A Quick Billion Dollars For The Avengers

It’s obvious that The Avengers has struck a chord with me, and with movie audiences generally.  Only three weeks after its release, it has racked up an impressive $1 billion in box-office receipts.

Imagine — $1 billion.  Even by today’s standards, that is a huge amount of money.  What is it about this  movie that has made it so appealing to so many people?  (Russell, who is here for an all-too-brief short visit, is going to see it tonight, and I’m betting he’ll enjoy himself, too.)

It’s important not to overthink these things.  The Avengers is a very good summer movie.  There will always be an audience for movies that feature good-looking women and men in skin-tight suits.  There are worse things than watching Scarlett Johannson fight bad guys in a sleek black outfit.  And there also will always be people who want to see bad guys beaten by heroes, and do so through some impressive explosions and serious ass-kicking.  When the Hulk gets to throw around a stuffed shirt evil god like a rag doll, you can’t help but cheer.

I also think, though, that the success of escapist fare — which is what The Avengers is — often turns on the mood of the general populace.  Things are tough right now.  In Europe, governments are toppling and currencies are failing.  In America, the recession lingers, and lingers.  Unresolved threats can be found on just about every continent.  In short, the world is especially fertile territory for an escapist film right now.  We’d all rather watch Iron Man save the world through one selfless act than focus on those long-term problems that never seem to get solved.

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Avengers Assemble!

Last night Kish and I decided to go see The Avengers.  She hated it, I loved it.  And, based on the reaction of the packed theater that watched the movie with us, I’d say the majority shared my reaction.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  Movies about superheroes probably aren’t going to be intellectually challenging.  You’re not going to see emotionally charged back stories, or deeply moving interpersonal interactions.  Instead, you’re expecting to see an evil, detestable bad guy who wants to take over the world, or at least a significant part of it, titanic clashes between super-powered beings, and lots of computer-generated special effects.  If you’re lucky, all of these standard elements will be well done, and perhaps a dash of legitimate humor and interesting twists will be added to the mix.  That’s what separates the likes of The Dark Knight from, say, The Green Lantern.

The Avengers meets that test.  The plot could be borrowed from just about any superhero potboiler.  A would-be god (Thor’s half-brother Loki) appears on Earth to tap the power of an energy cube and use it to open a portal so that his army of misshapen creatures can invade and subjugate the world.  A group of special beings — Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, the Black Widow, and Hawkeye — are recruited by Nick Fury, the head of a secret organization, to save the world.  At first they balk at the task and fight among themselves, then they learn to work as a team and kick some Norse god and alien butt.

Of course, the plot sounds silly, and it is.  But along the way there are some great fights between Iron Man and Thor, Thor and the Hulk, and the Black Widow and Hawkeye, some excellent stunts and special effects, and some absolute laugh-out-loud moments that had our theater rocking.  The Hulk in particular was awesome, and Loki was an interesting and enjoyable twist on the typical villain.

Buildings get pulverized, grateful innocents are rescued from peril, the impossible gets done, and the world gets saved.  What more do you want?