Here it is the day before the much-anticipated, much-hyped Joss Whedon film, “The Avengers” opens, and already there are 198 external reviews posted on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). That’s pretty amazing on the face of it. Except that many of the reviewers seem to be fan-boys writing blogs from their mother’s basements. The reviews are overwhelmingly over the top five star raves, that display either: fanatical affection for director Joss Whedon, whose flop science fiction series, “Firefly” and companion box office lightweight feature film, “Serenity,” have somehow earned him a devoted fan base; or stupefying devotion to the Marvel comics characters invented by Stan Lee.
One blogger, who shall remain nameless, said he’d been waiting for this movie so long and with such anticipation, if he couldn’t have gotten a ticket for the first showing at his local multiplex, he’d have mugged somebody for it. You know, I believe it. Obviously trained by years of playing Call of Duty or Mortal Combat, the reviewer is ready for anything. Just try and keep him out of the theater. This guy’s already proven he’s got the fastest thumbs in the west.
“The Avengers” promises to be the biggest blockbuster of the Summer movie season. I have a theory why this is so. I think we now officially live in an age where the average mental age of American movie goers is about twelve years old. Physically, of course, they’re much older, but mentally, intellectually (oops, that’s considered elitist terminology these days) the average moviegoer in the United Stateshasn’t seemed to have developed beyond the pre-puberty stage. He’s still locked in the pre-adolescent phase, and wants to live in the uncomplex world of black and white superheroes and super villains.
The reason for this is that when this pre-adolescent occasionally looks out at reality— like when his mom tells him he better get his butt out of bed and go look for a job— the real world looks so threatening, he doesn’t know how to cope with it. So today the most popular films are those in which the troubles of the world are so big, so titanic, that ordinary, average people can’t deal with them. So, who you gonna call? “The Avengers.” Let those guys in Spandex and bright colors deal with the villainous plots of super villains like Loki. Or turn it over to those mechanical linebackers, The Transformers, to stop an invasion from another world.
I can vaguely recall when films actually dealt with real people solving real-life problems. Nobody was assigned the job of saving the world, which seems to be the only goal characters in films have these days. Once upon a time there were movies about individuals searching for the truth (Twelve Angry Men), or conquering the demon of loneliness and alcoholism (The Lost Weekend), or fighting organized crime (On the Waterfront), or searching for identity (the TV series “route 66”) or simply solving the murder of a missing bootlegger and saving an old man from facing a painful truth (The Big Sleep).
These goals seem small in comparison to saving the universe from some arch-enemy of the planet. But there’s one thing they had that the new films don’t’ have, and that writers and filmmakers have seemed to forgotten. They had humanity. They were films about characters in search of their humanity, or trying to fight for it, when the odds are against them. That real-life dimension of existence has disappeared from films altogether, as if we’ve given up the fight.
It has often been said that as a society’s problems deepen, its citizens begin to drift further and further into fantasy. It happened in Pre-World War II Germany, when that nation’s economy was failing. The cartoonish myth of the Superman grabbed hold of the German psyche and we all know what hell broke loose as a result of that. The U.S.economy is teetering on the brink of disaster, despite politicians’ efforts to fix it. But economic cycles are global and follow their own course. In the meantime, Americans are turning toward the simplicity of comic books for their psychic sustenance.
The films are the extended, overproduced animated versions of them. “The Avengers” is just one more artifact that scientists in the future will examine as they try to piece together the cartoonish world we lived in.
Edit Note: I just had an email from one reader who thought there was no opportunity to comment. Comments are welcome. Just click on the title and a comment box will appear at the bottom.