(do I have to explain to you that a write-up about The Avengers might contain spoiler-y details about the movie?)
Yes I waited until The Avengers wasn’t #1 at the box office anymore to write about it, I like being contrary.
So! Because this is me, it’s time for some:
Joss Whedon is a person that exists, and he writes lots of stuff, some of which I have a very strong personal history with, and some of which is Dollhouse. He also sometimes directs things, most notably the Firefly movie, which felt exactly like two hours of television just on a really giant screen. Oh also he kept himself busy during the WGA strike by ensuring Neil Patrick Harris will be able to make money off of fan conventions for the rest of his life. He has a small army of self-identified Whedonites, and they’re very easy to identify because they assume any critical thinking applied to Whedon’s work means that you don’t like/understand it/him/them. I used to be one of them, so I probably have the lowest tolerance in the room for that kind of, “well, he’s not for everyone,” bullshit.
Whedon got together with the guy who wrote PCU and hashed out the story for an Avengers movie, and then Whedon wrote the screenplay.
Avengers? Yes, Avengers. (I’m not even going to try, you can fall down your own comic wiki rabbit hole.)
Meanwhile Back In Marvel Headquarters, someone had the idea about ten years ago to make solo films for a bunch of their characters and then make an ensemble movie with all of those characters in it. That is why there have been three goddamn Hulk movies in the last decade. And because this is Marvel doing it, it’s gone pretty well and made them enough money that the new Marvel Headquarters will be made of bricks of $20s. Also someone at DC is furiously weeping that they never managed to get the Whedon-penned Wonder Woman film off the ground. (Which yes, was a thing for a while, and yes really, Whedon was like, “yeah, I’d love to do it, I have a script, they won’t call me back.”) (The actual lesson here, as always, is that DC Hates Money.)
And so all of that culminated into The Avengers coming out and making near-literally All Of The Money. Which is cool, because we’re supposed to like it when things don’t actively suck, but is also probably going to be less cool in the long run, because we don’t like it when they make things like Daredevil or Elektra. I guess? And that seems inevitable now, because it’s been “proven” that superheroes are a profitable intellectual property (as MOVIES, obviously, nobody’s talking about effin’ COMICS here) and so they’re green-lighting mother fucking Ant Man, yes really. And they will keep green-lighting until we stop showing up, which means they’re going to put out a season of terrible, terrible superhero films, maybe two seasons, before they finally stop. Superman Returns, Spider-Man 3, and Green Lantern will look like Citizen Kane by the time this is over. I know we all know this, but still. (Also, Spider-Man 3 was the only one of that cycle I actually liked. AND YET I CALL MYSELF A FAN, HOW DARE I, SAM RAMI, BLAH BLAH, BLAH. Yes, I know, child. I know.)
BUT WHAT OF THE FILM?
What was this thing that we all paid hundreds of millions (h-half a billion? the last time I checked?) of dollars to stare at? Was it actually any good? Was it flawless?
…it was not flawless.
And that merits some discussion, because the shit we stare at and put into our minds does actually have some impact on us and our construction of ourselves and our world. Can we accept that as the lowest of low bars to pass over together, hand-in-hand, for the rest of our time together? The things we do and consume and celebrate carry some significance? Good! Glad you’re with me on this.
And what I find troubling (…well, ONE thing I find troubling) is that so many are describing The Avengers as a “perfect” superhero film. I mean, it’s really fun. There are explosions and various characters fight various other characters in a manner not unlike the way we used to crash our action figures of those characters into each other when we were children. There’s a sexy redhead who gets into fights the way the boys do. There’s a black dude who is less acting as a character and more just acting as his fame-persona, and that’s actually better. All of that, bee tee dubs, describes the modern masterpiece, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. (Which you should totally check out sometime. Take a drink every time you think an action sequence is about to end, and keep chugging until the action sequence is actually over. Try not to destroy your liver that way. Good luck, Joes.)
What I’m saying is that a lot of us find a lot of the shit in The Avengers, “cool”, but we like that stuff because we either saw some/most of the movies leading up to The Avengers (again: genius move, Marvel, I hope you promoted whoever thought that up), or because we grew up reading some/most of the comics about these characters, either solo or in teams. Or, if you’re me, you saw it because you knew the internet would have a lot of fun taking the movie (and the press surrounding its release) and shaking it up into a thousand different gifs, references, and memes. If you’ve never watched a movie or TV show because you wanted to keep up with Tumblr then I don’t know how to explain it to you, Gramps, but there it is.
…okay, okay, I also went because whenever The Hulk smashes up a bunch of stuff, some part of my brain turns into this baby.
But I was a Prime Audience; a lot of us were primed and set up to like this shit. Which is fine! It’s okay to like things! But it’s less okay to pretend that the things we like are magically blessed *because we like them*. The movie actually is not all that REMARKABLE. If anything, I’d say it barely edged by in the, “actually giving a shit about the people/events on screen,” category, and only then if you are truly unfamiliar with Whedon’s work and his relationship with character death. (Everyone who was surprised by the fact and style of Coulson’s death, go stand with your nose in the corner and think really hard about your failure. Try to do better next time.) I thought maybe Maria Hill might be the person to inevitably, suddenly die, but hey, they recast her character as a white Canadian, so I figured she was probably safe. (It’s a Whedon project, there can’t be more than one person of color around or else his (very, very white) fanbase might get nervous.)
