’s not that old movies were necessarily better – it’s that we’re feeding young people computer-assisted puke and calling it ‘great.’ And that’s not good for any of us, because it means that the programming is working.
Liam Scheff is author of “Official Stories,” available on Amazon and Createspace, worldwide.
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Not a movie – a video game: