08 May 2012

More First Impressions: The Avengers - Pulp Roots and a Balmy Future

Well folks, The Avengers (2012) is still rocking strong and is clearly the #1 thing in America right now. We should take a moment to mourn the loss of the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch, though, who has clearly had a tremendous influence on this blogger. It's been a crazy couple of days for sure. But - back to the biggest film in the country.

Can anyone see The Dictator (2012) superseding The Avengers this weekend? I don't think so. Sacha Baron Cohen's latest is appearing more and more desperate as he's suddenly appearing everywhere as his character, Admiral General Aladeen. Note how this post is becoming more and more prescient - as the desperation boils over it's clear that the film hasn't yet integrated itself into the national consciousness the way the greatest of this year, The Avengers and The Hunger Games (2012) have. That is to say, once the hype machine gets rolling, there isn't a need for the blatant and jarring bits of self-promotion that irritate rather than buzz.

Where were we?

Comic Origins: Taking Inspiration by Piecemeal

The Avengers has a team have a somewhat ridiculous history after first forming in 1963. They originally formed not wholly unlike the film - Loki tricked the Hulk into a rampage and Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and Wasp united to fight him, eventually recognized Loki's mischief, took in the Hulk, and beat down the rogue god. Neat. So the Loki inspiration is certainly present in The Avengers, as is bits of controlling the Hulk (Loki's first main goal is to set loose the Hulk to destroy the rest of the Team on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellicarrier). Since then, The Avengers have taken on just about every major player in the Marvel Universe, including Spider-Man, Wolverine, and of course Iron Fist.

The important distinction is how S.H.I.E.L.D. comes in. It wasn't until many years later that the supersecret spy organization had anything to do with the Avengers - except for in the Ultimate storyline that Marvel pushed for at the turn of the century. The Ultimate Universe sought to re-boot many of their comic lines to make them more accessible to new readers who had no desire to wade through forty years of complex, contradictory history. Of course, as the A.V. Club points out, with titles like The Ultimates, Ultimate Comics: Avengers, Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates, and Ultimate Comics: Ultimates, this was still no easy task.

The Ultimates refers to a group of heroes that is more accurately reflected in the film. A Sam Jackson-looking Nick Fury recruits a bunch of ultimate heroes to come together in times of great crisis. This is really straight-up what the film is reproducing and within the context presented, is the only way for all these Alpha Males to work together. The Comic Tony Stark is a team player who recruits and defends and leads the charge (eventually becoming Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. no less). The Film Tony Stark would rather down some scotch and bang Gwyneth Paltrow. Wouldn't we all?

Anyone Else Had Enough of Massive City-decimating Alien Invasions?

This is an aside more than anything, but it seems like we've somehow emerged in a glut of big, crazy weird Alien Invasion films. And everyone is ripping off eachother's designs and no one seems to care. Remember that big chewy Snake Thing from Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) that munches through Chicago? Not all that different from the big squirmy Worm Thing from The Avengers that munches through NYC. From the looks of it, Battleship (2012) and Men in Black III (2012) will bring on more of the same crap.

It's that weird grotesque Alien Design that seems worlds away from more classic streamlined designs that we saw in Independence Day (1996) or to a lesser extent, War of the Worlds (2005). Instead now we have these intricate, squiggly looking things flying around, whether they be strictly machine as in Transformers, or actually organic as in The Avengers. In addition, the battles have become that much bigger - it's no longer outside the realm of possibility that an entire city (often somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard) will get wrecked.

We're in this age of mega-mega-budgeted blockbusters that have these new expectations of Box Office Returns. Cracking the billion-dollar worldwide is no longer a distinction reserved for anomalies like Titanic (1997) or long-awaited adaptations like Return of the King (2003). Just about anyone, from Alice in Wonderland (2010) to Dark of the Moon (2011) is game. With this in mind, filmmakers can set their sights a bit higher, and throw entire futuristic wars up on screen like never before. The results, hollow as they may be in a film like Transformers, look really rad, although they have quickly become repetitive in style.

Marvel's Future:

Ultimately this film is both an endpoint and a turning point for Marvel Studios. The Avengers was the culmination of many years of hard work, tie-ins, and massive crossover appeal. Its success, however, guarantees that not only will each Franchise continue on its own, but the central Avengers Series will also continue, single-handedly ushering in a new era of Blockbuster filmmaking, one where characters, when done properly, are not limited to any single film, which is liberating, frightening, and exciting to behold.

This film should be a landmark one for Marvel for introducing the Cosmic aspects of its Universe. Now, with Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) we got into this a bit, but that's something everyone would more rather forget. Instead, Josh Whedon filled this film with the Chitauri, a more obscure Interstellar Race than most casual fans are familiar with, but his reasoning is just that. The film also introduces Thanos. Nerd as I am, when Loki was talking to the Palpatine-looking motherfucker towards the beginning of the film with cryptic references to their Boss, I was secretly hoping that would turn out to be Thanos, but I didn't think the series had really gotten bold enough to go that far.

The introduction of Thanos and his love for Lady Death is a brilliant set-up for Avengers 2 (2015) or maybe even Thor 2 (2013). I have to think that a Galactic Threat of this magnitude would be in a film no smaller than the scope of The Avengers. It seems as if Marvel is fairly content with keeping its tie-in films a bit simpler while bringing together the big army battles for the core Avengers franchises. If that is the case, there's no way the mad Titan would appear in Thor 2. This also harkens the obvious - will the Silver Surfer return? Could Marvel finally get the rights to some of its other characters like Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four? Or someone analogous that hasn't been used, like Adam Warlock, Quasar, Nova, or the Sentry? Why are there so many of these guys? Are we stuck with Dr. Strange, Vision, and Moonknight?! CAN I GET A BETA RAY BILL?! Shit!

There are plenty of Easter Eggs already in place to give Thanos plenty to do. In addition to his quest for the Cosmuc Cube, Thanos is closely identified with the Infinity Gauntlet, also seen in Odin's Vault, which Marvel has already showed off. There are plenty of possibilities.

The short answer is that Marvel can do just about anything they want now. They can dig up some more villains and heroes from their massive library, throw 'em together and presto - you've made a cool billion shmagooligans. Now, if DC can get their asses moving on a Justice League film, we'd be all set...

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