Sunday, February 26, 2012

The new Avengers film: Isn't making it "cinematic" the absolute least they could do?

I don't know if you've heard about this, but on May 4, 2012, an event that is so earth-shattering it will make the big bang look like only a very small bang will be killing our collective balls.

That's when some of the largest cinematic superhero all-stars, including The Hawkeye, who can shoot arrows really accurately, will join forces to become The Avengers, in a movie version that is to be called "The Avengers." In the Marvel comics, they are called "Earth's Mightiest Heroes." In the movies, they're going to be called "Earth's Cinematicest Heroes."

Or, actually, maybe they're not going to be called that. Because, according to Ain't It Cool News, there are grumblings that, while the film itself is good, the guy who is directing it doesn't have a very "cinematic" eye. Seriously:
Word 'round the campfire is Marvel considers The Avengers to be their best outing yet. I've talked to some cynics in the group who weren't sure it was going to come together and they're all doing their mea culpas now. They say it has the heart, the action, the humor and the suspense a movie like The Avengers should have. The only criticisms I've heard is that [director Joss] Whedon's eye isn't as cinematic as it should be, but that the rest of the movie is so good that you accept it.
First of all, saying that a film is Marvel Studios's "best outing yet" is like congratulating the tallest jockey. But then again, maybe I'm just being snarky. There's no need to impugn jockeys, who work hard at a very dangerous job for little money. What I mean is, this is the studio of "Iron Man," that loathsome neocon debauch, "The Incredible Hulk," which was a re-hash of a derivative tv show, "Iron Man 2," an illogical miasma, the best part of which was seeing former late-night talk show host Larry Sanders as a Senator, "Captain America," a listless celebration of the absolute worst of America, and "Thor," an earth-bound B-grade enervation.

Joss Whedon is a talented writer. He created "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly." He was one of the screenwriters of the original "Toy Story" film. He had a well-regarded run on the "Astonishing X-Men" comic book series. Again, here's your paper plate award, tallest jockey, but I don't doubt that his "Avengers" screenplay is the best screenplay Marvel Studios has yet produced. I'm sure it has heart, action, humor, and suspense, as Ain't It Cool's sources inside Marvel have said. Actually, it probably doesn't have all that much suspense -- is there any chance at all that one of the Avengers might die (superhero characters never die!), or that they might fail in their mission to save the world, or whatever it is that they're going to in this movie (I'm sure it's save the world)? Maybe the "suspense" comes from how long the Avengers will "antagonize" one another before finally putting aside their differences to finally start killing balls.

But the part of that quote above that I emphasized is devastating. This is an extremely expensive film. The budget is rumored to be over $260 million. Maybe $300 million. And yet -- this expensive blockbuster that's supposed to save the world and motivate people to spend $5.00 a gallon on gas, another $10.00 parking, an hour each way fighting traffic, $10.00 minimum on tickets (more if you wanna catch it in 3-D!), and then sit for a couple of hours in a crowded theater full of chattering fanboys -- this film's directed by someone that the people within the studio that's producing the film claim doesn't have an eye that's "as cinematic as it should be."

And that part about forgiving it because "the rest of the movie is so good" you just accept it -- I realize that the person being referenced is part of the corporation that's releasing the film and has a hug financial incentive to put a good face on this, but what a sad spin that is. It's a film, for crying out loud. A film should at the very least be "cinematic." If it's not "cinematic," then there's no "rest of the movie."

But what does that mean, really? Did the anonymous person think that previous Marvel Studios films were "cinematic"? Take a look at that list again. They're all films, and they all have the elements of films -- actors acting, edits, special effects, music, plots. Sure, they're "cinematic" in the broadest terms -- they fit the Merriam-Webster definition of the word. At least, they fit the second definition of the word, which reads,
filmed and presented as a motion picture
But what about M-W's first definition?
of, relating to, suggestive of, or suitable for motion pictures or the filming of motion pictures
Do Marvel Studios's films feel peculiarly "cinematic"? Could the artistic statements made by these films only have been made in film? Or did they all just feel like they were cobbled together from 60 years' worth of comic book continuity, and given an illusory sheen of expensive special effects, elaborate stunts, and shiny costumes?

Beyond the special effects, and Robert Downey Jr's performances, did you feel particularly moved by those films, as "cinematic" works?

Looking back at my favorite films of the last few years -- "Attack the Block," "Dead Man's Shoes," "24 Hour Party People," "Minority Report," "Apocalypto," "The Incredibles," "Life During Wartime," "A Serious Man" -- it strikes me that these are all works of art that could not have been improved in any way by having been created in another medium. They had to be films, in order to work as well as they do.

