Monday, May 7, 2012

With Great Power...

After much anticipation and fanfare, I took my family to see The Avengers on opening weekend. All I can say is “Whoa!” 

It is important to understand the basis of this “whoa.” I am not basing my “whoa” on the special effects which were certainly good but not cutting edge. I am not basing my “whoa” on the acting, which was certainly effective, but not worthy of any academy awards. I base my “whoa” on the fact that the movie worked…plain and simple. The movie was exciting, engaging, entertaining, interesting, funny, and…most of all…against all odds, competent. Yes, competent. By all rights, this movie should have failed, and under the direction of anyone other than creative demigod Joss Whedon, it certainly would have. 

“How could it have failed?” you ask. Easily. Think of everything the movie had to do. It had to live up to the writing, directing, acting, storyline, and special effects of the precursor movies (Ironman, Ironman 2, Thor, Captain America, and the various takes on the Hulk). It had to mesh the different worlds of each superhero, each of whom lives in distinct realities within the Marvel universe. Ironman lives in a world of technology and wisecracking quips, Thor lives in a world of Wagnerian costumes and Shakespearian dialog, Captain America lives in a world of 1940’s patriotic war movies and patriotic rhetoric, and the Hulk lives in a world of mediocre CGI. All of these back stories, all of their dialogs, and all of their visual styles had to be pulled together into a seamless tapestry that should mimic more a fine Persian rug and less a first grade 4H quilting project. In addition, the director had to work with the A-list actors from all of these movies, give them equal screen time, and manage their sizeable egos.

Joss was just the fanboy to pull it off. On top of everything, he created a summer blockbuster that worked for many audiences. It was an exciting diversion for the casual moviegoer (whom I tend to refer to as “the common folk”). It was a faithful adaptation for the comic book faithful. And it was a cleverly written Joss Whedon oeuvre for film geeks like myself who wait patiently for Stan Lee to make his cameo appearance, watch for bit part actors who are now stars in Joss’s personal black book (eg, Enver Gjokaj and Alexis Denisof), and analyze the screenplay for Joss’s wordplay, stylistic elements, and careful balance of tension and release.  

 Joss shared screenwriting credit with Zak Penn, whose superhero screenplay resume includes “The Incredible Hulk,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Fantastic Four,” “Elektra,” “X2,” “Last Action Hero,” and the TV show, “Alphas.” Joss no doubt had the executive producers looking over his shoulder every step of the way, including Marvel Comics CEO Avi Arad and Marvel All-Father Stan Lee. And, he had a variety of other heavy hitters on the payroll, including Alan Silvestri writing the original score.

So, yeah. Whoa.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, make sure you stay through the credits. Partway into the credits, you will get a teaser about the next Marvel movie, although to fully understand the reference, it helps to have a comic book maven like my wife sitting next to you (who spent two years archiving comic books for the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.) At the very end of the movie, there is a very funny tag that will make you glad you waited to find out who was the second second assistant director (who by the way is Julian Brain). And, if you already saw the movie and ran out as soon as the credits started rolling, fine. That’s your prerogative. But I ain’t gonna tell you what happens at the end. That’s what you get for being common folk.

Speaking of Mr. Whedon, according to IMDB, his next big project, now in post-production, is a movie adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. This ought to be interesting because the cast list is completely filled with actors from Joss’s  black book; actors and actresses from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly,” “Dollhouse,” and now “The Avengers.” Hey, why not? He’s Joss “The Boss” Whedon, and he can pretty much do what he wants at this point. I just hope he remembers the mantra from the Marvel universe, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

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