The mighty Avengers
The Avengers, that paragon of comic book history that has been soaring closer to the big screen since 1963 has finally arrived and cinemas are overflowing. But as you watch this team of champions beat down the box-office records its worth considering what they think is the greatest threat facing humanity.
It would be hard to have missed Disney’s steady build up towards the release of The Avengers given it’s been going for close to five years. In 2008 Robert Downey Jnr. landed in Ironman, followed by Ironman 2 in 2010. Chris Hemsworth gave us a new vision of the god of thunder in 2011 with Thor. And later that same year Chris Evans was recruited as Captain America: The First Avenger. Now this team is assembled for the first time to fight an alien invasion from another dimension and viewers are entitled to ask, ‘How many super egos can one film contain?’ Considerably more, given Disney also managed to squeeze in the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). What should occur is a mish-mash of storylines driven by slap-dash one-liners and smash-crash effects. However the result is far more watchable than my cynicism allowed…
The human element
Joss Whedon, the creative genius behind diverse projects like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Toy Story and Serenity has managed to hold together what could easily have been a catastrophe of heroic proportions. Whedon focuses on the human qualities that sit behind the various shades of skin and armour rather than their super skills, and even manages to turn potential anachronisms like Captain America’s nationalistic uniform into a badge for common values:
Captain America: “[My] uniform? Aren’t the stars and stripes just a little old fashioned?”
Agent Coulson: “With all the things that are about to happen, to come to light, I think people will be able to do with a little ‘old fashioned’.”
By concentrating on a straight-forward storyline rather than special effects (of which there are plenty), Whedon also keeps a central question in front of the audiences’ eyes: What is it that humans can’t bear to live without?
According to the scriptwriters, it’s our freedom. Loki, the Norse god turned villain forces a crowd to cower before him, telling them:
“Is this not the birthright of humanity? You crave subjugation. In the end you will always kneel.”
And very quickly we’re led to understand that the self-determination Adam and Eve stole in the Garden of Eden was actually their entitlement. Loki is in fact the god no-one has asked for, and Ironman assures him, “There’s no throne for you here.” That’s because we’re all sitting on it. The real God only gets a glancing mention as a quaint figure only the dated Captain America could acknowledge.
SHIELD Agent: “I’d sit this one out captain. These guys come from legend. They’re basically gods.”
Captain America: “There's only one god ma’am and I'm pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.”
Overdressed he might be, but the false god Loki does reveal the one enemy the Avengers can’t defeat – guilt. When Black Widow is cajoled into saying why she fights against unbeatable odds, she confesses, “It’s really not that complicated. I’ve got red in my ledger and I want to wipe it out.” Loki might be wearing horns, but he’s no fool. “Can you wipe out that much red by saving one man? This is the basest sentimentality. This is a child at prayer.”
This is the key to understanding the conflict at the heart of what might otherwise pass as just another holiday blockbuster. The Avengers stand for freedom but they also realise that the very things they do to attain it weigh heavily against them. So they struggle on, not realising that it really is something as simple as a ‘child’s prayer’ that could set them free – so long as they begin by giving back to God the glory they’ve claimed for themselves.
Watching The Avengers with your kids
The Avengers is a safe watch for kids over 12 from the standpoint of violence, language and sexuality – yes, the producers have even managed to avoid the tendency to clothe their heroines in scanty super-outfits. After the film it’s worth drawing kids into one of the following conversations:
Loki’s really powerful – does that make him a god?
Why doesn’t Captain America respect Iron Man? What does Iron Man learn about the connection between service and sacrifice by the end of the film?
Black Widow helps save the world, but has she solved her own problem?
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