They are "cinematic." They use the form of cinema to create fresh statements about how human beings live and interact.

I can think of plenty of films that I've seen recently that did not feel "cinematic" at all -- "Star Trek," "District 9," "The Hangover," "Bridesmaids," "X-Men: First Class," "Paranormal Activity," "Shutter Island," and "The Social Network," to pull a few examples from Box Office Mojo's lists of the top-grossing films of the last few years. There are things to admire about each of those films I suppose, but none of them said anything that hasn't been said, with more uniqueness and quality, on television. In fact some of them seemed to have been photographed to look like television shows.

Then again, maybe I'm not being fair to television shows. Off the top of my head I could think of at least ten recent television shows -- "The Wire," "The Sopranos," "Breaking Bad," "The Good Wife," "Californication," "South Park," "Battlestar Galactica," "Arrested Development," "Sons of Anarchy," "The Walking Dead," "The Venture Brothers," and "Deadwood" -- that displayed more creative ambition than almost any American films from the same period. Now, some of those shows that I mentioned in my list are distasteful to me; in particular "The Walking Dead" is calamitous. But all of them at least seem to be trying to make broader artistic statements, beyond just "We're doing this for the money."

And of course, Marvel Studios's films feel like comic books. I happen to like comic books, quite a bit. And there was a great deal of skill involved in filming those comic books. But one word I would not use to describe them is "cinematic." "Efficient," perhaps.

I understand why comic book fans get excited about seeing these characters in films. They are a popular validation of their hobby. Many comic book fans spent years being picked on and made fun of, or at the very least given funny looks, because of their devotion to the medium. I know I did, anyway. Today, that medium is being used to mine ideas for blockbuster films. The special effects have caught up with the stories created decades ago. There is a backlog of material from which to draw, all of which is tied up in the memories of the adults who grew up reading the stuff. On a purely visceral level, it's fun to see your favorite story arc from the long-ago past given life, of a sort, outside of the printed page, and your own imagination.

Here's how excited I am about the new Avengers film -- I drew all of my favorite Avengers characters joined together and ready for action!

But I wonder why anyone would go see a film that feels like something else -- something other than "cinematic." I mean, if you're not invested in the mythology of the source material, why would you sit through a film that feels like a comic book? For that matter, why would you visit a movie theater to watch a film that feels like a television program?

Maybe the fact that someone at Marvel thinks Mr. Whedon's eye isn't as "cinematic" as it should be is a positive sign for the film.


Anonymous said...

You're such an idiot, I dont cant even laugh.

Anonymous said...

I was just about to post how the author was an idiot too, but you beat me to it. I also hope you realize Larry Sanders isn't a real person. And that Minority Report WAS done in a different media.

A.Jaye said...

It certainly is only the good will of the present and past readership that constitute a greenlight for these superhero films. Although the rumoured price tag seems astronomical how about 100million copies of the DVD/Blu-ray sold by Xmas?

Who knows with Hollywood accounting anyway?

As a valid form of art and literature American comic books deserve the Stanly Kubrick or Terrence Malick treatment. Was it 60 years you pointed out? The Avengers deserve a lot more than geeks and fanboys and Joss Wheldon.

The Cabin in the Woods still hasn't been shown to the public yet.

Ricky Sprague said...

Anonymous #1: You "dont" or "cant" make me laugh, either, so I won't respond to you.

Anonymous #2: I was going to point out to you that I do know "Larry Sanders" isn't a real person (follow the link on his name for a clue!), but then you made that ridiculous comment about Minority Report being done in "a different media" and I realized you're probably too illiterate to understand the vast differences between Dick's short story and Spielberg's film.

AJaye: One of the problems is that many of the creative/decision making people in Hollywood right now are fanboys themselves -- or at least they grew up as fanboys. So the characters are stuck in the same rut, in each of these films. I never get tired of this amazing Terry Gilliam quote, because it so perfectly sums up the problem with modern superhero films:

"What’s so funny is because of growing up with comics, and always wanting to do that kind of movie, I have no interest in them at all now. That’s what I wanted to do, and now everyone else is doing them, so I don’t do them. I don’t even go now. I see the trailers, and I think, I’ve seen that trailer for about 20 years now! The same shots, the same dilemma — what are we doing here? Who’s going to make the leap that makes it different?"

Quote source:

Based on everything I've seen about this Avengers film, there are certainly no "leaps" being made. Doesn't mean it won't be entertaining. But then, pornography is entertaining.