I saw The Avengers over the weekend, which is a bit of a rare event, me going to the movies on an opening weekend (I intend to do it a few more times this summer, what with Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, and Brave out soon). In any case, I had some thoughts about the film that I wanted to get out of system.
I did like the movie, overall. It’s a little bit more clever, dialog-wise, than your standard action blockbuster (hat tip to Mr. Whedon there), and that does elevate it among most other examples of this particular film type. But, at its core, The Avengers is still relatively plotless, though not annoyingly so. Yes, the movie exists to make gobs and gobs of money at an industrial level (and it would’ve, by the way, with or without Joss Whedon), but the narrative is bit flat, serving as the climax to so many post-credit sequences and MacGuffins and referenced placed across the earlier Marvel films.
The aliens are just a phantom narrative threat (they’re not a very good military, seeking only one point of attack on an entire planet like this) so our heroes can join forces and trade sarcastic barbs and small moments with one another (Stark and Banner’s time in the lab together may have been the film’s highlight for me). And that’s fine. While it’s a foregone conclusion that the Avengers will triumph, it’s watching the journey that they take to get there that ultimately matters more than the actual destination.
But while I was watching it, I decided that this was as close to a comic book experience in the movies as I would likely ever get. As I reflected on this, I decided however, that it was a very specific type of comic book experience that The Avengers, and Avengers sequels, registered in my mind, and that was the comic book annual.
The comic book annual is/was, at least in my experience, a double or triple-sized issue of a title with a big splashy storyline as the main feature and often some other smaller stories stuffed in. When I was much more of a superhero comics person, the annuals I remember picking up were the 1991 Spider-Man annuals. It was a 3-part story called the Vibranium Vendetta. Spidey, along with Iron Man and Black Panther, teamed up to take on Ultron, Kingpin, and Ghost in some sort of weird storyline allowing all these characters to intersect.
So far as I know it was a pretty minor event in the history of all three characters, with no big impacts on character arcs or situations. Not all annuals followed this trajectory, of course. Peter Parker’s marriage with Mary Jane was held in the 21st annual of The Amazing Spider-Man in 1987. But I’ve read some of the Batman annuals from the ’40s and ’50s wherein they were just over-the-top stories, including the notion that Thomas Wayne, Batman’s dad, fought crime as a masked crusader (I think this has been retconned in and out of existence a couple of times).
In any case, regardless of their impact on the narrative of a particular character, the annuals were special event books, and that’s exactly what The Avengers is to the Marvel cinematic universe: it’s a big, splashy, crossover/team-up event that wants to be as fan service-y and exciting as possible. You get fights between all the heroes (a must), a big villain (and the a bigger villain (and then an even bigger villain teased in the post-credit sequence), and lots of superheroics.
But like the annuals, I’m kind of glad that The Avengers isn’t going to be an all-the-time thing. While The Avengers is fun, it’s also kind of impersonal to these individuals’ lives, and those are stories for their individual movies, and those are the stories that I’m ultimately more interested in. It’s telling, to me, that I found the brief exchanges between Thor and Loki to be compelling, and the parts of the film I wanted to see more of (The Avengers is really a very expansive Thor 1.5), and that during the helicarrier assault I got kind of bored, waiting for it to move along.
And annuals, at least the ones I read, were sometimes the same way. They were fun diversions from the bigger plots (and sometimes plodded along), but at the end, I was ready to get back to the monthly installments of the heroes, and their individual stories. So I’ll just come to think of The Avengers as the “annual” of the Marvel cinematic universe.
A few links…
- In Media Res is hosting a week devoted to The Avengers and the multi-film franchise. I suggest you check out the entries.
- Alyssa Rosenberg over at Think Progress has a nice post on why, with The Avengers, we should be expecting more of comic book movies now. I’ve been of the opinion that we should’ve always been doing this, but I do think we can demand a bit more from any of the individual heroes’ films now.
- Finally, the ever-brilliant Film Crit Hulk has penned what is probably the best piece of writing devoted to the film about its version of the Hulk. Quick taste: “IT SPEAKS TO THE IDEA THAT OUR EMOTIONS ARE SOMETHING THAT ALWAYS PRESENT. ANGER CAN’T BE ABSTAINED FROM. IT CANNOT BE FEARED. ANGER IS SIMPLY AN EVER-PRESENT PART OF US, JUST AS MUCH AS JOY, SADNESS, OR EVEN SOMETHING INSTINCTUAL LIKE HUNGER. IT IS SOMETHING THAT IS JUST FELT.”