Summer Scholar: “The Avengers” or A Chemical Mixture that Makes Chaos

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories about Summer Scholars, exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters. Here Rini Cobbey, associate professor of communication arts (pictured here), reviews the recent blockbuster film, “The Avengers.”

“A Chemical Mixture that Makes Chaos”

By Rini Cobbey

Summer time means big screen blockbusters about superheroes and/or alien invasions. And, if you’re like me, it also means viewing big blocks of TV series on DVD or streaming.

At the time of writing (but likely remedied by the time of publication), the only blockbuster I’ve made it to so far is The Avengers— although in the previews alone I saw about a movie’s worth of heroes and aliens to look forward to in the coming months.

Breaking box office records in its opening weekend a couple of weeks ago, Marvel’s The Avengers is a superhero ensemble flick building on recent summer hits featuring individual members of this movie’s team – including Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. They come together to stop the destructive plans of alien/god Loki who wants to rule the human race (or at least the American members thereof) by bringing about world peace after orchestrating intergalactic (and intra-cultural) war.

The Avengers has something for just about everyone. Or, in my case, for all my many personality layers and entertainment preferences. And that’s impressive, because sometimes my brain’s like a bag full of cats.

First, I LOL’d. The script, directing, and performances are very funny. (I’ve made it my mission to use 80 percent of Dr. Banner/Hulk’s lines in natural, everyday conversation by the end of the summer, and I’m doing smashingly so far.) It’s lots of kinds of funny, as each of the superheroes has his (mostly his, despite the director’s reputation as a strong-female-character creator) own clever or silly way – providing a little actual character development in a genre that promises no such thing. As always, I love the meta: when Iron Man calls Hawkeye Legolas, it’s a gift to (movie) nerds saying, “We’re glad you’re here!”

Production value-wise, The Avengers is easy on the eye and feels faster than it should. Two and a half hours ought to be too much for the sum of its parts.

And, it is almost relevant.

That’s where a summer blockbuster movie review gets tricky for me. The Avengers is directed by Joss Whedon, master of the brainy-semi-political-pop. (Buffy: is this a feminist manifesto? Is it a slick, surprising, super-fun series of style and inside jokes?)

There was a moment, but notably a brief one, during The Avengers when I thought, loud enough to hear myself over the roar of Witty Lines and Stuff Blowing Up, “And this from an atheist!” Try as I might afterward, though, I couldn’t remember what that moment was. And more significantly, I’m not really sure it matters. The Avengers explores deity-human relations in a faster, far less earnest or detailed Neil Gaiman-esque American Gods kind of way. On the surface, Captain America says outright, “There is only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that,” while later Loki declares, “I am a god . . . I will not be bullied,” just before Hulk smashes him around a bit and concludes, “Puny god.” At another level, we’re given the elements to ask, Do we worship Money, Technology, Mythology, or Nothing? Is power in the hardworking person, the accident, or the coming together as community?

Ultimately, though, The Avengers seriously doesn’t explore, or answer, these questions any more than this funny picture of Jesus and a superheroes small group does. If it did, Whedon would subvert Captain America’s heroism more absolutely to Iron Man and Hulk’s. And, the movie wouldn’t be a record-breaking summer blockbuster.

I, and millions of others, walk away from a movie like – actually the movie itself – The Avengers smiling, quoting, and appropriately entertained.

But there’s the tiniest bit of me that ruminates, even as I chuckle, about the issues: heroes, gods, and the quantity of destruction necessary to telling The Avengers’ story so cleverly and glossily. With Dr. Banner, there’s another person inside my blockbustered happy self that’s always a little mad and looking for something more than stress-release.

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