Friday, May 4, 2012

The Avengers [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

The Avengers (screenplay and directed by Joss Whedon with contributions to the story by Zak Penn) based on the Marvel Comics Avengers comic books by Stan Lee [IMDb] and Jack Kirby [IMDb] is a film that Marvel Studios have been patiently building-up for years.  As the closing credits rolled for each of the Iron Man movies [2008][2010], Thor [2011] and Captain America: The First Avenger [2011], there was Nick Fury [IMDb] (played by Samuel L. Jackson) quietly talking to the key characters of these films and/or introducing new ones, quietly assembling "the team" for SHIELD (the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) a needless to say "super-secret" agency created to defend the country, and indeed the world, from the truly ultimate bad-guys.

Did the film live up to expectations?  I would say yes (!) and indeed beyond.  Consider simply that these are American comic-book characters, one of whom is even called Captain America [IMDb] (played here as in the 2011 film by Chris Evans)  Yet this film has proven wildly successful (and deservingly so) across the globe.  Some fairly random opinion from around the world -- Russia [ - ENG-GoogleTrans], Brazil [, ENG-GoogleTrans], France [ - ENG-GoogleTrans], Germany [ - ENG-GoogleTrans], Australia [], India [].  Indeed, the India Times website even featured a video imagining a Bollywood Avengers film ;-).

So one is very much tempted to just bow down and say "All Hail Marvel!" because they have always known how to produce compelling characters and package their products very, very well.  How do they do it?  Well we can't enter into their boardrooms, but honestly if I were teaching a course on Carl Jung and Archetypes, I would make Marvel Comics mandatory reading and viewing.  (I've been a fan of C.G. Jung since my Novitiate and was actually quite disappointed in the recent film A Dangerous Method [2011] which was about the circumstances of the parting of ways of the Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.  A better program, IMHO, on Carl Jung -- about his "Red Book" -- recently aired on CBC's Ideas radio-program that gets rebroadcast here in Chicago late-night WBEZ our local NPR radio station.  Another excellent article about Carl Jung's "Red book" could be found in a 2009 article in New York Times Magazine around the time when the book, which had been his personal diary was first published).

Why Carl Jung / Archetypes?  Well, according to Jung, characters that we encounter art, literature, yes, films that "speak to us" do so because express deeper realities (Archetypes) present in our psyches.  (According to Jung, it's pointless to "fight God" because God is present to us in our psyches as an Archetype.  He's already there in our heads whether we like it or not.  So we might as well make peace with God.   Indeed to Jung the key to psychological balance/peace was to make peace with the various Archetypes that exist there.  Among them would in fact be God.  Others would include "the Shadow" (that which we're trying desperately not to be) and "the Animus/Anima" (for a man, our feminine voice, for a woman a masculine one).  

Why does the Scarlet Johannson character in this film, Natasha Romanova/The Black Widow (or the Kate Bekinsale character Selene in the Underworld series) work so well?  They are feminine (tending toward the "anima" in men) and invariably dressed in black (shadowy).  Further, Natasha is Russian (former adversary of an American viewer) and Selene is a vampire (again someone potentially dangerous who necessarily "lives in the shadows.")  And yet, "let out to play," they are AWESOME to watch.  They trick (Natasha) and take down enemies (both Natasha and Selene) arguably better than we can.  Then consider who are the ones that mostly read comic books or play "shoot-em video games"?  Young men.  So Natasha and Selene represent the young-men's "animas" being "let out to play."  (Another example of this kind of character, though perhaps more problematic, was the "Babydoll" character from Sucker Punch [2011]).  In all these cases, these are attractive women, dressed invariably in black who just beat the daylights out of bad guys.  And yes, watching them do this ... really, really cool ;-).  [And it may be, in fact, an invitation to young men to let the women in their lives be free, because in their freedom they become our allies and do things that we can't.  And it also may be an invitation also young women to embrace their "inner action hero" (animus) as well].

Consider then The Hulk [IMDb] (played here by Mark Ruffalo).  Bruce Banner tries desperately to keep his anger under control, but every so often he explodes into a raging green monster (the Hulk).  That "shadow" side of him isn't necessarily Evil though it is very destructive (in good part probably because Bruce tries so hard to keep it pent up...).

Now if Jung would maintain that Archetypes like God, the Shadow, Animus/Anima are more or less Universal, other archetypes are more fungible.  Here the interactions in this film between Captain America [IMDb] (played by Chris Evans) representing America of the 1940s (remember, due to an accident at the end of WW II, he was literally "frozen in time" until he was discovered and thawed into our's time at the end of 2011 Captain America movie) and Tony Stark [IMDb] (played by Robert Downey Jr) representing (for better or worse) the popular American ideal today is fascinating!

Add then to the mix are two Norse Gods (portrayed here as powerful beings from another world), brothers, Thor [IMDb] (played by Chris Hemsworth) and Loki [IMDb] (played by Tom Hiddleston), perhaps intentionally invoked to represent God-like or at least Demi-God-like opposites (Thor being good and Loki being Evil).  Interestingly enough, the Captain America character has no trouble at all understanding them to be exactly what Marvel Comics wants them to be understood -- not actual Gods but "powerful beings" from "another world."  Being introduced to Loki as "a God," he responds "In my day, there was only One God and they [both Thor and Loki] are definitely not it!"  (Again, in Jung's thinking there is a true God Archetype.  Thor and Loki can be interesting and very powerful characters but they're not God.  On the other side of the equation, with Jung's insistence on balance, he would consider himself a dualist, insisting that "God's Shadow" would have to be as powerful as God).

So then, having introduced the movie's main characters, what finally is the plot of this film?   After Thor had been cast down to earth as punishment by his father Odin in Thor [2011] he left behind a 1000 cm3 gelatinous cube of untold power.  SHIELD had gotten a hold of it and was studying it.  Loki wanted it back to use it for his own reasons.  And yes, as twice the "second son" (younger than Thor and adopted...) Loki craved power and wanted to subjugate Earth in the process.  So he comes down to Earth to try to steal the cube back.  Much ensues and yes the world hangs in a balance.  Will this group of "super-hero" Avengers quietly assembled by SHIELD be able to defeat Loki and his minions and prove to the Universe that humanity is now ready to both defend itself from alien attack and even step-up and take its rightful place in the Cosmos?

To be honest, I've come to dislike most alien invasion movies.  But I do believe that this one was quite well done.  And it involves such a complex interplay of Jungian Archetypes that I just found it fascinating to watch ;-).

How's the violence?  Again, Marvel plays it smart.  Yes, there are a lot of explosions, especially at the end, and a lot of glass is broken.  But there's little blood and no gore.  As such, yes, I believe it earns its PG-13 rating.  So I do think that this is another _excellent_ comic-book superhero film in a long line of excellent comic-book superhero films made by Marvel Comics over the years!  Good job!

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