We've Been Avenged


Will you lose respect for me if I say I enjoyed The Avengers? I'm not saying it's an important movie or anything other than a piece of comic book fluff, but it's thoroughly fun and not marred by any of the things Hollywood usually sticks into blockbusters merely to cheese me off: America is not the bad guy; industry isn't secretly poisoning anything; we aren't sold out by the CIA; there are no "sly" (but obvious) digs at Republicans. And nothing (at least that I recall) I regret my kids seeing or hearing. In other words, a family movie if the kids are old enough for cartoonish violence and "peril."

There are even two things that make it rather wholesome, but as they're slightly spoiler-ific I'll save them for the end.

Following my own custom, here are the Weedlet reviews as reported to me moments after the credits rolled and out of each others' earshot.
Youngest Weed (8): It was quite good!
Middle Weed (11): Man! I really liked it. The best part was: "Hulk: Smash!" and the way he grinned.
Girl Weed (13): It was pretty good. (She did not seem enthusiastic, I must admit)
Eldest Weed (15): That was fantastic! 
Bonus reviews:
The Cartoonist: That....met expectations. (By which was meant he's outgrown his ability to be enthusiastic about this kind of thing, but it was the best thing of its kind.)
Mr. W: The best I can say is that it didn't anger me. (Let the record show that he attended only out of loving indulgence for his childish wife, who now and again gets a kick out of a brainless action flick.) 
Now for the semi-spoilers. What I enjoyed was an intelligent script -- not that anything in this tale of loner action heroes conquering their egos to save earth from alien invasion bears much scrutiny, but the action moves along and is punctuated regularly with genuine humor (as opposed to mere snark). It's not all punching and explosions. (Not all.)

There is also a strong theme of defense of liberty not merely in the military sense. The bad guy (faithful to the theme of the Avengers comic books) comes to "liberate" men from freedom, which he says is a pipe dream keeping them from happiness. They should give this pipe dream up and pay their obeisance to him in exchange for his protection and imposition of order and peace.

In his first appearance before the masses he crashes a public event, slaughters 80 people with astonishing weapons and compels everyone to kneel to him. There's a wonderful moment when an old German man refuses to kneel. "Not to the likes of you," he says, implying simultaneously both that he's learned the lesson of World War II and implicitly that there is someone worthy of our kneeling.

Similarly, much later in the film Tony Stark (Iron Man) confronts the villain unarmed to tell him that his plan for domination of earth can't work because even if he commands superior might, earth has no throne he can ascend, no tradition to appeal to. The message is the human being is constitutionally unsuited to bending to a tyrant and people prefer a messy freedom to a neat and orderly bully, even if he gives them everything they want.

The bad guy, by the way, is good guy Thor's half-brother (they're from another planet), and there's a funny but telling moment when Captain America goes chasing after them and is told he'll never get them because "they're practically gods" and he responds, "There's only one God. And he doesn't dress like that."

So...standing up to tyrants even when you have no super-powers and giving God a little shout-out? That's what comic books used to be like.

There's an interesting bit of tension between Captain America (who has awakened in the 21st century after being frozen at the end of World War II) and his 1950's heroic sensibility and Tony Stark's egocentric, snarky and cynical take on everything. They don't like each other. Stark thinks Cap'n is corny and "old-fashioned"  Cap'n thinks Stark is surly, self-centered, unpatriotic and incapable of sacrifice. In the end we see that Cap'n's moral sensibility rubs off ever so slightly on Iron Man, which is nice.

Criticisms? I am informed by the Cartoonist that Samuel L. Jackson is too cool to be Nick Fury, who should be a slightly pot-bellied, gruff-voiced, cigar chewer with his dirty shirtsleeves rolled up. I never read enough Avenger comic books to feel that way about it. Scarlett Johanssen's heroine's only super-power appears to be that she is a girl. Whereas the other Avengers survive battle with aliens only because they are demi-gods from another planet, they have been genetically modified for super-strength and agility, they can Hulk out, or they wear sentient Titanium-powered armor, Scarlett Johanssen can take on a sky full of robot invaders walking upright down the middle of the street with two .22 pistols.  This is Hollywood's new thing: no matter how petite the girl and how overwhelming or even supernatural the force of the monster, the girl always wins.

Whatevs. I'm not going to quarrel too hard with God and liberty and fun.

If you'd like a review from a critic who actually knows something about cinema, I agree with this one.