Thoughts on The Avengers

May 9, 2012

I didn’t grow up as a comic book geek. I grew up as a fan of comic book movies, worshiping at the feet of Richard Donner and Tim Burton, but I never really read the comic books themselves. I was, and still am, barely conscious of the Justice League of America comics, and was even less cognizant of the Avengers.

And yet, at the end of the first Iron Man movie, when Samuel L. Jackson appeared with those immortal words, “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative,” I was every bit as giddy as all the fanboys who’ve been reading the comics for years. Why? Because I knew, as did everyone else, that it was the start of something huge.

Many years ago at Comic-Con I had heard screenwriter Zak Penn hint at creating a horizontal world in the comic book universe. At the time, I had no clue what was coming. But he sure did. According to this ScreenwritingU interview with him, he was hired years ago as the one to manage creating a single narrative thread through all the comics; to make sure that each movie adequately set up what would culminate in The Avengers.

It was a job very, very well done. One of the biggest challenges, I think, of a movie like this is figuring out how to stuff ten characters, each a leading man in his own right, into a single story. As Joss Whedon put it, “Too much is going to throw people, and at the same time, you don’t want to leave anybody in the cold.” So you start with the villain, bring in the heroes one by one, create a bunch of interpersonal conflict among the heroes themselves, and have the ultimate battle turn into a war. Throw in a whole lot of humor thanks to a rewrite by Joss himself and the presence of king of the one-liners Robert Downey, Jr., and you’ve got the makings of a hit.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

As a writer, I think my favorite part of the whole movie was the decision to kill off Agent Coulson. I was commenting to someone the other day that I stopped watching Fringe the third time Olivia went into the hallucinogenic tank of doom, because they kept trying to convince us that it was so dangerous, but she ended up being fine each time, and we knew she was going to die anyway because she was the lead character and you don’t kill off your lead character in the first season. Meanwhile, I watch Grey’s Anatomy religiously, because they create characters that I care about, and then (sometimes) kill them off. When an artist actually proves that he’s willing to kill someone you care about it, the stakes become that much more real. Agent Coulson, having assembled the Avengers over four years’ worth of movies, was not someone we expected to die. So when he did, we totally bought into the emotional stakes — i.e., that he was important enough to all the other characters to have them avenge his death.

END SPOILER ALERT

I’m positively ecstatic that this gamble on the part of Marvel and Disney has paid off. A few years ago I heard a screenwriter for some comic book movie (don’t remember which one) say that when he was writing the screenplay, he begged the studio, “Let me put a blind lawyer named Murdoch just in this one scene.” In the comics they do that stuff all the time, but in the movie world they were seen, for the longest time, as completely different properties and didn’t want to cross them over. The studio refused. And now creating this horizontal world as they have, we’re seeing how powerful it can be.

Given the tag during the credits, and this summer’s auspiciously-timed reboot of Spiderman (only five years after the last Spiderman movie, the same time difference as between 2003’s Hulk and its 2008 reboot The Incredible Hulk), I’ve heard some people speculate that Spiderman will be joining the Avengers for the sequel. That sequel has been confirmed, so now our job is to look for other clues — like, for example, a reboot of The Fantastic Four.


Thoughts on The Soloist

August 29, 2009

Don’t you hate it when you’re so looking forward to a movie that you end up disappointed when you finally see it?

Don’t get me wrong, The Soloist was good, I think.  Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. were characteristically outstanding, and it was all terribly emotional and realistic and sad.  And the film economy was great – all the boring parts got skipped (a great example: no need to see Downey calling LAMP to find a place to store the cello – he just does it off-screen, and we see the impact of that decision.) But I felt like it didn’t really go anywhere.  The big arc is that he decides to be the guy’s friend … somewhat anticlimactic.  But at the same time, terribly sweet and understated and appropriate, especially given that it’s a drama and a true story and all that.


Not Another Oscars Post

February 23, 2009

I’m not going to post something about the Oscars.  Every blogger in the world – and especially every writer/screenwriter blogger in the world – will be writing something about the 81st Academy Awards today, but not me, because I’m different.

If I were going to write about the Oscars I would start by saying that Slumdog Millionaire was a good movie, that I thoroughly enjoyed it, but that it seemed like it would make a better mini-series than film.  I would say that Danny Boyle was long overdue for the world’s top Directing accolade, but that this movie was nowhere near as good as his early classics Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.  I would say that Benjamin Button – the only other movie nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay that I actually saw – had a better screenplay, and that my cinematographer friend threw a fit when it won Best Cinematography, and I happen to agree with her – The Dark Knight broke new ground cinematically speaking, and made for a remarkable movie-watching experience I will never in my life forget.  And although I’m not surprised that Slumdog won Best Picture, I did not think it was even one of the best 5 movies of the year.

If I were writing something about the Oscars, I would say that Sean Penn deserved his and Heath Ledger deserved his.  I would say that Robert Downey, Jr. will win an Oscar one of these days, and I will celebrate when he does, and I would say that Brad Pitt deserves one, too, but it may take him longer to get it because he’s so thoroughly underrated as a character actor.  I would say that Benjamin Button deserved its accolades for Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects, but I’d also like to remind people that the makeup in The Dark Knight wasn’t all about the Joker – the revelation of Two Face in that movie was the best film moment of the year for me, and a movie-watching experience I will never in my life forget.

If I were writing about the Oscars, I would probably say that I wish I realized that the Alamo Drafthouse shows all the short films nominated for Oscars every year, and that I will almost certainly go to that event next year, but that they should make it easier for us, the viewers at home, to see all the movies nominated by the time of the awards.  That I wanted to see The Reader, Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, and Doubt, but at some point movie theaters are just too damn expensive, and screw you for pricing me and so many others out of being informed viewers of the Academy Awards.

And I would wonder why the hell Seven Pounds was completely snubbed.

But I’m not writing about the Oscars.  I’m writing about what it is to have a dream and to be recognized for having achieved that dream.  Because really, that’s what it’s all about.  At the end of the day we all have opinions about what was good and what wasn’t, about what deserved to win and what deserved to be nominated, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a very large, very talented group of artists choosing the best, most talented artists in their field, and for the most part, they do a pretty good job.  And, more importantly, it creates a dream in us.  And I’m a big believer in dreams.


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