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Assembling Former Glory: Director Joss Whedon attempts old-school blockbuster with 'The Avengers'

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MAY 02, 2012

When Marvel and Disney asked to screen questions before interviewing Joss Whedon, my first impression was to assume that the plot of “The Avengers” symbolized something much larger than just a comic tale. Perhaps the movie would allude to a contemporary global threat or feature a hidden psychological dimension — or at the very least have a number of vital plot twists that were not already broadcasted through the trailers.

Alas, my imagination had run too freely. What “The Avengers” actually ends up being is a thoroughly straightforward action film structured around nothing complex at all.

There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with being a feel-good movie, as long as the film retains the ability to make you experience something you never could have come across in real life. So this rules out recent seasonal blockbusters that only bombard you with sex or vacuous humor and invites a return to what summer movies used to be.

Whedon nostalgically attributes “The Avengers” to cinema’s past: “‘The Avengers’ may be bigger-than-life,” he says, “but it’s still an old-fashioned movie. When I was growing up, the summer movie was literally being created as a concept and all my life I wanted to make something like the first Indiana Jones movie — something that was seeped in character, in love with the genre it was portraying, and had real acting with a story that unfolds.”

A steep difference, though, between the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Avengers” is that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas produced their film with an $18 million budget, whereas Whedon was granted $220 million. A shockingly exorbitant financial allowance usually means that the audience should expect an excessive barrage of images and sounds — because who really needs that much money to portray a comic that was originally drawn with pen and paper?

Turns out, this type of budget is perfectly necessary for our overly-stimulated culture, as it takes much more to entertain us now. High-intensity action ignites within the first five minutes and mesmerizing special effects dare not lose their luster until after the credits — but sitting through the 142 minutes feels just as tranquil as a warm summer breeze. You feel more content than overwhelmed as the marvelous velocity maintained by the superheroes soothes the tempo of even the most volatile cases of modern day ADD.

You’re not allowed time to get bored between Captain America’s chiseled good looks and Tony Stark’s obnoxiously witty playboy remarks. If it’s not the glossy views of S.H.I.E.L.D’s state-of-the-art “office,” then it’s a one-liner humorously chastising the evil-yet-pitiful antagonist, Loki. Besides Hawkeye’s one or two invasive arrows, the 3-D objects that protrude from the silver screen and into our seated realm are digitally orchestrated to be visually harmonious — as if movie watching has always been this way.

During the interview, Whedon commented that he was drawn to the storyline of “The Avengers,” because it is a “realistic version of a comic book universe.” Being a scriptwriter who in the past has consistently infused psychological depth into his characters, he was interested in how egos clash when various individuals are brought together from different walks of life.

“The Avengers are really, really messed up people,” Whedon said. But beyond the fact that human actors are naturally going to give the movie a flesh and blood quality over the animation, the emotional psyches of the characters are never quite explored. Moments when intimate sentiments expose human frailty are brief and only one scene truly captures the Avengers interacting together emotionally. These superficial character portraits are undoubtedly a result of having six leads share the screen as equally significant protagonists, and Whedon’s affinity for emotional development inevitably takes a backseat to the film’s visual elements.

Even so, the success of “The Avengers” is foolproof. A psychological study may not have been the movie’s forte, but you naturally root for the heroes anyways because you feel like you have known them for years. The superstar cast has only recognizable names — Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Gwyneth Paltrow, just to quickly name-drop — that come together, supercharging the audience’s enthusiasm like a shot of meta-adrenaline. And if you were ever unsure about Scarlett Johansson before, this is the movie where she will win over your heart — she is not overly-sexualized for once, and her character, Black Widow, finds a powerful way to manipulate conventional gender roles to the team’s advantage.

Watching “The Avengers” is like happily embracing your summer fling. You have waited all year for this kind of sensuous, no-strings-attached distraction that you can enjoy without emotionally investing yourself. But what separates summer crushes from one night stands is their light-hearted charm, that refreshing rush they give you and just how good you feel through it all, that make them ultimately impossible to forget.

Contact Soojin Chang at 


MAY 02, 2012

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