I’m trying to balance “ahem, problem” things with nice things so here you go: I appreciated Whedon’s blatant obsession with reflections, I found it to be very appropriate for a comic book film, and far less tiresome than Ang Lee’s split-screens in The Hulk. (Note: I have not seen all of that version of The Hulk, just enough to be like, “whaaaaaa”.) I do think that movies about superpowered weirdos arguing with each other may be the sweetest of sweet spots for Whedon’s aesthetic, to the shock of nobody. Also, I would assume in part because he didn’t originate these characters, this is the first time in a long damn while I wasn’t able to be like, “the violent loner”, “the brooding sexy man”, “the ‘not pretty’ pretty girl who’s really smart”, “the tiny conventionally attractive badass woma–oh wait.”
There’s a whole snitfit about, “why is Black Widow even in this movie”, and (1) because she was in Iron Man 2 so they kind of had to use her and (2) due to that, why would you put ANOTHER WOMAN on the team, I mean god, this isn’t a chick flick, and (3) shut up let’s talk about her being in it instead of debating whether a different woman should even be on the team at all. THIS IS THE ONE WE GOT. Which is kind of the base of the problem…one of the bases of the problem. Here, I’ll take it in segments.
SEGMENT ONE OF THE PROBLEM
Women aren’t a monolith. (Yes, that’s my fucking catch phrase these days. Learn it, love it, live it.) There are lots of us. Having “the girl” on the team means that she gets the impossible, unenviable task of “representing” women. It means that her appearance and behavior become a message from the film to the viewer about “women” instead of “this one individual woman”. It’s not cool, I know! But that is what happens when you have a token minority instead of true diverse representation. Nick Fury kind of gets away with it due to his authority over the team and the fact that he’s Samuel L. Jackson, although I was disappointed that he had to report to a bunch of disapproving white people in the movie. It felt a little weird, but then I actively don’t pay attention to anything about SHIELD in the comics, so what do I know? My point is that when the only woman with more than four lines of dialog is running around with her costume half-unzipped*, it makes it hard to say that this movie is doing anything particularly different than um every other anything ever. Yawn.
SEGMENT TWO OF THE PROBLEM
Joss Whedon has never un-learned how to write Buffy, or he just won’t stop because people keep clapping their hands together and going, “Yaaaaaay you did that thing that time, let’s crown you King of Feminists!” and I’d imagine that feels pretty good, so he just keeps on beating that particular horse. I wish someone would point out to him that in the phrase, “strong female characters”, the word “strong” does not have to refer to literal physical strength, but eh, that would involve growing as a person, and why would we ever ask or expect that from a creative dude? Yeah, bro, we get it, there was a time when the idea of a tiny sexy lady fighting on TV was a revolutionary idea. That revolution has passed. Rejoin us on the front lines, please.
Because really, this is what she wears when she first shows up:
And then the rest of the time it’s this:
If your argument to this is, “But there’s not even *very much* cleavage!” then you, too, get to go stand in the corner with your nose against the wall and think for a while.
As a comparison, the rest of The Avengers:
Papa Kirk was commander of a starship for 12 minutes and saved 800 lives…and then he became Thor.
Even Hawkeye is like, “this CGI shirtless guy is not doing it for me.”
*Two buttons unbuttoned*, Banner? Slut alert. (PS a significant portion of Lady Internet has decided these two are boyfriends, dealwithitshades.gif everyone, never let it be said I didn’t keep you informed about the important things.)
what is that, a metal priest collar?
Look, even the bad guy is rather conservative in his realness:
(If you were ever like, “I wonder what it would look like if Harry Potter got sorted into Slytherin and grew up?”, well now you know.)
That’s like SO MANY DUDES, right? And then just this one fierce bitch:
So while each guy gets to rock his own look and that’s cool, lots of dudes in the audience can be like, “I’m more of a Thor than a Hawkeye, yay Thor!”, ladies in the crowd get to go, “I’m…nothing like that one lady on screen and oh, there doesn’t really appear to be much more in the way of ladies. Yeah, I got nothing. Maybe I’m the one working that one console, who got killed along with all the other people who clearly did not survive during the Hulk breakout/Loki escape/Bad Guy Invasion, even though the only death anyone mentioned was Agent Coulson? Maybe I look like Agent Coulson’s kinda-girlfriend, the cellist, who never appears on screen? WHO KNOWS.” …I guess you could also be Pepper Potts, who delivers all of her dialog while wearing short-shorts? (Which, to my utter amazement, I can’t find pictures of online right now.)
Also blah blah aspirational male bodies vs sexualized female bodies blah blah you know this already. (And if not, I’ve got a corner with your nose’s name on it.) (Or, maybe check out some of the Suggested Reading, link at the top of the page.)
So, MY POINT, like I ever have just one, is that while The Avengers was a super fun way to eat a bucket of popcorn, *I think we can do better*. I think that the tiniest veneer of feelings on top of the normal action hero bullshit is a far cry from “perfect”, and if it’s “perfect” for the source material, then IT IS TIME TO EXAMINE THE SOURCE MATERIAL AS WELL. It may come as a surprise to you, but comics kind of suck in a lot of ways, and many of those ways involve the comics themselves being alienating to people who are not grown up life-long comic fans. THERE IS NO MYSTERY, IT IS EXPLAINABLE. And when, “But that’s how Black Widow *always* dresses!”, is the argument I get, even from Respected Comic-y Type People Who In Theory Know Better Than Me, I have to roll my eyes and just yell, “REALLY?” a lot, because REALLY? Uuuuugh, laziest of lazy arguments. The way she’s always dressed is shitty, then. Ta-fucking-da.
Also, problematic (racist, sexist, mind-numbingly simplistic, pandering to white male anxieties and power fantasies, I could go on) source material just opens the door for problematic film execution, and that’s on Whedon. Nothing in the script demanded that Black Widow’s ass get reaction shots when she goes and talks with Loki, and yetttttttt. (Yes. Really.) It’s tiresome, it’s boring, and it’s not the best we can ever do.