Summer Movie Retrospect: Marvel’s The Avengers, Prometheus, and The Dark Knight Rises.

Hi there! I’ve neglected this blog for a large part of the summer, but I thought that it would be good to come back and reflect on a couple of the major films that I’ve seen these past three months and just put my thoughts out there for what it’s worth. I’m not going to pretend that I’m the only one on the Internet to have written a blog post about these films (ha, imagine the thought), but this is more of a way of getting my opinions down for future refinement, discussion, and reflection. And so, without further preamble….

Marvel’s The Avengers

I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t expect this movie to be good. This is not out of abject insult to the capacities of Joss Whedon or the Marvel Movie Universe as a whole, as I’ve more or less enjoyed the creative products of both over the years.  My withdrawn skepticism was rather more of a defense mechanism than a  knee jerk response of cynical criticism. It’s just that the build up and ambition of this film reeked just too much of being “too big to fail” that I prematurely sought out to curb my own enthusiasm to save myself from the potential of disappointment.

I mean c’mon, look at the premise of The Avengers:

“A superhero film with 6 protagonists, portrayed by an ensemble cast of leading actors, each major character (with the exception of two) introduced in their own independent film, with this film acting as the coordinated culmination point of the five films that preceded it.”

That’s a monster of a task to undertake, for any studio or filmmaker for that matter. There are accomplished directors who can’t satisfyingly pull off ONE superhero film with ONE protagonist, let alone SIX iconic superheroes cooperating (and conflicting) with one another over the course of a single film! The scope and method of this film’s adaptation of an intellectual property is unprecedented, and the past has shown significant disappointments by many other talented directors put forward with much lesser tasks.

How good could The Avengers be, realistically?  Can it even be done?

Fortunately for many movie and comic fans, the answer is yes. Joss Whedon fully comes into his own element at the helm of The Avengers, adeptly steering what could have otherwise been in lesser hands a landlocked super-freighter of a film into the narratively smooth (and commercially lucrative) waters of success. The Avengers ultimately benefits from Whedon’s involvement and serves as  proof positive of how a single director can take the same characters and actors of another and somehow manage to pull so much more out of them. Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans resonate with believable contempt and reluctant respect for one another as Iron Man and Captain America on screen, and Mike Ruffalo’s portrayal as the Hulk serves as the quiet center of pathos and relatability in the film before erupting into triumphant action and amazement.

The biggest take away I had from the film when I first walked out of the theater (and which still resonates with me to this day) is how funny The Avengers really is. That’s weird right, walking into a superhero film and coming out with the same level of bemusement one would expect from a comedy? But somehow it just…works.

The Avengers is a character study of clashing egos and noble intentions. The humor exists not only to break up the pace of the film but to give the audience a chance to “pause in motion” so to speak, to take a step back and recognize the ridiculousness of the situations that the movie proposes without descending into self effacing parody or derision.Whether it’s a throw away anecdote about Galaga or a simple deadpan retort of  “he’s adopted”, there’s a wealth of humor to experience in this film. But the jokes remain just far apart from one another to punctuate meaningfully with the action onscreen, the quips never feel too abrasively quippish or too terribly forced.

Joss Whedon writes better humor than most screenwriters and directors who make their entire working profession from writing comedy.

The film does subscribe to some of the more predictable tropes and nuances of the Superhero Action Genre (Giant space army spills out of the sky, cue coordinated pyrotechnical explosions down busy streets, suddenly everyone’s working together?), but The Avengers was never a film that set out to reinvent the wheel or break from convention. It was meant to show if the formula, if handled capably, could work on this scale. And it does, more or less.

Ultimately, I walked out a little taller for having seen the film in theaters. Head held high, decidedly satisfied with what I had come to see.


My favorite screen shot from the entire film

I’ve already said quite a lot  about Prometheus in the past and there’s even more that I can say about it now two months after its initial release (and little of it is glowing). The film is a curious mix of overblown grandiosity, convolution disguised as depth, and perplexing stupidity that  coalesces into just the perfect storm of polarizing interpretation and divisive debate for nerds like me.

I remember telling a friend after watching the film that  it was like starring into a vacuum of ideas, and that interpretation’s not far off from being true. Many different opinions have spawned out Prometheus, some vitriolic and other poignant and contemplative. Prometheus is a “vacuum of ideas” in the way that it appears to be a film that different viewers and audiences pour their own inferences and aesthetic temperaments into it and get back totally different interpretations, sometimes between viewers who are otherwise in agreement with one another.

If you walk into the film looking for a story, that is a plot-line with paces of rewarding revelation and emotional payoff, your experience will instead be reminiscent of peeling back the assorted layers of an “onion of disappointment” or a “matryoshka doll of frustration”,  finding little internal plausibility or enjoyment even in derision.

What Prometheus really is is a thought experiment hampered by an otherwise hackneyed plot with forgettable characters, a meditation on the contentious inherent relationship between the creator and the created. (Or at least that’s the conclusion that I’ve come to on my own to otherwise assuage my burning contempt for the film otherwise.)

It’s easily one of my most talked about film of this summer and despite as vehemently of a reaction I had to it upon first watch I would still go to see a sequel, if only to see the tantalizing concept of a Gigerian “Paradise” realized on screen. But not without a substantial amount of improvements to the plot structure and character portrayals of the original.

The Dark Knight Rises

Right, so we’re on that film now.

First things first, No, The Dark Knight Rises is not better than The Dark Knight. What it is is a good movie, not without its assorted plot holes and narrative inconsistencies, but still an otherwise satisfying conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy.

I think what I particular like the most about The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s up front about what the “intent” behind the film is  right from the beginning. What I mean to say is, this Batman film is one about endings moreso than anything else and it shows throughout everything in the film. For the first time in the Dark Knight Trilogy, I actually care about Bruce Wayne more than the costumed vigilante persona that he dons. He actually has an arc in this film, he’s actually forced to confront some of the demons of his past and stare face to face at the life that he has built for himself. The question of “Can Bruce Wayne keep going on like this?” dominates the narrative completely. How long will it take before he’s ready move on from the pain of loss and the vindication of his rage? Does he intend to die like this?

I was going to come back to this article and make a lengthy character analysis between The Joker from The Dark Knight and Bane in this movie and how their motivations and the way that they are portrayed set them apart and drive home in a larger sense the major difference between the two films, but I’m not sure If I feel like doing that anymore. Maybe that’s a topic for another article (hmm…)

Overall, I enjoyed the film and how it tied up the entire Nolan trilogy as a whole. I think it deftly treaded the line between “not as good as the second film” and “it’s better than most third film” while being a good movie just as itself.