Tuesday, May 22, 2012

When it's too late for the Avengers

The Avengers has dominated the box office since its opening three weekends past. It was also the dominant pop culture topic back during that week it premiered, and I even wrote about that at the time (mostly in response to the Culture Gabfest discussion) where I had to more or less reflexively defend the comic book medium (despite not having been part of it for 18 years). It wasn't so much that I thought Avengers looked all that phenomenal but there's something about people who go in with a condescending attitude about "comic book" movies jumping on the bandwagon of what's the hot subject only because it's the hot subject rather than having a worthwhile opinion about the subject.

(I'm not pretending I have a worthwhile opinion, but I choose on what I comment rather than pretending I'm keeping up with all the big topics.)

I don't consider comic books to be something one outgrows, but fighting the crowds at the multiplex is something I have outgrown, so we didn't go that opening weekend. And last weekend my wife had to work on a project so we couldn't get to it then either. So although the pop culture world has moved on from actively discussing the movie, it is only now that I can speak to that specifically, as we finally saw it over the weekend.

Was that jumping on the bandwagon? I don't think so. My wife wanted to see it because she's a fan of Joss Whedon (I have enjoyed his work but am not as much of devotee), and we have liked at least some of the prior Marvel superhero films. I was interested to see what the man behind Buffy and Firefly would do with those characters. And, yeah, okay, there's an extent to which I had to actually see it so I couldn't be accused of defending the genre without having a basis for whether I should be.

We went to a 3:00 matinee at our local theater (it was 3D but not IMAX) which was not remotely close to full. There were a few kids down the row from us and a family with some behind us, but none that were too young for the movie. Still, there were way more empty seats than filled ones for that particular showing.

And that, I came to realize when the movie was over, proved to be a problem.

While we were able to roll in 15 minutes prior to the start time and get seats at the center of the row with no difficulty—which is precisely the reason why we'd wait until the third weekend to see a movie and avoid the lines—the not-even-half-full theater didn't serve that sort of movie.

Sure, there were some elements of the Whedon cleverness, but ultimately it's about beings who can fly and shoot and smash fighting big evil forces. There's wit in the bombast, sure, but as I watched I couldn't help but feel that without the cheering of an enthusiastic crowd there was something… I won't say missing, but certainly not quite what it needed to be to get the optimal experience. It's probably not unlike the difference between going to a concert and merely listening to a CD of a live concert; it's the same songs being played but the distance in the latter lacks the key to the element of the former—being with all the other people who are into the experience together.

The plot is not the epitome of an intellectual exercise: a villain aims to take over the world with an unimaginable power and must be stopped by those who have the powers to defeat him. So what puts that above the rudiments of how it sounds like is, yes, the writing and acting and execution, but also the response of a bunch of others who explode in applause when [spoiler alert] the villain gets his. (Like you thought they didn't win in the end.)

All we had were a few kids to provide that, but they weren't that loud or enthusiastic.

Again, I was not going in as one who was likely to be that rouser of the crowd; I fully concede I'm one who can get caught up in that but not the one generating it.

Of course, being the #1 movie for weeks and hearing all about it when it came out, there's also some aspect of raised expectations it had to overcome. And as I admitted in that entry some weeks ago I admitted that I kind of got over the standard super hero tales back when I was a teen, and this movie didn't tilt the genre on its ear or anything. I'd certainly say it was good, and I didn't regret seeing it, but I suspect I'd have had a different reaction had we seen it a couple weekends ago.

Would I have preferred a movie where Joss Whedon really got to turn the genre to his style? Probably. Would it have made the ungodly amount of money the film already has? I'd say that's far less likely. But it would have been just as good in a half-empty theater (or even on DVD in a few months).

Ultimately I must say I preferred the first Iron Man (of the few preceding movies I actually saw).

And although it's really more of an apples and oranges comparison, because it involves characters from the pages of comics it's considered the same sort of thing, but I'll admit: I'm still more looking forward to The Dark Knight Rises (and my wife turned to me during the previews before Avengers and whispered "That we're seeing in IMAX"—although still probably not opening weekend). I'm a dour person, I know.

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