The Awesome Politics of "the Avengers"
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Back to the plot: The Avengers must band together to defeat Loki and his gross, mouth-breathing outer-space helpers before they unharness the power of the Tesseract and subject humankind to slavery and bad hairdos. But first, they all have to get over themselves and their egos, which are super-sized to correspond to their powers. Iron Man is, of course, the cockiest, with his post-Gordon Gecko magnate attitude and classic rock fixation, and he spars with Captain America, who’s been asleep for 70 years and thinks Iron Man’s attitude is gauche. And with David Banner trying to keep “that other guy” (the Hulk) from going out of control and destroying everyone on the hero-ship (which Ruffalo does brilliantly), basically Black Widow is the only one who’s game. It takes a tragedy to band them together and, you know, avenge.
Because every film and their mother has to be 3D-ready these days, The Avengers is full of block-rocking butt-kicking, and every character gets his or her time to shine because the film clocks in at over two hours. (Unless you’re trying to get somewhere or have to pee, you won’t notice.) It’s even a thrill watching the entirety of midtown Manhattan be destroyed by space invaders, particularly if you’ve ever actually been to the hellish streets of midtown Manhattan. Admittedly, a flash of “too soon?” entered my mind watching all those skyscrapers crumble to the ground, but Whedon smartly leaves monuments like the Empire State Building intact, letting imaginary buildings like Iron Man’s Vegas-y Starks Enterprises take the brunt of the damage.
Speaking of Starks, his punchlines were actually funny. While most action films have at least one groan-worthy cheap joke, all of The Avengers’ are genuinely funny, and even the physical gags got the audience I was in laughing. Even the ham-fisted Hulk got in a couple of zingers; it’s a testament to Whedon’s acumen that he can, in Buffy parlance, “make a funny,” but also to his savvy. The man knows his audience. And ultimately, he was able to make a politically minded action film that didn’t smash you over the head with his intent. That’s as graceful a move as you can expect from a $220 million movie.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.