Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Makes a Great Superhero Movie?

A few hours ago I plunked myself down in a movie theater, 3D glasses on nose, popcorn and diet coke to hand, ready to watch an action movie that got 93% on Rotten Tomatoes - The Avengers.

And I was bored. The movie was packed with great actors doing fine work. The characters had depth and interactions. The casting was inspired (Mark Ruffalo is a perfect Hulk). The writer and director, Joss Whedon, is a favorite of mine. No expense was spared. Why was it so flat for me? What is it that I want in a superhero movie?

Rollercoaster ride action
Action needs to have some punch for the viewer. Surprise me. I remember when I saw the first Jurassic Park, I had to sit up straight and tuck in my legs because I kept involuntarily kicking out when a dinosaur sneezed or bit someone's head off. That was great!

It's not like we're really worried that Thor is going to die when he plunges 30,000 feet in a glass cage. We know he's going to survive. We need some chills and thrills, or at least some arresting visuals. The 3D actually interfered with that because everyone looked so teeny tiny on the screen, like little GI Joe dolls.

Plot, please
This movie kept telegraphing that the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were manipulating the superheroes into becoming a fighting force on behalf of mankind, and then the ending was -surprise!- that the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had manipulated the superheroes into becoming a fighting force on behalf of mankind. Other than that, the plot was verrrrry thin.

Hello, romance!
Or bromance. Or fromance. The season finale of The Big Bang Theory had more human resonance than The Avengers, and it's about a bunch of Aspergery geeks.

This movie had so many main characters that I didn't come to care about any of them. If we have to have all six Avengers, couldn't we emphasize some over the others? Or see the events from the perspective of one of them? This felt like equal time had to be given to each of the dozen movie stars.

Bring back the auteur
Like the last Batman movie, this felt like something created by a committee. Just because it's an action movie doesn't mean it can't have vision and passion. Like Back to the Future or the Matrix movies or the Tim Burton Batmans or the first Iron Man. You know you're going to make a billion dollars in the first week, but why not pour your heart into it and make it art? (We all know the answer to that: in Hollywood, money is the only measure of success. But Joss Whedon should know better.)

I've heard the complaints that there are too many superhero movies. I don't agree. I'm aware that ever since Disney bought Marvel the brand has become a hollow copy of its previous hollow copy of its golden days in the 1960s. I still think we can have (and that we deserve!) great superhero movies. I remember the first time I saw Kill Bill Part One: when the last line was delivered I hopped out of my seat and punched my fist in the air and whooped. That's what I want.


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