We saw The Avengers, the movie that’s setting box office records. We went whole hog, springing for the version in 3-D AND Imax.
Like other comic book movies, it was mostly what Aristotle in his Poetics called “spectacle.” Movies today go all out with high-tech special effects. They can be fun to watch. (Though frankly I have not yet seen a new generation 3-D flick that made satisfying use of that technology, including this one. A trailer for the new Spider Man movie was more promising, showing a deeper field of vision than the usual flatness with a few things jumping out at you. I didn’t think the Imax version of “The Avengers” added that much either.) Anyway, the overall spectacle of “The Avengers” was fun. But as Aristotle goes on to say, spectacle is the lowest level of dramatic art.
In addition to spectacle, though, unlike many comic book movies, “The Avengers” also had interesting characters, well-rendered and, in what is often considered optional for the genre, well-acted. “The Avengers” put serious actors like Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johannsen in silly superhero costumes. But it paid off! The computer-enhanced Ruffalo–who was sensitive and angst-ridden as Bruce Banner– made a great Incredible Hulk. One of my favorite parts of the movie was when Scarlett Johannsen, as the Black Widow, took a call on her cell while she was on the verge of being tortured and complained to the caller, “I’m working!”, going on to thrash the Russian interrogator while she was still tied up in her chair.
There were other good moments. Captain America, being of the Greatest Generation (waking up in our day after being frozen), dismissing Loki’s claim to be a god by saying that “There’s only one God. And I don’t think he dresses like you do” [something like that]. And did anyone catch what the Hulk said, in one of his few actual lines, when he was flailing Loki about? Some comment about his alleged divinity. (In the Marvel universe, the residents of Asgard like Thor and Loki are not so much deities as they were to the Norse and Germanic pagans; rather, they are denizens of another planet.)
Still, though, there was not enough of what Aristotle considered the most important part of a drama. Namely, the story. I prefer plots with twists and turns, a narrative that goes somewhere, with maybe surprises along the way. There wasn’t a lot of that in this movie, basically just good guys and bad guys fighting each other. Internal conflict is far more interesting, as in, to cite another comic book movie, The Dark Knight, which is also being reprised this summer. Aristotle’s heroes are not just “good guys”; rather, they are noble figures who have a tragic flaw–a hamartia, which is the New Testament word for “sin”–that gives them complexity and doom.