We North Americans have few myths. We’re not like the Arabs and Israelis, who live where the greatest story ever told took place. We never conquered and colonized half the world. We didn’t invent the basis of philosophy; we didn’t invent democracy. Our statues of Hercules don’t stand in the Louvre. We’re new and shiny, and myths wither under the glare of your local 7-11.
But we have comic books.
We read them when we were kids, and they became our Jasons, our Perseuses, our great heroes, and when we got older we never quite forgot them. They became our myths. The folks of Marvel and DC grew up too, and they nearly killed us with multiple simultaneous storylines, infinite Earths, and a lot of ill-conceived high art. But the initial magic, the stories, the stuff that comes out of the ground when the creators are coasting on caffeine and nicotine – that still remained.
So please understand this as I rip the shit out of Marvel’s The Avengers.
The plot is ham-fisted boilerplate Invasion Earth material, as the Loki, a renegade god from Asgard, tried to open a portal to let an army of alien Chitauri invaders into Earth. The avengers: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansen), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Junior) have to stop him.
After chasing him, capturing him, letting him escape, and eventually fighting him again, they eventually do stop him, but only after two hours and twenty-two minutes of noise, pseudo-science, Gwyneth Paltrow as a Real Orange Housewife of Orange County, and shooting. Somewhere in that time span, the myth and the soul of the movie got lost.
It’s as if the legendary Joss Whedon – he of spectacular geek cred, Buffy, Firefly – is promoting a whole new myth: the movie equivalent of the Miami Heat, complete with dependable line-up of all-stars. Gone is the touching earnestness of the original medium; in its place easy jokes, disposable villains, real-life men in tights, and an opposing team of baddies who look like acne-plagued Silver Surfers riding souped-up airborne Harley Davidsons.
We never really know why Loki wants to conquer Earth, but he looks really sexy in a cape and helmet with Rhino beetle horns. While Robert Downey Junior makes fun of the conceited, smartest-man-in-the-room Tony Stark, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has the luxury of winking and smirking at the audience and letting us in on the joke that is this movie. He knows he’s just there to sound British and Evil, like a glamorous Snape.
While much of the movie centres on the great performance of Hiddleston as Loki, but the movie is saved, literally and figuratively, by the Hulk. The hulk is a massive simian monster the colour of a green stop-light, and all he wears are trousers that look like they’re going to split in the bum. Tom Ruffalo is mellow enough as hulk’s alter ego, Banner, but Hulk – who cannot dress like a superhero, spout one-liners like Iron Man, or mutter apple-pie aphorisms like Captain America – just gets straight to the point and begins smashing. Hulk is the physically strongest in the movie, and he is also the least constrained by rules, and by worries of not being sexy or popular enough. In the climax, the stiff Captain America gives out orders: Thor should bottleneck the portal above New York City, etc, and then he looks at Hulk and says: “Hulk… smash!” In response, Hulk smiles goonishly and leaps away. The audience laughed.
I’ve rarely seen a movie that seemed so desperate to fill time, to justify its own existence, to make money and stay on top of the summer heap, to fill in orders for sequels. There was none of the calm, measured storytelling of the monthly comic. I think it’s fine to make comics into movies, but wrong to intend them to be blockbusters. Leave that to the Men in Black series, or the Mission:Impossible series. Comics need to be told simply, with an relaxed focus upon storyline, and they should be free of the desperate attempts to make hundreds of millions of dollars.