Mums the Word

Joss Whedon's Seventh Avenger

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

We went to see The Avengers on opening day, buying Fandango tickets the morning of and arriving at the theater well ahead of time. I had been looking forward to this for a long time, and I’d be shot in the back before I settled on substandard seating for a film of this scale. I had to see these inimitable heroes on screen. I consider myself one of them.

No, really. The Avengers cast used my former hotel of employ as their official headquarters for the Manhattan film shoot, and I delivered their room service on a daily basis. I was the seventh Avenger, serving coffee, delivering the newspaper, providing a bounding start to the day so the rest of the team could save it. I’m partially full of shit, but they really did stay with us. Chris Evans was nothing like his avatar, eschewing old-school wholesome principles in favor of absurdly expensive alcohol. Likewise, Tom Hiddleston was hardly the blackhearted god of mischief he plays on screen. Friendly, polite and talkative, he was a delight. Every morning for him began with a grotesquely healthy smoothie made from pulverized romaine lettuce and green apples. The only thing disconcerting about him was his inability to answer the door wearing anything more than a towel. Fool me once, Loki, just once. Shame on you.

Then there was Joss Whedon, the real superhero of the team...with real superhero problems. Quiet and solemn, never smiling but not impolite, the director needed coffee the most. I can’t imagine the emotional weight this man carried throughout the production process. The scope and ambition of pulling off The Avengers film is rivaled only in human history by the Three Gorges Dam spanning the Yangtze River. His tasks? Flesh out six hero characters and one villain, pay homage to 72 years of comic-book history, satiate a rabid fan base, establish an interesting and believable conflict, choreograph a large-scale urban-battle sequence and balance half a dozen actors with bloated egos playing half a dozen superheroes with bloated egos. Have at it, Tex.

We got great seats. I bought some Peanut M&M’s and Julie dragooned the cashier into selling her some Twizzlers: “Listen, shithead. Don’t tell me you are out of Twizzlers; there’s a pack left in the display case, now crack it open and give me what I want!” Real heroes.

They exist, you know. Remember this past May Day? Seattle? A hundred idiots, dressed in black hoodies and balaclavas, attacked the downtown American Apparel. Armed with wooden staves, they really did a number on the storefront. These were not heroes. They were a flash mob of unruly cowards, throwing a very public temper tantrum with no discernible motive or message. I don’t know; maybe I don’t get the point of anarchy, or maybe I don’t accept that the point of anarchy is that there is no point. It’s like an episode of Cops where I’d actually root for the cops. If I had still lived there, it would have been tempting to go downtown and crack some heads.

I wasn’t alone. Enter Phoenix Jones, real-life resident superhero of Seattle. You can see him in action on YouTube, wearing a wetsuit and confronting rowdy bar-hoppers with a can of pepper spray. On May Day, when the street rats attacked the mall, Phoenix answered the call no one made. He put on his rubber outfit, grabbed his pepper spray, went downtown and began dispersing dissidents. I think he’s a complete moron, but I kind of wished I was there with him. Man, do I hate street rats. Insane body odor, ungainly backpacks, forehead tattoos, aggressively begging for leftovers, and for no decent reason, they always have a dog. Why? If it is so hard to feed yourself, why do you own a pet? I applaud you, Phoenix. Stand your ground and execute the mission. I’ve got your back, but pepper spray ain’t my style. I’m more of a fungo-bat-and-trash-can-lid kind of a guy, if that’s cool.

They attacked American Apparel? That’s the target of a collective rage? Group-think a little harder next time, dumbasses. American Apparel is arguably lame, sure, but much worse villains remain out there. How about the Koch brothers? Those billionaire Tea-Party founders, the puppeteers who galvanize the crazy half of the crazy party to sabotage health care and humiliate gay people. Go smash up their storefront. I’ll help!

Avengers was awesome. I don’t know how to review films; just trust me, it was fantastic. It was bananas. I’m embarrassed by how much I liked this film, how by the end of it my face actually hurt from smiling for so long. The audience seemed to like it, too. I counted at least a half dozen applause breaks. I keep reading that the movie is shattering box-office records worldwide. It seems like we have a superinfatuation in this country, as well as globally. It’s not slowing down, either. There’s another Batman in the pipe, and another Spiderman. Superman is due for an reboot, and on and on. We have a hero addiction.

Perhaps we crave heroes because the ones we thought we had keep failing. Tiger Woods is a slut, so is Eliot Spitzer. Mark McGwire took steroids. Chris Brown beat the shit out of Rihanna. Paterno, Bellichek and on and on. The dominoes keep falling. John Edwards, the adulterous, two-faced snake-oil salesman, running for president on his “Two Americas” meme, oblivious to the grotesque, duplicitous irony of his own goddamn message, killing his wife who was already dying on her own. Leveraging earnest campaign donations to paper over a damp stain.

It’s such a bummer, this unsubtle trend. Does anyone ever not fly too close to the sun? CNN breaking news: Your wings are made of wax. So what is left? What is the last vestige of heroism? We know what it’s supposed to be, the trope is well traveled. Don’t justify your means with ends, tell the truth, stay humble, rescue damsels, recycle, eat local, be a gentle and empathetic lover, avoid red meat, watch The View, take a vow of poverty. You don’t need a sidekick, or a cave, or a utility belt, or a cape, or Black Widow’s erupting bustline. Just shut the fuck up and “Walk the Line,” quoth my favorite raven, Johnny Cash. Keep your eyes wide open all the time and walk the line, like nobody does. Heroism is merely a vision, unsteady and untenable, a platonic ideal, no more than a dreamscape. It exists only in the theater of the mind, with an infinite running time, all ages, $0 on the widest screen that never existed, played in all four dimensions. Please silence your cell phones.


. said...

Thank you. And yes, I walked out of that film wanting to be a superhero, or at least, to be more, to do more.. to do right.

Laura Chung said...


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