Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Late-To-The-Party Movie Reviews, Part the First

As the title implies … most blockbuster movies that are released in these United States are released without me actually getting to them before they’re out of the theater and onto my convenient television screen, where I will perhaps stumble onto them and watch a scene, or two, or a few. The American movie industry does not make the vast majority of its money off of me, with very few exceptions.

So, I’ll get all fired up about a movie and then discover that, yeah, bro, that was so 2012.

Well, your local public library doesn’t exactly get first-run movies on its shelves. Mmmm. Patience. You must learn patience.

Or, as often happens, I may vaguely note a television ad for a movie that is Coming Soon, but otherwise I may not be aware that the movie has Come, and Gone, at all, till much, much Later.

And such was the case late this afternoon.

The cable channel known as FX has managed, within the last couple of years, to get the “Iron Man” movies (at least the first two) in front of my eyes approximately every other weekend. (I don’t know what happened, Officer. I was on my way to the Golf Channel, and that movie just jumped in front of me.) Certain scenes, featuring Robert Downey Jr. wrestling with the Iron Man suit or bickering with Gwyneth Paltrow, are familiar enough to me that I can almost sing along with him, line for line.

So I guess I’ve been properly prepared for my two-years’-delayed viewing of “Marvel’s The Avengers”. Or softened up. Whatever. Around suppertime, I strode to the local TV … discovered that my current little cut-rate DVD player now thinks that every movie is called “No Disc” … fine … and strode to the local computer and cued up my public-library copy of the “Avengers” DVD. (It’s a brave new world, and I am so behind. I’m a super long way from Netflicking.)

What’s the basic idea? Worldwide calamity threatens, and four? five? eight? superhumanly-skilled people are gathered together to achieve absurd things in the face of absurd odds, and manage not even to giggle once at the absurd costumes they’re wearing. They form a team, after their egos predictably cause them not to mesh especially well as co-workers for the first two-thirds of the story, whereupon they recognize that things will go better if they put aside their differences and work together.

Y’know … a day in the life of a kindergarten class, except with slightly more explosions. Just as many people get hit in the face with stuff, though.

I’m not mocking. “The Avengers” is drawn from a comic book, after all. We’re not dealing with John Steinbeck here.

In fact, for the first fifteen minutes of the thing, and then again as the credits rolled at the end, I duly noted the utter silliness of the project. Joss Whedon, the gentleman who took the movie “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and made people take it seriously as a TV show, even while he was not taking it too seriously, was in charge of this project; given my admiration for his work with the “Firefly” TV series that became the movie “Serenity”, I have learned not to give out with a mighty “pffft!” and walk away immediately.

It’s a silly concept. But curiously enough, the work to be done by viewers of “The Avengers” is far less to do with suspending the disbelief about “no one can jump that far” or “where’s that Iron Man suit storing all its rocket fuel?” or “an aircraft carrier that frickin’ flies??! and then loses two out of four hovercrafty engines and doesn’t immediately fall on top of a city?” … and much more to do with “half a dozen people in silly costumes are not going to save the world from that”. CGI special effects, they’re a dime a dozen nowadays. But will I be forced to roll my eyes at the story for two hours and change?

Here’s the thing. It’s a movie. Not a film. What’s the difference between a movie and a film?, and I may have stolen this concept from something I read as a kid, but I’ll take credit for the phrasing here:

A movie, you watch while eating popcorn. A film, you don’t.

Star Wars” is a movie. “Schindler’s List” is a film.

And because “The Avengers” does its movie job as well as it does, I found myself able to look past the absurd lengths to which Whedon had to go, to create a reason for Samuel L. Jackson’s intelligence-organization chief to gather these particular characters together, and just kinda enjoy the ride. (Don’t think too hard; it’ll all come apart.) And he did so without requiring his audience to have done too much homework. Not too familiar with a character? We’ll fill in the details as we go, somehow without it feeling like straight exposition.

Everybody in the world gets the concept of The Hulk. In the last few years, Iron Man has become a household name. This Thor (God Of Thunder) fellow at the very least benefits from being faintly rooted in Norse mythology. True, Captain America wears the silliest primary-color outfit of them all, but a couple of recent movies have re-introduced him, with backstory that somewhat sanded down my understandable urge to snicker. And as for Black Widow, a Russian spy (with no discernible Russian accent) who specializes in knocking people over while wearing Catwoman-grade clothing, well … the “Avengers” movie’s target demographic does consist mostly of people who would be willing to watch Scarlett Johansson sort socks, so obviously the producers installed her in this project, and can we move forward with this please?

Here’s the thing: every 21st-century blockbuster movie has eye-popping special effects. Most action movies contain scenes in which people are thrown into or through walls, plate-glass windows etc. with such force that in real life they would be dead, but instead these movie characters get up and shake it off – remarkable even if they do possess a superhuman ability or two. And most of the reason why I avoid movie theaters is that I prize my ability to hear things afterward. Most times I have no idea whether there even was a musical score, so loud are the banging and the crashing and the flaven!!.

This movie has all that stuff. So what honestly kept me from rolling my eyes even once in two and a half hours?

The acting.

… Weren’t expecting that, were you?

Or at least the actors’ ability to deliver lines ranging from the silly to the sly, in such a way that it distracted me fully from the fact that the story was hanging by a thread.

Every time Robert Downey Jr. opens his mouth as “…genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” Tony Stark, it’s gold. Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner – and, remarkably, as The Other Guy – is a shuffling, mumbling treasure. Samuel L. Jackson is Samuel L. Jackson, with everything that implies. And – c’mon, eyes up, boys – this is not the first movie in which Miss Johansson has proven rather easy on the ears, as she opens up with a sardonic quip.

Helpfully, the lines of dialogue that Whedon gave them – at least, the requisite one-liners at the end of action sequences, and even some of the expository “if we can’t defend the Earth, we’ll damn well avenge it” trailer-quote material – are consistently better than anything Roger Moore was forced to say as James Bond in the ’70s.

So, although, yes, I’ve helped finance the Star Wars and Star Trek movie franchises, and those items aren’t exactly Shakespeare or Mark Twain, and so my standards are not always nose-in-the-air elitist, and get off my back about that!, … I was entertained this afternoon. I did not go in requiring the transcendent film experience of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or even the charging of the satire batteries that is “Doctor Strangelove” (or you might also check out “Saved!”; that’s a good one, too). Perhaps that played mightily to the advantage of “The Avengers”.

But I had fun.

(Apparently, also, it was important that I watch this one before borrowing “Iron Man 3” from the library. So.)


June 6, 2014 - Posted by | entertainment, film, movies | , , , , , , , , , ,

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